Smaller, Faster, Better
HPM Contracting cuts through red tape, delivers creative solutions
After working at one of the largest firms in the nation for the better part of two decades, Ray Hallquist and John Todd sought a nimbler approach to general contracting. In April 2017, they started HPM Contracting in Centennial, Colorado, and now have a team of more than 20 people with a handful of ongoing projects that they believe could morph into long-term relationships.
Hallquist likes the entrepreneurial nature of working with smaller clients.
“As a new company with a year under our belt, what sets us apart is our focus on having clients who want to work with us again,” Hallquist says. “We want ‘raving’ fans and work extra hard to get them. We will bid a smaller job not only to help the client but also to lead to future work.”
As HPM President, Hallquist wanted to leave the corporate bureaucracy behind and “be able to be creative again and apply life lessons to our new firm.” Large general contractors have certain policies and procedures that allow for completion of billion-dollar, years-long projects, but these same layers also often preclude scheduling interruptions and other snafus that routinely plague construction and renovation jobs.
Still, Hallquist says it can be tougher to manage some smaller jobs because many subcontractors run tight ships with variable cash flows, making scheduling that much more important.
“My job is to eliminate all the roadblocks and the bureaucratic paperwork to allow our guys to do their job to the best of their ability,” Hallquist says. “They need to know that I trust them, and they can trust me.”
HPM Vice President John Todd concurs. “A huge part of why we’re where we are now is because our staff consists of people we know, who we’ve worked with and trust, and we just let them go do the work,” Todd says. “These are all people that wanted to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Rowing to Success
Hallquist says that the firm seeks to hire people who “are willing to get in our little row boat and row with us to success. We make sure they know what they are signing up for. I spend a good portion of my time ‘MBWA’ or managing by walking around … talking to our employees daily is a focused effort of mine.”
And it’s paying off as HPM expects to post revenue of about $18 million this year just a year and a half after forming. The company posted revenue of about $700,000 in 2017.
Leaving a corporate gig to start your own firm is fraught with challenges, especially because any new venture usually starts from scratch, and that’s exactly what Hallquist and Todd did.
“The first day, Ray and I are standing there looking at each other, trying to figure out what we wanted to do, and that’s exactly what we wanted,” Todd says. “We want to be able to make our own decisions and do what we want to do. If we need to have a heart-to-heart conversation, it literally takes about five minutes. That’s what interested me. Being able to control our own destiny, so to speak, is really appealing.”
Todd said the company recently secured a $25 million federal government job to build a new data center for the General Services Administration. The firm has found success in garnering larger public contracts, such as a deal to rehab campuses within Denver Public Schools, because it is insured and bonded, but smaller jobs are also coming in. “We want repeat work with repeat clients,” Todd says. “It’s nice to work with people who want to work with you. Word is starting to get around, and we are starting to gain traction. People are starting to call us—private clients and private companies—which is nice.”
Because things happen when you take down a wall, there may be a new problem that needs to be addressed before moving on to the next phase of a project. That’s where Hallquist says HPM excels. The smaller size of the firm enables an adroitness and entrepreneurialism that keeps clients’ minds at ease when unforeseen changes arise.
“When an owner hires us as a GC, they are hiring us to lead the construction, solve problems and make sure we deliver an end product they are happy with. When a subcontractor agrees to work for us, they want to know they will make money on the project, it will be properly scheduled and problems will be solved together. We try to deliver that every day. I answer my cellphone all night and day,” Hallquist says. “We are going to follow up with clients to keep them aware of changes and be fair in explaining what’s needed. We plan to just keep our head down and out hustle other contractors.”
One of HPM’s first jobs was to completely revamp a building constructed in the 1970s in Aurora, Colorado, to make it more functional as a retail space. Peter Wanberg, owner of Jubilee Roasting Co., wanted to add windows to the side of the building, install two large glass garage doors and a patio out front, and redo the shipping and delivery garage doors in the rear, in addition to updating the entire interior.
A member of the Jubilee team with a background in construction knew the guys from HPM were starting their own firm.
“We knew they were professionals who know what they are doing,” Wanberg says. “We knew it would go smooth with HPM. Professionalism is something that can be lost in the small business world when you’re dealing with a lot of different GCs and subcontractors, and we knew they would bring a level of professionalism that we wanted.”
This summer, HPM remodeled a dozen Denver public schools, providing mechanical upgrades, such as new boilers and room ventilators in buildings as old as 50 or even 100 years.
HPM started work at the schools June 4, with students returning Aug. 15. This is where the firm’s agility and expertise come into play. With that tight timeline, scheduling and sticking to the schedule are of the utmost importance.
“There’s a belief that there’s no need for air conditioning here in Colorado except for one week out of the year,” Hallquist says, adding that his firm found some air filters that looked like they may not have been cleaned in 30 years.
Now if all goes to plan, Hallquist and HPM will be working with the Denver Public Schools for the next three decades.