Building Better Walls by Breaking Down Barriers
Wall subcontractor grows with new systems
Bradleigh Applications, Inc. was founded in 1980 by two college students searching for new ideas. Their first decision was to learn how to install Dryvit and their second was to make Bradleigh a leader in the use of this EIFS (exterior insulation and finish system) on residential projects. So, their business grew as Dryvit’s popularity increased in the residential market.
This Crofton, Md., company has continued to thrive with the same method of turning ideas into opportunities under the leadership of President Bill Dick. Now it installs all types of interior and exterior wall systems primarily for the commercial market on the East Coast, as well as other parts of the country.
Since buying Bradleigh in 1996, Bill has expanded it by recognizing different ways to grow with field techniques, products, applications and new markets. Bill, a civil engineer with an MBA, bought the company from Jim Schneider, the remaining original owner.
The two met when Bill was transferred to Maryland in 1994 by the commercial drywall subcontractor for which he’d been a project manager for 13 years. “Jim and I became business acquaintances and then I decided to work for him. About six months later, Jim said he wanted to leave the business, so I decided to buy it. At that time we had six employees,” notes Bill.
Bradleigh now has 63 employees, including a full-time estimator, project managers, an administrative assistant and teams of crew leaders, foremen and workers. About 80 percent of its work takes place within an hour’s drive of its Maryland office, but the company frequently sends teams out of state for special jobs. Its leaders’ willingness to do that for certain clients has led to more business in the southeast, including Florida.
Diversifying with New Products
Adding new products is another strategy Bill has used to increase opportunities. “When business was slow we diversified to other types of work, primarily with BASWAphon, a high-end plaster product from Sweden. Once we latched onto it we elected to become very proficient at using it. No one else was doing it in our area, but it was well accepted in Florida, the Carolinas and Georgia, so we traveled there for several jobs,” Bill says.
He continues, “It’s similar to the Dryvit story. BASWAphon entered the U.S. market about 10 years ago, and architects used it because it is a sound-deadening product that doesn’t look like acoustical tile. Its acoustical properties are also better than acoustical tile, so it has become popular in large public areas, such as hotel and office lobbies, conference rooms and large custom homes. It’s very aesthetically pleasing but expensive so it’s usually a small part of a job. Our opportunities with this are great. It’s about 35 percent of our business and growing.”
Because BASWAphon is a hand-applied product it takes a lot of skill and experience to do it right, so Bradleigh’s team was extensively trained in-house.
“The look of the final product lies on the finishing crew. We have an edge because we’re willing to send our guys out of town to do it. That keeps our guys fresh on it. If you can’t keep a volume of work on this, you’ll lose the skill. You can’t let that happen because if you mess up and have to redo a job, you’re looking at a substantial financial loss,” Bill adds.
Another type of reward with BASWAphon came with a project in Miami Beach for Faena, an international hotel developer from Argentina.
“The hotel ceiling had a very large dome with an oculus (round skylight). The process wasn’t overly complex; it was the size of the dome we were apprehensive about. It was very interesting for our crew members because they don’t get to do many unique jobs like this. When they saw how nice it looked they were very proud of it and that was a great feeling for all of us,” he notes.
Learning new ways to handle challenges is also an attribute that opens doors and adds skills for Bradleigh. Three years ago, the company was working on a remodel of the J. Van Story Branch, Senior Apartments owned by the Baltimore Housing Authority, which involved installing about 125,000 square feet of Parex WaterMaster EIFS.
“One of the steps in an EIFS install is to sand the surface, which disperses EPS particles into the air. Because this job was in tight quarters in the city and we would produce a lot of waste material, we decided to fabricate most of the wall assembly off site. We rented a warehouse and laid everything out by size and dimension and had the manufacturer approve our method. By making this adjustment, we overcame an obstacle that was actually keeping others away. It also gave the company much more confidence in what we could achieve outside the box,” Bill says.
Bradleigh added another technique that brought in more business. In 2008, the team responded to a request to help build a bridge between the Tampa Convention Center and the Embassy Suites across the street. The hotel roof had a lot of complex angles for which the team had to create access. To do this, Bradleigh had to construct special scaffolding, the type used for high-rise buildings.
“In order to build this specialized scaffolding you had to have special training. So, we sent a crew to the manufacturer to learn how to put it up and take it down. We took that skill to another job on a high-rise hotel in Las Vegas and another in Denver. We turned that first experience in Tampa into a specialized training opportunity that we now use on other hotel jobs,” adds Bill.
From one system to another, Bradleigh continues to grow by finding new ways to build the best wall systems for its customers. As for gaining awareness among prospects, Bill says the company’s reputation spreads by word of mouth.
“Bradleigh is well known for its high-quality work and that has served us well with referrals. In the last three years or so we’ve done more proactive marketing, such as that with Blue Book Network. It’s given us more visibility for out-of-town jobs and brought in a lot of new customers while we work on keeping our current relationships fresh. About 30 companies have stayed as repeat customers since I’ve had the business. Typically, we will have 20 active field jobs going on at once, and of those, five may be with new customers,” notes Bill.
Bradleigh also boasts a record of 100 percent completed projects. Bill explains: “We have always finished what we’ve started. Over 37 years, that’s very important. I know people get thrown off a job if they can’t perform. We stay because we feel a responsibility to finish our commitment. My guys know how I operate. They say, ‘If Bill says this is going to happen, it’s going to happen.’ We’re more apt to tell customers the truth—not just what they want to hear. If they want a job done by Tuesday but we know it will take until Saturday, that’s what we tell them. You have to be upfront if you make a commitment to doing the job right. My employees follow through on commitments. That’s why we have so much customer loyalty.”