Projects of All Sizes, Coast to Coast
Nationwide Construction Group’s success sculpted by values, foresight and flexibility
Scott Keller, COO of Nationwide Construction Group (Nationwide), a company of Rmd Holdings, Ltd., easily lists the attributes he believes distinguish this Richmond, Michigan-based fencing and guardrail contractor. He says that the core values espoused and exhibited by Robert “Bob” Demil, President and Founder, continue to guide strategic decisions. He also points to a forward-thinking, flexible business model, the firm’s ability to handle projects of all sizes from coast to coast, and the leadership’s focus on empowering people to do their jobs well.
Strong Work Ethic, Prudent Investments
“Bob was brought up on a farm and he has a strong work ethic that he passed on to us,” Scott says. “No one here is above doing any specific task. I remember during my first couple of weeks on the job we needed help loading gates. Bob drove up in his truck, put on his work boots and said: ‘Show me where to start.’ That really stuck with me.”
Bob says that although he liked farming, he felt he could do better financially. “I was given an opportunity to work for a small fence company in 1976,” he says. “Shortly after that, I started my own company. I believe our first year’s sales were $100,000 and for the next several years we doubled our sales every year. Coming from my farming background, we were taught to never buy anything that we could not pay for. Following that wisdom, the company has remained debt-free. This has allowed us to get bonding and bank lines of credit, which were needed to start bidding projects for state and federal work. Those jobs propelled us to where we are today.”
“In 1979, when Bob founded Nationwide Fence & Supply Company, the idea behind the name was to set up fence installation centers across the U.S.,” Scott says. “In the 1980s and 1990s, we had retail and wholesale centers and controlled most of the fencing market in Michigan. When the big-box stores came in and set up shop, that took away a lot of our retail business. Around the same time, manufacturers began to open wholesale distribution centers in our state. We had to reinvent ourselves. We switched to more of the contracting side.”
A pivotal moment came in 1993, when the company won a contract to erect more than 30 miles of fencing at the Denver International Airport. “We had to mobilize a lot of people, buy specialized equipment and understand the different laws and regulations in a location that was across the country,” Scott says. “This project allowed us to grow and develop a lot of people—at all levels. It helped us gain confidence about what we could accomplish.”
He points out that providing quality services across the U.S. takes “a lot more than putting people and materials on trucks” and sending them somewhere. “It’s really about bringing the people together in our company to understand what all the laws and regulations are for each state,” he says. “We have attorneys, accountants and other staff who address licensing requirements, taxes and labor laws. Currently, we are licensed in 28 states and [are] working in about 10. It was fortunate that we’d had some foresight in our planning because it took about 10 years to get licensed in all these states.”
Combined with flexibility, this foresight has helped Nationwide’s leadership prepare for major market swings related to 9/11, the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forward-Thinking and Flexible
“We are always thinking two or three years ahead, so we are able to bend and flex and turn if we have to,” Scott says. “After 9/11, we had an increase in security and airport work. Once that died down and we were going through a recession, a lot of the guys who did residential fences didn’t have work—so they moved up to commercial and industrial projects. We decided to increase the contracting work we were doing and expand geographically.”
Some of the new jobs Nationwide’s crews took on—such as installing road signs and providing repair services—were a natural extension of the firm’s core business. In 2016, for example, the company won a major guardrail and cable maintenance contract from the Georgia Department of Transportation. This prompted firm leaders to establish a permanent office in Macon, Georgia. “Pretty much any time someone hits a piece of guardrail in the state of Georgia, we are called upon to repair it,” Scott says. “We have about 30 people in Macon and 75 in our Richmond office, depending on seasonality.” The firm has provided similar services for county- and state-level transportation agencies in Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois and Iowa.
Establishing a DBA
As Nationwide grew and diversified, Scott says some prospective clients wondered why a fencing company was bidding as the prime contractor. “If we were doing the fencing for a tennis court, it made sense for us to handle the asphalt, the nets and other parts of the work, too,” he explains. “We were fully capable of handling all aspects of these projects and had plenty of bonding capacity.” So, the firm’s leaders established the doing-business-as (DBA) entity of Nationwide Construction Group.
“This is the name we go by today,” Scott says. Over the years, Nationwide has provided general contracting services for a broad range of projects—from constructing roads to building multimillion-dollar structures such as a headquarters for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and a $2.8 million fueling station at Detroit Metro Airport. In 2016, Nationwide was awarded a contract to reinforce fences and replace razor ribbon at more than 20 facilities for the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).
“We’ve installed about a million [linear] feet of razor ribbon,” Scott notes. “The rules are very strict, too. If anyone drops a pencil, we can potentially be kicked out of there and not be welcome to do any more work. Almost anything left on the job site can be used as a weapon.”
Completing security jobs as part of the MDOC contract also provided Nationwide’s team with the opportunity to develop strong relationships with new project partners, such as Matrix Consulting Engineers, Inc. (Matrix) of Lansing, Michigan.
Joseph Sovis, Vice President at Matrix, says his firm’s experience working with Nationwide on MDOC projects has led the two firms to collaborate on additional projects throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. “Some of the more important aspects of working with Nationwide are the relationships we created with their team, their assistance in the design and bidding phases and their attention to detail during construction,” he says. “We have had many successful projects because they have built a great team, from the project managers to the installers.”
Focusing on Core Expertise
“During the past three or four years, as the economy has been getting better, we’ve returned to focusing on our core business,” Scott says. This includes erecting all types of fencing—temporary or permanent—whether it’s made of wood, metal chain-link, aluminum, steel or PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Nationwide’s crews also install electronic gate operators, railing, highway guardrail and cable guardrail systems.
Bruce Beresh, past President of The Beresh Group, Inc. in Detroit, says he greatly values Nationwide’s specialized expertise—and that the firm’s staff is “honest and trustworthy.” As a general contractor, he has worked with Nationwide’s crews on multiple perimeter security, fencing and ornamental railing projects that have had very stringent specifications. He says their work is “outstanding in every regard because of their attention to detail and conformance with all contract requirements.”
“We’ve learned that when we go back to our core competencies—what we know with our hands—any one of us can put our boots on and go out and fix a problem,” Scott observes. “When we got into areas where we weren’t so comfortable, we’d have to rely on other people or companies to help us out. Expanding into building and road construction was risky, but it got us through a couple [of] economic downturns and enabled us to keep our employees working.”
“Some of the more important aspects of working with Nationwide are the relationships we created with their team, their assistance in the design and bidding phases and their attention to detail during construction.” Joseph Sovis, Vice President, Matrix Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Treating Each Employee Like an Owner
Scott says Nationwide’s leaders take pride in empowering employees to do their jobs well. “We treat our employees like they are almost individual owners,” he says. “We give them the tools and resources they need to be successful. We share everything possible, including the financial aspects of the company and how it is run. From day one we were taught that everyone is important. Some people here sell gates and some sell $10 million prison or airport projects. We wouldn’t be where we are without everyone doing their job well.”
In fact, Scott, Franco Amicucci and Andre Demil worked their way to becoming partners with Robert by steadily increasing their knowledge and experience—and taking on more responsibility over time.
“I joined the company in 1993 and I’ve never left,” Scott says. “My first job was to clean out a dumpster.” He recalls the value of the hands-on experience he acquired each summer at Nationwide while working toward his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in criminal justice and minor in business administration at Wayne State University in Detroit. “At 18 and 19, I was learning a lot about business from Robert and living it day to day. That made schooling easier.” Today, Robert is Scott’s father-in-law.
Franco, Project Manager, says he met people from Nationwide while working for the Michigan Department of Transportation. By participating in a co-op program, he was able to gain on-the-job experience while earning his Associate of Applied Science degree in construction management from Macomb Community College.
“In 1995, as soon as my three years of co-op work were completed, Nationwide contacted me about a job as an estimator,” he says. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a foot in the door at a major construction company. As an estimator, I looked at plans and specifications and visited job sites to quote and put together the paperwork for new jobs. I still perform these duties but now I am a project manager, so I also direct crews on the job site and close out the project.”
Bob’s son, Andre, Vice President and Project Manager, was 10 years old when he started working for the family business. “My sisters and I sorted and bagged fence fittings in our home pole barn,” he says. “Later, at the age of 16, I worked summers pulling materials and loading and unloading trucks. Over the years, my responsibilities have transitioned from working in the yard to installing, and now, to estimating and project management.”
According to Scott, Nationwide has four key measures of success: positive lasting relationships (internally and externally), safe job sites, quality services and products, and profit.
“When a project is complete, our goal is for the owner, engineer, contractor, architect, our suppliers and our crew to say that they would work with us again—as individuals and as a company—and that we did a quality job,” he says. “Safety is especially important, too, because we work along highways, in prisons and at airports—in very dangerous conditions. A job can make all the money in the world, but if someone gets hurt or injured, it’s a 100% failure. If we take care of relationships, safety and quality, profitability generally follows.”
Making Time for Fun
Scott says that since everyone works hard, the firm’s leaders feel it’s especially important to give employees a chance to take a break. “When we built our office in Richmond, we added pool tables and a pavilion where we host barbecues during the summer. We never would have thought about this 25 years ago,” he says. Nationwide also hosts an annual golf outing for all employees, supports local youth sports teams, and, when possible, gives generous holiday bonuses. “We try to offer employees the best packages possible,” he adds. “I think this is part of the reason we have the staff longevity that we do. Our employees have an average of about 20 years of experience with the company.”
Over four decades after Nationwide was founded, Scott says its leaders continue to run the company the way Bob started it. He adds, “We are very frugal. We reinvest back into the company and in our people. We believe that if you are running a $50 million company, you should structure your business and overhead based on running a $25 million company. If something goes wrong one day, we can take a step back or redirect.”