The Go-To Contractor
Serving a Small Community in a Big Way - Ross & Associates, LTD
With a population of just over 15,000, River Falls, Wisconsin, is a tiny but close-knit community.
Over the past three decades, company President Dan Ross has worked hard to make Ross & Associates, Ltd. the area’s go-to commercial construction company. And, that has meant not being afraid to tackle complex projects—big or small.
“We realized when we started out that we were in a smaller market,” he says. “We have to take a look at just about anything that comes down the pike in our area— even if it’s a challenge, we’re not scared to tackle it, dig in and work on it. We want to be the local guy that does the job rather than have someone out of the area do it.”
Founded in 1986, the firm operates as a merit shop and has adopted the 10 key merit shop characteristics that dictate its foundational principles and practices, such as quality, competence, safe workforce, compensation, productivity, community, industry, financial and risk management. All employees are cross-trained so that they can jump into various roles—making the company more nimble and able to be flexible as needed.
“Our guys can do just about anything,” Ross says.
But just because the firm has aimed to serve as the area’s preferred general contractor doesn’t mean it’s not willing or able to do projects outside the area.
Ross recalls one time, more than 10 years ago, when a customer in southern Minnesota approached the company about doing a project. From there, a relationship was created that grew into six more projects spanning from Kansas to Oklahoma. It wasn’t easy. The team had to get set up on a remote site in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle.
“We had some big challenges,” Ross says, “such as how do we find people to work with us somewhere we have never been. But we got our heads together and got things moving.”
In addition to commercial facilities, Ross & Associates also works on industrial projects, recreational projects, such as tennis courts and ice skating arenas, and institutional projects, such as universities and hospitals.
“We are very good at adapting to our market,” Ross says. “Building a solid relationship with our customers is important to us and leads to many repeat projects. It is our experience, attention to detail and open communication that is the cornerstone of our success.”
The company’s dedication led to not only surviving the recession, but actually improved its profit margins during that time, according to Ross. Overall, it sees about 2 to 3 percent revenue growth per year.
Ross &l Associates also has made it clear to the community that it wants to provide job opportunities for anyone wanting to be trained or become an apprentice in fields such as carpentry or cement finishing. Education and technology are important elements of the company culture. “We look to utilize technology to make jobs easier, safer and better for our customers,” says Ross. “We tell our customers that we want them to be on the front page of the paper because we did a great job, not because anyone got hurt.”
Divide and Conquer
Tony Cripe, Senior Project Manager for Ross & Associates, notes that the company uses a divide and conquer approach to projects. The fact that employees are cross-trained not only makes the company more versatile but breaks up the monotony for the workers themselves, says Cripe, who has been with the company for 21 years.
Anyone can step into anyone else’s position, practically,” he adds.
Cripe recalls one situation where an employee lifted a 10-inch panel out of an 11-inch-wide slot, 23 feet out of a building, and got it patched in the same day.
“It was an incredibly challenging task for him,” he says, “but he did it, with the help of a crane operator.”
In general, Ross’ firm aims to do all its own work with its own crews and equipment, subbing out only certain tasks, such as plumbing and electrical.
The Continuous Improvement Mantra
Ross & Associates has stayed successful over the years because it is eager to constantly improve, Cripe notes.
“Even if we are good at something, we believe we can always be better,” he says. “We also try to train our team to do as much as possible. For example, we used to sub out aluminum doors in the past but then three years ago, we trained some employees to do installations and repairs so we didn’t have to use a sub. That gives us a little more control over an entire project, and more peace of mind for us and our clients.”
Employees have been willing to do work for the U.S. Postal Service throughout the nation, which requires them to be gone two weeks at a time. Because of that commitment, and the trust it generated, the company was subsequently licensed to do work for post offices in 28 states. Ross & Associates has now performed American Disability Act (ADA) upgrades for the postal service for more than 10 years, and building maintenance for one of their facilities for more than six years.
“We try to be extremely flexible with anything the traveling employees need,” Cripe says. “We realize it’s not easy for them to be gone for two weeks at a time; so, if they need time off to do things with their kids or families from time to time, we work with them.”
Cripe himself was a single parent so he understands the struggles that go along with that.
Flexible and Adaptable: Hallmarks of the Firm
Doug Rinehart, President and owner of Dick’s Fresh Market, has worked with Ross & Associates for about a dozen years. The contractor has performed a number of construction remodels for his stores, as well as a full-blown expansion.
“The thing I like the most about working with them is their integrity,” Rinehart says. “When they tell you something, that’s the way it is. They schedule. They’re honest. They do great quality work.”
Rinehart also likes that the company essentially serves as a “one-stop shop.”
“There’s a lot of big construction companies out there, but Ross & Associates is a little more warm and fuzzy,” he says. “You just feel like they care more. Plus, they handle everything from beginning to end, which is helpful.”
The fact that the company is willing to take on projects of varying sizes also appeals to Rinehart.
“A project doesn’t have to be valued at $1 million for them to take it on,” he says. Plus, they take care of me. I have a house in Fort Myers Beach, Florida and when Hurricane Irma came through, I was really concerned about the potential damage and finding good contractors down there. Ross & Associates was ready to send three guys down there and do whatever I needed for a few weeks. That’s just the kind of company they are. They take care of their clients and customers very well.”
The Purple Playhouse
Ross & Associates prides itself on giving back to the community.
One example is when the company built a purple playhouse for a little girl named Juliana who had cancer, and later moved it to a new location, for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“We put it in the backyard, and our guys parked a van in front of it,” Ross recalls. “When we moved our van, Juliana was so excited and began playing immediately. Her smile as she stood at the door was overwhelming. Thankfully, we understand she’s been cancer-free since last year. Another example is a when three young sisters were killed in an act of violence in River Falls. The community raised more than half a million dollars to build a memorial, Tri Angels playground, with ground-level access for children with disabilities in the girls’ honor. Ross & Associates employees donated their time to help the park get built. In addition, employees participate in the Relay for Life cancer walk ever year, and the company supports the River Falls Area Hospital’s foundation with an annual donation.
“We’re thankful for what we have and work hard to give back when we can,” Ross says.