Creating a Big Impact
Small business feel, big company performance: hallmarks of Old Forge Builders, Inc.
As a 37-year-old construction company, Old Forge Builders, Inc. (OFB), is making a name for itself in the building of day care facilities while also in the midst of looking to expand operations from New Jersey and the Philadelphia area into southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania.
Established in 1983 by OFB President Dave Pape, the company started out working on residential projects, but has transitioned over the years as an industry leader in turnkey commercial construction services, including site improvements, ground-up new construction, tenant fit-outs and renovations.
“Our expertise ranges from the construction of office buildings, restaurants, retail centers, self-storage facilities and car washes to a large presence in the day care facilities world,” says OFB Chief Operating Officer Nick Pape. “We can also provide seamless project management from initial conceptual phases to project closeout. Our company is closely involved in the building process from beginning to end. Starting with land acquisition and approvals all the way to project delivery and occupation, the OFB team’s broad spectrum of construction experience allows us to take on any project and deliver a quality product each time.”
Nick joined his father, Dave, about seven years ago at the Millstone-based company. Most of the projects OFB does are new ground-up projects with site work included, Nick says. While most of the projects are turnkey in the $1 million to $10 million range, OFB does projects up to $20 million. In spite of the growth, Nick says the company leadership considers the firm a small- to medium-sized company. “We give every client the attention and focus of a smaller builder, but have the ability to perform like a larger company,” Nick says.
Looking ahead, Nick says OFB has been growing strong relationships across New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania to start taking on more projects in those regions.
“We’ve really relied on our good reputation and word-of-mouth referrals, but now we are taking the next step to grow our presence with the addition of Business Development Manager Heather Schwemlein,” he says.
“We have been in the industry for a long time. We get much of our business by word-of-mouth and reputation; repeat business is big for us,” Nick says. “Heather is helping us develop deeper relationships with existing clients while building a rapport with new clients and growing our network. She has taken us to the next step.”
Working toward the goal of building business in new locations, Heather says she has been involved with many networking groups. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, much of her efforts have been spent in virtual meetings.
“We are making lemonade from the lemons,” she says. “We have had some ‘lunch and learns’ with industry experts, and we’ve been creating informative and appealing updates about the industry on our website. We are working to expand our network of contacts and broaden our opportunities.”
Bread and Butter
“Our recent alliances with early childhood education facility operators have become a sizable portion of our portfolio,” Nick says. “These are notable opportunities because each transaction provides a set of best practices to better prepare us for the next project. We’ve separated ourselves in this space, and it’s exciting to see a niche organically create a fit for itself within our capabilities.”
OFB has built three locations for Kiddie Academy in New Jersey. Each of the 11,000-square-foot facilities was ground-up, new construction. On all three occasions, OFB was contracted for the full site improvement package as well as the construction of the day care structure.
“We developed a good relationship with the day care owner, and he is one of our biggest cheerleaders,” Nick says. “Building the Kiddie Academy locations has really put us on the map for day care construction. We’ve gotten the opportunity to bid on more projects from that.”
As well, OFB is making a name for itself in other commercial development areas. For instance, the company also recently completed the new 24,000-square-foot construction project for Queen St. Mary & Prince Tadros Coptic Orthodox Church in South Brunswick. The two-story tower was an almost $12 million project, including site work for the project, which included a large-scale commercial kitchen, office space, community prayer rooms and a communion bread-making area. This project is the first component of a multiphased plan, including a rectory and church establishment.
“We remained a trusted partner to see the smooth progress of the elaborate interior and exterior through to the church’s satisfaction. The project featured high-end finishes with detailed masonry work on the exterior,” Nick says. “It was challenging to work with a religious organization that had a large board of directors with varying expectations. We were able to address their concerns and deliver the project on time and within budget.
“Our attention to detail and ability to maintain critical schedules has really positioned us as a leader in the construction community,” Nick says. Much of the company’s successful operations result from the lessons Nick learned from his father over the years.
Words of Wisdom
“Working with Dad has been great. He has taught me to focus more on doing right by our clients, rather than just going to make the most money we can,” Nick says. “Construction can be a dirty business, so we really try to separate ourselves from competitors that are deceptive in their building practices. We are honest and upfront about things. When we tell a client that we will be done in six months, we will be done in six months,” he says.
“We are detailed in our bidding process and maintain a relationship throughout the project with our client. We are often working with the end-user. For some, this may be their first or second construction project or it may be their first time undertaking a new construction project. So, we try to educate them throughout the process. We know why certain elements are integrated into the design of the building; our goal is to assist them in the process.”
Transparency is another concept OFB strives to deliver, Nick says. “You can always find a lower number on a bid, but our number is a correct number,” he explains. “We are licensed and insured contractors, and we are good for whatever we put on that paper. If you need help down the line, we are there for you. It is that focus on good, strong relationships that is really what I learned from Dad.”
Beyond clients, Nick says he endeavors to communicate that feeling with his staff, as well.
“My goal is to maintain the company culture; the people who work for us are more than just a name,” he says.
With a team of about 17 employees, Nick says training is crucial in doing a superior job. Anyone working in the field is OSHA 30 certified because safety is paramount for his team and the company’s clients.
“We ingrain doing things the Old Forge way: be honest, be true to your word and do whatever you need to get the job done. Meeting client expectations is a critical part of making a project successful,” Nick adds.
But more than that, he says, he knows his team works hard and he wants them to have a work-life balance. “It’s a tough and demanding industry, but at the same time we try to emphasize that while you take your job seriously, don’t take it home with you,” he explains.
With the help of his team, Nick says OFB is remaining busy during the COVID-19 challenges of 2020. “We are doing a lot more remote work with less in-person interaction. We have always been safe, but our safety procedures have been enhanced. We are using more PPE (personal protective equipment),” he says.
Bidding is more competitive as construction has slowed down, he adds. But, the company’s annual revenue is still on target with previous years. “We have consistently earned $12 million in annual revenues, and we believe it is achievable to hit $15 million this year, even with COVID,” Nick says, “We are expecting to reach our goal of $20 million annually in the next few years. We want to be selective in the projects we pursue and select the projects with the best fit for us.”
A Helping Hand
While working to grow the company’s footprint, OFB also looks to help the communities where it works. In the summer, OFB contributed to the We Are Philly campaign, which provided food to those hard hit by the pandemic. In the spring, the team hosted Yoga For A Cause to raise money for Fulfill, formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth & Ocean Counties.
“The food bank was in desperate need of resources during the pandemic,” Heather says. “We are also active in the annual Toys for Tots toy drive each year. In 2019, we set up a station in our office to be a drop-off site for the entire town. We also donate to the Special Olympics and to Special Strides, which is a nonprofit devoted to improving the lives of individuals with special needs through a combination of therapy, horses and the environment.”
“Giving back is a focus of ours because we want to be a positive force in the world and come together as a community. We started using the hashtag #letsbuildimpact, because despite being a small business, we are built to make a pretty considerable impact,” Heather says.