Designing a Master Builder Solution
Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. creates owner-first process
While the company origin of Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. dates back to 1987, President and Owner Regis (Rege) Etzel re-established the company in 2007, based on a mission and vision to deliver design-led, design-build construction that uniquely meets the needs of each project and owner.
“I saw a need for a design-led, design-build construction company that is fully owner focused,” Rege says. “I’m a big believer that if you take care of the owner, everything else will fall into place.”
Rege started Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. because he envisioned a solution to the disjointed and profit-led process of low-bid general construction. He knew that if he could implement an owner-first process that relied on transparency, trust, accountability and expertise, while minimizing risk, the client would benefit, while saving money and safely and expediently realizing their project with less hassle.
“Your standard build, where the owner hires an architect who then hires an engineer to do a full set of construction documents and bid them out to multiple general contractors, is an archaic process,” Rege says. “Most of the time the whole team isn’t swimming together in the same direction. Each contractor tries to find mistakes and build an adversarial relationship between the owner, architect and the engineer so that they can use the change order process to increase their profits. Ultimately, it’s all focused on the profits of the projects and not necessarily what the owner’s looking for—a project that performs up to expectations.”
Rege says that each project that Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. takes on begins with a solid and reliable design, and then the team works to create a comprehensive and cost-effective process for the owner. Today, the company’s portfolio extends well beyond its headquarters in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, with the team serving clients in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Memphis and beyond.
Leading and Building the Right Team
Rege’s electrical engineering and construction knowledge has been the foundation for his business mindset. His experience began when he worked as a laborer in his family’s masonry construction business.
“My father was a masonry contractor, so I grew up in the construction business,” Rege says. “That was one of the primary reasons I got into the electrical contracting business back in ’87.”
After high school, Rege apprenticed as a registered union electrician and worked in the field as an electrician for 10 years. He spent another decade working as an electrical designer with an architectural and engineering firm, before passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam and obtaining his PE license.
“I’m a licensed engineer but I’m not a degreed engineer, and I think that experience in the field with the knowledge needed to pass the PE test helps set us apart,” he says. “We can look at a job differently than an engineering-only type person or construction-only type person because we have both backgrounds and look for the same thing in the field.”
Rege is proud of his team’s experience and background in construction and their willingness to deliver to meet the needs of the owner on every project.
“We have engineers with strong construction backgrounds who have experience working in the field and understand how projects go together,” Rege says. “We also have a lot of superintendents and project managers with strong construction backgrounds. We have that experience of both engineering and construction that pulls the thing together as one unit.”
Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. was created from very humble beginnings but, according to Rege, has grown to become a recognized leader in design-led, design-build construction in Western Pennsylvania. He attributes his team’s success to its focus on acquiring and retaining the right talent and to working closely with clients to realize enhanced execution, performance and attention to detail. Rege’s first hire was Scott Gracie, someone he worked with previously and who is now a Vice President and Partner.
“Scott and I both started together,” Rege says. “Scott spent time as a carpenter and construction foreman before he became a project manager. The weekend Scott started working for me, I cleaned out my garage, put some carpet down, put some temporary desks in and we worked in my garage for about nine months before we moved into an office in Saxonburg. We do about 85% of our work through repeat clients. Scott took the lead on so many projects and met with the owners to get their understanding of what they needed to build to their needs. He’s been with me from the beginning and understands my philosophy of taking care of the owner first. He has grown and helped the company grow to the point where in 2016, he became my partner.”
The Advanced Master Builder Program
Early on, Rege created an open-book process that allowed the client to see every bid and become part of the selection process when choosing subcontractors. Each project owner is offered a copy of every receipt. This level of transparency and trust led Rege to create and implement an Advanced Master Builder Program.
“Historically, the master builder was the design professional who took full ownership of the project; he was the true master builder,” Rege says. The Advanced Master Builder Program is a solutions-oriented approach that aligns the entire team for the best interest of the owner. Rege says that Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. purchases as many of the long-lead items as they can, like the mechanical and electrical equipment. They also purchase the equipment and tailor their designs to the equipment purchased to eliminate markups and save time. The Advanced Master Builder approach means that Rege’s firm takes full ownership of the project and meets with the owner to determine the scope and guarantee the price. Together, they work from the design backwards, setting the schedule, leveraging pre-purchased equipment and trusted subcontractors, while communicating frequently and sharing progress and decisions.
We commit to a guaranteed maximum price before the design is completed. We get the full set of construction and design documents and bid them out to contractors then come back to the owner to share the bids while still guaranteeing the price,” Rege says. “This process takes a lot of the risk off the owner and puts it on our back, but because we do this for a living, that’s where our strength is.”
The Expedient Data Center in Indianapolis is an example of a project where the Advanced Master Builder Program was used to create the best solution for the client. The team was asked to assess issues in a 100,000-square-foot facility and what it would cost to fix them. They found multiple problems and provided a study with a guaranteed price before they were awarded the job. Over a two-year period, they relied on their ability to assess and communicate, leverage their expertise and flexibility, implement and follow step-by-step methods of procedures (MOPS) to eliminate risk, all while building four new electrical services into the building, relocating two generators, installing two new generators and implementing upgrades in an active, fully operational facility.
“It took a lot of coordination and MOPS to ensure that our 54-step process for each day’s 8-hour period was completed in such a way that we eliminated any risk of equipment going down,” Rege says. “At the end of the study, we gave them a guaranteed price. We brought the job in under budget and on time. This shows our ability to assess a very complex and complicated system and determine the risks. Then we create a solution that allows us to solve the problem.”
They were also able to come in under budget for the DataBank data center in Pittsburgh and realize their goal of increasing capacity. Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. competed against five engineering firms and were chosen based on their value engineering recommendations.
Taking Care of Your Own
Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc. grew from two dedicated employees to a family-oriented team of approximately 30 employees today who spend time together, have picnics, go to Pirates and Penguins games, and solidify and strengthen relationships. There’s also a performance-based incentive program, and employees have the peace of mind that they’re working for a company that cares about their career growth and work-life balance.
“I’m a big believer that employees are the ones who help us get to where we are, so we need to take care of them,” Rege says. “We also try to not swim with the sharks in the construction business,” he says, referring to subcontractors who are just in it for the money. “We try to find subcontractors who see themselves as our partners who can then partner with the owners. So, a lot of the combative nature of construction is really reduced by our approach. Because we have a different approach, we feel that the stress associated with low-bid construction is greatly reduced and ultimately that makes our life and the lives of our employees much better than trying to squeeze another penny out of every dollar that you see.”
In establishing Etzel Engineer & Build, Inc., Rege and his team have developed a process that aligns with the character of their organization and the expectations of the client. Doing business with integrity and securing client relationships that grow stronger from year to year are hallmarks that will build their legacy well into the future.