Experience = Quick Success
Prior Experience, Excellent Reputation Helped the Mason Family Build Tri State General Contractors
In just five years, Tri State General Contractors, Inc., has experienced exceptional growth and profitability. Dig below the surface of the company’s brief history and there is evidence that explains why it has been successful.
General contractor companies thrive based on the quality of their work and their reliability. That’s how they build a list of satisfied customers that return again and again. The construction industry doesn’t abide fly-by-night companies who over promise and under deliver.
Tri State, which is based in Escondido, California, was able to quickly establish itself due to the strong financial backing from partners Dave Stone and Walt Schobel, and the contacts and reputation built by the Mason family. Dave Mason Sr. is the company’s President. His nephews, Donald Richard Mason P.E. III, Vice President of Construction, DJ Mason, General Superintendent, as well as Dave’s son, David Mason Jr., Project Manager and Estimator, complete the company’s operations foursome. Tri State now employs a staff of nearly 50 construction professionals.
Built on Reputation
“Dave and his company have an absolute attention to detail that guarantees a quality project every time,” says Norbert Mueller, former Director of Design and Construction at Albertsons LLC, now with The Kroger Co. in Texas. “Dave’s technical knowledge and relationships with the various design professionals, governmental officials, utility inspectors and subcontractors were all keys to a successful completion of our projects.”
Matt Medina, Director of Construction and Maintenance for Albertsons Southern California Division, had a working relationship with the Masons before they started Tri State.
“Tri State is one of our go-to contractors for handling a broad variety of projects from small- to large-scale remodels,” says Medina, who estimates Tri State has been involved with nearly 50 projects for Albertsons over the past few years. “They have a wealth of knowledge and I always look to them when I have difficult or complex projects. Tri State makes decisions with the owners’ interest in mind and puts relationships in front of profits.”
Much of Tri State’s values—hard work, responsibility, ethics—can be traced to Donald Mason Jr., Dave’s brother and Donald and DJ’s father, who was a Vietnam veteran and was awarded the Silver Star. Donald was known as “Captain Don” in the construction business. Dave started his construction career working for his brother, someone Dave considered as a mentor and “the smartest man” he has ever met. At the age of 24, Dave supervised 150 workers on the construction of the north super-structure at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, former home of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.
Dave was vice president of a prominent retail and construction company for 20 years. During that time, he grew the company from a small commercial builder into a significant player in the retail construction industry and transitioned from building McDonald’s restaurants to Walmart Supercenters. He decided to strike out on his own with the help of his son and nephews.
“The relationships I had forged at that company helped us bring customers and subcontractors,” Dave says. “We stated Tri State when the market had changed from ground-up construction to more remodeling/renovations and expansion projects. The work is more technical, lower-contract value and more challenging work. We have proven to be good at it and have built a strong customer base.”
While Tri State splits its work between ground-up construction and remodeling projects, it came along at the right time. A decade ago, there was a construction boom—Walmart, one of Tri State’s top customers, was building 300 stores a year. Now, ground-up construction has stalled, but remodeling and renovation is booming.
“What we do is very specific,” Don says. “Doing remodels is a niche market. We’re demanding in terms of the subcontractors. We bring in people who are willing to work in those environments. It’s not for everyone. We have subcontractors who do only remodels, some who do ground-up construction and some do both. We try to work with those partners to put them in the best place so it’s a win-win.”
Tri State has become the go-to company for open-store remodels. Don describes it this way: “Imagine your home was getting remodeled and you were living there 24 hours a day, seven days a week—and you had friends visiting on a regular basis.”
Dave shares another succinct analogy. He says “it’s like rebuilding a carburetor while the engine’s running. Remodeling can involve invasive work—cutting up slabs, digging trenches, installing underground plumbing and refrigeration units. At the end of a night shift at 6 a.m., that store has to be 100 percent clean, safe and ready for shoppers. That’s every day of the construction project.”
“We have to learn how that store operates,” Don says. “We become part of that store. We have to know when they get deliveries, when the bakery opens, when the meat counter closes. We have to manage our work to allow them to do their work. It’s a ballet of coordination.”
Working during store hours requires the workers to be presentable, professional and personable. A worker on an outdoor job site would likely curse if he bangs his thumb on a hammer or drops a toolbox on his foot. That language is unacceptable on a Tri State remodel. Don says that when he walks the job site at a grocery store, he tries to learn the layout so if a customer asks where the Worcestershire sauce is, he can answer.
Making Relationships Work
A successful working relationship between a general contractor, its subcontractors and the customers who shop where the work is done requires coordination, cooperation and communication. Dave’s reputation and his contacts followed him to Tri State. That has allowed the company to build its roster of subcontractors to nearly 300. “We’re looking for teammates who want to join our efforts, put in the extra hard work. We take great care of them with a solid amount of repetitive work and we pay them on time and compensate them well,” Dave says. “That’s how we separate ourselves from other general contractors.”
Tri State does training with its superintendents twice a year and also has a compliance officer who is a resource for the field staff. The compliance officer understands Tri State’s compliance rules plus the rules that can come up on construction sites. If there’s a hazardous materials situation, the compliance officer is available to provide immediate answers.
“Our office staff exists to support the field team,” Don says. “We’re a support staff for the superintendents in the field. They’re the boots on the ground and our goal is to support them however we can so they can be successful.”
Tri State’s accounting staff makes sure the subcontractors are paid on time, averaging 35 days for turnaround versus other firms that can take three to six months to pay a subcontractor. Tri State uses a proactive approach by preparing the paperwork so that subcontractors only need to review and sign the documents in a single email. Completing this work on the front end reduces the lag time typically associated with how money and payments flow.
“We like to think of technology as transparency,” Don says. “We want to be as transparent as possible. When you bid and negotiate on projects, transparency is everything. The client needs to know they can trust us. We had a client overpay us $30 on a construction permit. We cut a check and brought it to our next meeting. That’s part of building a reliable relationship.”
A Bright Future
In addition to its main office, Tri State has a second location in Rocklin, California, to handle projects in Northern California. The company is also licensed in Arizona and Nevada and was recently granted a license to work in Hawaii.
“We try to follow our good customers, and many of them have asked us to be licensed for Hawaii. Our customers already have work they want us to do over there,” Dave says. “In the next five years, we want to grow our office in Northern California.”
Tri State is a faith-based company that has built numerous churches in the Southern California area. The company also has two favorite charities. One is Warfighter Made, a company that adapts and customizes vehicles for wounded veterans who enjoy off-roading. The other is Racers for Christ, which brings “inspiration to the world of motor sports.”
“We’re dedicated to rapid growth but not growth that compromises our core values,” Don says. “We want to build on those core values. Construction companies grow by doing larger projects, not more projects. Tri State is a place where subcontractors and superintendents want to work. To grow, we need to grow our subcontractor and employee base. Our key employees, we want to retain them for a long time. We’re not looking for a short-term fix; we want a long-term solution. We don’t want just employees; we want a big family.”