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Commercial construction’s annual slow season is a fact of life in the industry, but there are ways to cope with it and come out ahead. Here’s how a commercial masonry contractor who’s lived through 10 slow seasons mitigates the external factors that cause delays and leverages the opportunities that come with the slowdown.

Here are actionable steps to help lessen the impact of the delays and take advantage of its opportunities.

DELAYS

 Permitting Delays
Already a notorious cause for delay, the pandemic exacerbated the problem of permitting. With most inspectors now working remotely, a real backlog developed with projects awaiting approval to move on to the next phase. In extreme cases, what used to take weeks can now stretch into months.

What to Do
Contractors should expect delays and give themselves a cushion by beginning the permit application process earlier in the job cycle. Make sure all work is up to date—including the most recent change orders, if applicable. Make sure to be organized and thorough in filing accurate paperwork and documentation requests.

Funding/Account Receivables
Cash flow for construction projects can be tight, even in the best of times. Subcontractors fund their portion of the project up front in initial supplies and labor costs. Some contracts dictate that funds are paid under an “if/when” clause, so contractors may not recoup their investment in a timely manner.

What to Do
Expect the slowdown in cash flow during any Q4 and Q1 projects—and make sure they don’t make up the majority of payroll needs.

Administration Changes
Following an election year in which a change in administration occurs, it’s not unusual for general contractors and municipalities to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach before creating RFPs or awarding contracts. You can’t blame them when a change in tax policies can affect profitability, but it’s still detrimental to cash flow.

What to Do
A lot can happen every two to four years, but it’s always wise to keep abreast of presidential and midterm election seasons. Contractors should refer to industry trade groups, which keep a close eye on these developments, and take the time to educate themselves and plan accordingly.

OPPORTUNITIES

 The following are some housekeeping ideas for commercial constructions firms to undertake, while waiting for an improved outlook in the spring.

Diversify Operations
If larger-scale jobs are on hold or delayed for a set amount of time, there are ways to fill the gap with replacement work. During the busy season, the masonry contractor has multiple work crews handling large-scale masonry work on commercial office buildings, retail or multi-unit complexes. Over the years, leadership discovered it could “moonlight” its way through some of the tougher months by extending services to residential projects outside its wheelhouse. These have included projects such as firepits, custom outdoor patio kitchens, barbeque pits and even tuckpointing work.

Refresh Marketing Efforts
During the busy season, contracts, bids, projects, change orders and staff scheduling don’t leave contractors time for much else. During the slow season, focus on the brand. Get the website up to date with blogs and project photos. Review the lead-generation process. Assess social media efforts and explore website analytics. Make a point to reconnect with existing customers and let them know how much they mean to the organization’s success.

Inventories and Upgrades
Conduct an inventory of equipment, vehicles and technology. Make sure all company vehicles have proper maintenance, inspections and licensure. Address organization’s storage, operations and workflow procedures. Redesign them for more efficiency. Lastly, assess business platforms and technology. Is it time to upgrade? Look into new solutions and determine a suitable time to absorb the cost to implement better options.

The construction industry’s slow season is a predictable occurrence. And because it’s predictable, it’s also possible for contractors to use this time to their advantage. It won’t be easy, as “belt-tightening” never is, but contractors can approach this annual event with steely determination, as opposed to sitting on their hands waiting for the weather to break. When Q1 comes around each year, use this time wisely. Because every year, the sun does come out again.

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