Dan Conway Interviewed for ABC Television Show About Commercial Construction Industry (Part 2).

Dan Conway of Conway Contracting, Inc. was recently interviewed by Carter Rethwisch for the "Your Little Castle" show, which aired on ABC-TV in St. Louis in two half hour shows. You can watch part one of the two interviews here. We have also included the text of the interview below. You can watch Part 1 Here.

When you're searching for residential or commercial, you really want to research your contractor, their experience, and get references.

by Dan Conway, Conway Contracting, Inc.

Host: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're back here with Dan Conway of Conway Contracting. There's a lot that goes into building buildings, especially when you're talking commercial grade. We've got a lot of great examples here we're going to share with everybody. We want to get into some more depth here. We've got some important questions to ask Dan. The first one I’d love to get into. When you're talking about a house mistake with a residential place, it could be a $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 mistake. When you're talking commercial, you could be getting into hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Tell me what happens. What kind of mistakes do businesses need to be wary of?

Dan: When you're searching for residential or commercial, you really want to research your contractor, their experience, and get references. Commercial construction, just like residential, can be pricey. The common complaint that we see is, "Hey, I've got a brother that does commercial construction. I have an employee that does commercial construction." Or they'll engage in a contract with someone who's just become a commercial contractor, and it's a super tricky renovation or something like that. And they're 30% less than us or something like that. And I know design, and I know cost, and I tell the clients, "You can't build it. You can't do it for that." And then they go for the shiny object, and the horror stories they come back with 6 months, 9 months, 12 months later. They'll spend 50% more than we originally bid because the contractor's gone out of business, and things have gone awry. Tt's very important, for both residential and commercial, to do your references, check on experience and on similar type projects.

Host: Yeah, that's what we talk about. It's a recurring theme. My dad would say, "Cheap can become very expensive." Yes, you see, you're saving some money. There's something missing there, especially when you're talking about commercial because it could be $100,000, $200,000, and all of a sudden, now you're putting 20-30% on top of that to make it right.

Dan: Right, just like I mentioned, I've done some printing facilities, and they're buying $3 million to $10 million printing presses, putting it on a foundation that you've got to improve the subgrade, down 10 ft, and you've got to compact the dirt to 100% compaction. And, make sure these slabs have a super high tolerance of 7 or 8 thousands of an inch, or whatever it's got to be. But you can't have a printing press changing addresses on you, especially a two or three or $10 million printing press. It's got to be done right. Yeah, this is why commercial is so essential to the business side of the world. These little differences, we talked about it in the first show. Check out that first show, everybody. The first show, we went into some real good information about the commercial process and what it takes and what the differences are because the attention to the detail is where I was going. The details are important, and especially when you're talking about a printing press, that thing gets adjusted this much, now everything's printed, you know, off the side of whatever they're printing, and it can't have giving out brochures where their print is offset unless it was intended, but that's not what they were trying to do. Important stuff to make sure that it goes into everything you're talking about.

Host: How important is it, do you think, the integral part where you stick with it, when you had somebody come in and say, "Oh, we can do this for $20,000, $100,000 cheaper." You explain to them, "Here is the difference," and they still make a mistake anyway, and they come back to you afterwards.

Dan: It happens. Sometimes people have to learn the lesson the hard way. And, being a civil engineer, a designer, and a builder, we know design, we know cost, and we know where the line is in the sand. You know what you can reasonably do something for. I try to do my best and explain it to some people. There's a lot of good contractors out there, but, you know, when they're going, like I said, for the shiny object, you've got to be very careful.

Host: That could be a very costly mistake. Somebody would say, "We're going to save $50,000." No, you're not. The shiny object, I like that because people say, "Oh, we’ve got shiny objects." We're in our rings here, representing the championships that the Cardinals bring and the excellence that they do. But they're not skimping either. It's kind of a similar theme. They don't spend the most on the market, the Yankees or whatever, the Dodgers, but they do what's required.

Dan: Getting the most bang for their buck.

Host: Yes, and putting the appropriate funding in there so that you can make sure that you're not skipping out on something that doesn't turn out because otherwise you end up in the cellar. You don't want to be in the bottom of the league every year. That's important. Okay, well, as a matter of function, that's very important, for people to understand, there are some mistakes that are often made, and those are mistakes that they can avert if they pay attention to that stuff.

Host: Who are the best employees that you feel you hire to come work with you?

Dan: Well, we're always looking for highly motivated people that can run themselves. We're looking for civil engineers or individuals with a kind of similar academic background that can run commercial construction, estimate and also do marketing.

Host: Yeah, because marketing is key to the success of any business out there, and you need to make sure that the word is out and you represent yourself well.

Dan: Yeah, if you know design and you've got experience building buildings and estimating, then now you can sell.

Host: Yes, very important. What is one tip you would recommend for somebody to say when they're looking for your kinds of services? Here's something to keep in mind whe>n you're making this kind of decision.

Dan: Staying within a budget is crucial. Everybody wants great design, but what's great about the design-build process is I ask people not just to know how much money is in their pocket. Know what the budget for this project is. What we're trying to do is get the most bang for the buck within the actual budget of the project. That's important. You're not promising and doing something, and then you're coming up with the bad news—hey, we need another 25% or 50%. That just doesn't fly reputation-wise and repeat business-wise. I think we do a really good job helping explain contingency people should keep, and we do our due diligence. We try to root out all the unknowns, make sure we've got soil borings, investigate what's below the ground, and everything. You're trying to get rid of all the unknowns and gotchas. That's what you're trying to do, and I think we do a pretty good job of managing the risk.

Host: Yeah, the unknowns and gotchas could be very expensive when you're talking about business because as we talked about in the first show, if a business goes down for a month or two or six months, they're out of business potentially, and then there's no client.

Dan: If they even want to do the project. Like my fraternity house down in Rolla. They wanted to save three or so thousand by not doing a soils report for the addition, and I said we won't even start. We won't even build it. Don't want to be involved and force them into doing it.

Host: Very important. Well, along those lines, tell me a time when you really felt like you helped the client. You could tell they were about to make a bad decision or they were already in a tough situation, and you had to come through and say, "Hey, let me explain to you what's going on here.

Dan: Probably one of the neatest experiences was actually my own fraternity house, the Kappa Sigma house down in Rolla, Missouri. Our house fund was proposing to build an addition in front of the existing house and connect it with a portico or a walkway above the front parking lot. The elevation of the addition looked okay, but it's the sightlines and the perspective. A building's got to look good as you're walking by it or driving by it from almost every angle. Everybody in the room was backslapping each other, "Hey, that looks so great," and I'm the only guy of 15 people who raises their hand and says, "You cannot build that building because you don't understand. It will not look good." Everybody just couldn't believe that I was bringing it up, and I said, "Well, we'll show you." So we put like helium balloons at every roof corner of the building, and we took pictures as you would walk and drive by and up and down, and everybody got it. And then I went to the drawing board and I actually conceptually redrew the entire facility, and then worked with Dick Bush Architects, who's an incredible architect in Chesterfield who put an incredible money shot on it, and we turned it into an award-winning project. So it went from, what could have been the dog on campus to now it's the showcase on campus.

Host: Yeah, that's something a lot of people don't realize—the aesthetics and the way it can look from different angles because the lighting may look different, the sun coming in at different angles, and there's so much that you've got to be wary of because you don't want to have the campus go, "Oh, you don't want to be part of that organization." Okay, very important stuff. Well, that's good that you're looking out. We've got a lot of charitable stuff we'll talk about here in a minute too. Tell me the process though. Somebody says, "Dan, I want to work with you. What's the process to get started?

Dan: Well, we meet with people, and sometimes we bid work, sometimes we're just strictly negotiating, sometimes we're doing an open-book process. We sit and meet with them, and some people may have some design services. They already got a favorite architect or civil engineer, so we sit down with them and we just ask them, "What are you trying to accomplish? What's the overall big picture? What new tool or warehouse project or printing plant,, what are you trying to build here?" And then, "What are you trying to accomplish budget-wise?" What services have you got, we can supply all the other services, and we come up with kind of a process of whatever services you need. What is the scope? Like I said, they may have some bidders or some favorite electrician or an HVAC guy, and we put that all together. So we figure out what the process is going to be, and then we go ahead and put it together, and then get all the pricing, and then roll it into a lump-sum contract and get going.

Host: Okay, sounds like you've nailed this process down, but there's a lot to it because there's no room for error.

Dan: That sounds pretty good in a 30 second tidbit, but there’s a lot that goes into it, and it takes a team. I’ve got an incredible team back at my office. We spend an incredible amount of time training these folks. I say, if you want to blow away your clients, blow away your employees. We treat each other like a client. We try to blow away our employees. They do an incredible job with our clients interfacing and everything. That’s part of the whole process.

Host: How has the internet changed the way you do business - from 21 years ago, I’m guessing it’s a lot different.

Dan: I think we accomplish 5x more. That doesn’t mean we get to work 2 hours a day. I think we’re just producing more. I think the speed of life and business is just incredible nowadays, and you can show up to somebody’s office with a laptop, or email and use livestream a 3 dimensional structure. You can spin it, you can fly in to it, you can see everything in it. There’s nothing like being able to see it before you get it. It’s the same thing with cameras. Clients love to log in and see their project being built with job site cameras. It’s a great marketing tool. So the internet is just incredible.

Host: You mentioned that before, that is the last three years or so, the technology with cameras is where you turn them on, they’re hi def.

Dan: The clarity of cameras, you know, you can get a solar camera with a SIM card in it, you can put it anywhere, being that it is solar powered. You can get your clients to log in and see it through that camera, and a lot of times afterwards we’ll send them a little movie clip of a picture every day to see how the project progresses. It’s a great timeline, great marketing tool.

Host: Is there a particular quote you have that you like that helps you stay motivated for what you’ve done over the years? Like, my dad talked about “if you think you can’t, you’re correct.”

Dan: Well, a couple of different quotes. “Don’t be a cheat,” “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” I actually think one of the most important things is your attitude. The Beattitudes, I can’t remember the whole quote, but “Attitude will break a business or a church. Having a good, positive attitude is better than experience or education. It’s just so important to have a good attitude walking into the office, and getting everybody into the same wavelength.

Host: (putting hat on) That’s where you get the Cardinal cowboy hat, because essentially attitude is the essence of what we talk about. If you don’t have the right attitude, it can really take the wrong direction.

Dan: It can take the wind out of everybody’s sails. Sometimes you have to go to work after you’ve been kicked around to the curb, but we’re all so blessed, and we tend to forget that. I feel like I’ve been blessed and fortunate. You’ve got to have a good attitude.

Host: There are a few famous speakers on the internet I’ve seen. One famous guest came on - I forget his name, he’s written 40 or 50 books, but the one that was most impactful was about attitude. That’s the one thing that can circumvent everything else. If you’ve got that in perspective, then everything can go right - or wrong.

Dan: I do think that when times have gotten slow you’ve just got to keep going, get that attitude right, because it transcends to everybody around you. You don’t realize it, but it really does.

Host: What’s a big challenge you’ve had to overcome in your business career?

Dan: We’re always trying to work on the quality control and the details. I had a mason one time who decided not to put in some standard masonry flashing on a project. After about two years we got little water infiltration around the perimeter of this building, which is completely unacceptable. I had worked with the architect for about two years to come up with some acceptable remedial details. We actually went in and removed all the exterior drywall on the building, had the mason come in and rework all the penetrations to the building, then we came back in and redrywalled it and everything. I’d like to say that everything goes perfect, and we never have a problem. That’s not true, but that’s where, if you want to show your salt, your worth, stand behind your work, and if there are any issues, you’ve got to stand behind your work and take care of business. I think the mason probably saved like $1000 or so not doing it, and it was so silly. We try to make sure those things don’t happen.

Host: Yeah, you can’t circumvent every problem, like we talked about in our first show. There was a lot of great information in that first show, everybody. But it’s how you respond to the hurdles, how you overcome the problems.

Dan: That’s the whole thing when you are selecting a commercial general contractor or a residential contractor. You would be kidding if you say you've never had a problem, never had a crack in a wall or something like that. Things do happen, but it's how you respond that shows your salt and your worth as a contractor because you want somebody that's reputable that's going to stand behind their work. And, like I said, we've been doing it for 21 years.

Host: Very important, everybody, great note. Make sure you follow up and get it done right. And when there's a problem, fix it because that your reputation is on the line there. Tell me, what is an objection that somebody may have when they're going through the process here, and they're confused, they're concerned, or they have questions? What are the typical ones?

Dan: Well, construction is expensive or pricey, so obviously commercial construction is. So, price is always kind of an objection. If you're looking to do a very super simple commercial project that anybody with a pickup truck can do, we're probably not your contractor. If you've got a kind of a complicated renovation or addition or new building or something, and you've got a budget in mind, and you're trying to get the most bang for your buck and you want a blow-away design, we have relationships with five or six incredible architects in St. Louis. And if you want a show stopper or a money shot or blow-away design, we're your contractor.

Host: Yes, well, if somebody has a reputation for putting together great work, it’s you. As I look at your signs, I've seen those signs all over St. Louis, and you've been doing this for a long time and built that reputation or else, obviously, that's a key to success. So there it is. Do the work right, everybody. Build a reputation and make sure you're doing the work to the highest level.

Host: Well, tell me what do you get most satisfaction of, and at the end of the day, it's got to be pretty exciting to see these buildings you'll put together.

Dan: That's probably anybody in the construction business, from the laborers to carpenters to part of the team. When you can drive your family down the highway, and you're part of the whole labor crew or design crew, and you can say, "Hey, I built that building," Kind of one of the neatest things is—I never meant to do all these fraternity houses—but another fraternity project that I did in Rolla, Missouri, on this Lambda Chi house, I had an alumnus who came up to me and just started hugging me and was crying because he couldn't believe that you could renovate and put the additions on this fraternity house and turn it into an incredible, gorgeous structure again. This was another Dick Bush architect project that we worked with them on. How rewarding, to get a pat on the back or someone to shake your hand or to hug you, and is that emotional or passionate. It just makes you feel good that you've done something good.

Host: Well, that's what we're all hoping for, somewhere, figure out a way to contribute to our little planet because it gives you your own satisfaction if you want to be happy.

Dan: Absolutely. If you're going to do something, blow it away. If you're going to do it, blow it away. You can become an expert in any field that you're doing if you spend that extra 15, 20 minutes a day, after a year's time, two years' time. Go ahead and learn all the different details, become that expert, that go-to person.

Host: Yeah, that's a great key because as somebody who was learning the IT field when I got—I'll give this example. I would build a Microsoft Exchange Server in my house, in my basement. I got the static IP, and I ran the line out there. I was just barely within the 177,000-foot limit, but we did it. And then ran that thing. But that's how you learn, by going the extra mile.

Dan: Absolutely. Why not? If you're going to do something, just blow them away, and that's what we like to do.

Host: Well, very good. That's what we like to hear too. A method to get there, everybody. Some secrets here we can share with you. All right, as we finish up here, we got a couple of minutes left, but we know you contribute to the community. You've worked on a lot of charitable stuff. Tell me how do you feel like you most contribute? Tell me about some of the projects you've done.

Dan: The whole St. Louis area is a very philanthropic community, so I'm just blessed to be part of the whole community. But we're very involved in the St. Louis Rotary Club and all their children's charity. And then my father was very good friends with Gene Slay of Slay Transportation, and Gene Slay has started the Gene Slay Girls and Boys Club. I was able to build their satellite facility in South St. Louis City, which was very important to me. And then I have a cousin up in the Florissant area, Sue Geerling, who donates her time to the Sew Hope Community Center. Sew Hope Community Center got flooded about 15 months ago from the Cold Water Creek flood. They needed help. She put out calls for help, and it was a perfect fit for us. We went up there when other people weren't responding and made some in-kind donations. We renovated their place for what their insurance proceeds were, what they got from their landlord, and reopened just about before any other business in the building did. So, you know, that's very important for me and for my family and my business. All my people, my business, are involved in philanthropic. They're working some of the Rotary events and things like that. I think that's important for your little Wheel of Life, circle of life. You've got to have some balance, and doing some philanthropic things makes you feel good about where you work.

Host: Yeah, it just seems like so many people lose track of the fact that there's just, if you don't give back, you're almost hurting yourself because you get more.

Dan: You get more by giving, you know. You really do.

Host: And the Rotary is an awesome organization. My dad was part of that for many years. You're also a Paul Harris recipient, right? The ultimate award for somebody who's contributed. Talk about that and what that was like for you.

Dan: Well, you know, that was nice. I really wasn't looking for an award. A lot of people in the club have that award, and it's just a neat thing that, you've helped out, and you've given time, efforts, and money to the club, and I'm very appreciative of that.

Host: Well, the Rotarians do a lot of great work in the community. It's neat to hear you're part of that organization too. So with that, we're going to put up on the wall. We're going to show off a little bit of the work with some of the projects that Dan has worked on, and we've got a long list here. A lot of these places you guys will recognize if you take a look here. So take a look on the wall with me, everybody, and I'm going to scroll. I'm going to put these up for everybody to see now. So you're looking at, there, that's office medical. You've got the, is this one of the fraternity, the Lambda Chi house, that’s the facility down in Green Park. The Jacobs facility in Fenton, nice. I've seen that. Okay, and then here we got your industrial warehouses.

Dan: Yeah, we have Alcatraz Trucking down in Green Park. Eastern Metals, there is a warehouse out in Elm Point, and we've done, like I said, projects from Kansas City over to Collinsville, from Pacific, Missouri, and Rolla, Missouri. So, pretty much 100 miles, occasionally 200 miles away from St. Louis.

Host: Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. If you're going to get work done, you might as well get the best in the area. Conway Contracting Inc. has been doing this for a long time. So when it boils down to it, when you come home every night, do you feel good about this? Is this something you get to share with the kids, and you say, "Hey, guys”, is this a family heirloom? Are the kids involved at all?

Dan: All of my kids had to actually work and clean the job sites. I don't think we were the nice parents, apparently, at least that's what I've been told from our kids. (they laught) But, you know, our kids all had to learn a work ethic and had to contribute towards their schooling and come up with their personal spending money. I know that sounds bad, but we actually would find them jobs. They would have to literally, we would go every Saturday or whatever, and we'd clean the job sites, an incredible bonding experience, and my kids learned a lot of life skills. And I tell you, they know how to organize a job site. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it's always been good.

Host: Well, with that, ladies and gentlemen, experts, check out these shows. Two shows now that will air on ABC on the Your Little Castle show, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday late at night. Check out our website. You can get all the information. Check out if you missed these when they were recorded, go check them out on our websites. I give a copy to all of our guests here. Thank you, Dan, for sharing some of your expertise.

Dan: Okay, thank you very much.