This article is sponsored by Brinkmann Constructors. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Brinkmann Vice President Brett Goodman to learn how operators can keep projects in budget despite inflation. The key to the Brinkmann strategy: Always ask “what if?”
Senior Housing News: Brett, what life and career experiences do you most draw from in your role today with Brinkmann?
Goodman: In my life and my career, I’ve always taken a can-do attitude. Everybody can sit there and say, “Well, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” I was taught early in my career, as well as in some of my life experiences, that you are always looking for what you can do and what you can get done. I always ask, what if you do it this way? I say, “Ask the what-if question.” And I try to push that down to my employees as well.
Brinkmann prides itself on its high repeat client rate. What are the key values that Brinkmann uses to keep clients coming back again and again?
Goodman: There are probably three big ones. The first is what we call client advocacy. We try to treat every building and every dollar as if it’s our own, even though we’re working for the client. We set that up early with the client. The second big one is creativity. We use a variety of creative methods in solving problems that help support operators — which ties back to client advocacy.
The third is being empowered entrepreneurs. Our employees are given direction to make quick decisions in the interest of our clients. In today’s fast-paced world this leads to outstanding results for our clients.
What are the top questions that you are hearing from operators today about construction? What are their top concerns?
Goodman: Inflation, mostly. Clients wonder, when the construction pricing keeps going up, whether price increases are going to slow down, and what can we do to hedge the inflation part of it? We’ve done a lot of wood frame structures for our clients, and when wood prices had almost quadrupled in six months, we had to come up with creative solutions to get these projects back in budget.
That’s tough to do. I was working with a client today on a project we budgeted probably six months ago. The numbers all worked, but now interest rates have started going through the roof. We actually had to come up with about $750,000 in real value engineering options to get his building back into budget. That was just because of interest rates. But that’s what Brinkmann is known for: finding creative solutions to advocate for our clients and their stakeholders.
Tied to what you just said, how does Brinkmann solve those top concerns that your operators bring to you?
Goodman: It is a collaborative effort. We start by looking at the soils report and everything through the roof membrane to help reduce the cost of the project, and we look first for changes that won’t affect the quality of the project. During the collaborative process, we talk to the engineers and architects of record as well as the client to make informed decisions in a timely manner.
A good recent example: We were looking at photometrics of the site that was producing about 35 site lighting poles. We asked, “Well, what if you had one pole but you put a double-headed luminary on it to reduce the poles by maybe half?”
And ultimately we were able to do that, but it was a complete and collaborative effort between the design team and the client.
Brinkmann has a number of long-lasting relationships with senior housing operators, partnerships that expand to many projects over many years. What are the top approaches that Brinkmann brings to senior living operators that facilitate these long-lasting partnerships?
Goodman: It dovetails back into our creativity, advocacy and entrepreneurship. You throw that into a collaborative effort with the client and it’s a synergistic relationship that helps you overcome just about any problem. We did that on a project in northern Virginia. This was the lumber issue again — the cost of lumber had quadrupled so we were out of budget in a hurry. We did a site investigation and noticed the client’s demo subcontractor had crushed the existing concrete structures to aggregates for haul off.
We took one look at that and sat down with the client and came up with the idea, “You’ve got all this crushed concrete. We can use that underneath the parking lot, underneath the sidewalks, and even for backfill on some of the building basements.” By doing that, we were able to save almost $800,000.
Another example — my absolute favorite one — was a job we did at Purdue University. It was a 16-story student housing building that had three stories below grade for parking. I think when we got involved it was actually over budget. We start from the very bottom, looking at the soil report. What does the soil report really tell us? Looking at that, we found out that the whole building was sitting on 150 feet of sand. You’re thinking sand — well that’s not very good for excavating a hole.
The traditional method of excavation for underground structures is to drive soldier piles and install lagging as you’re excavating the hole. Once the earth retention is in place, foundations are poured, and walls are poured next to the ERS system. Brinkmann started thinking outside the box and came up with the idea of using sheet pile for the ERS system as well as the foundation wall for the underground parking. By doing this we were able to shave off six weeks from the schedule and save close to a million dollars on the project.
How does Brinkmann work to act as an advocate for its clients?
Goodman: Probably the best way I can describe that is that we have the tough conversations, not only with subcontractors, but also design professionals as well as clients. We’ve been doing it this way for years. What we try to do is stand up and speak out on behalf of our clients to find ways to get projects done faster and save money.
Like the previous example, everybody does excavations with an ERS system and then foundation wall. We just looked at it and said, “Well, what if you use sheet pile for your ERS system and your foundation wall?” By standing up, speaking out and having some tough talks with the structural engineer, we were able to save the client money and time on his schedule.
Finish this sentence: “The top strategy that senior living operators should employ for the remainder of this year in order to best prepare for 2023 is…”?
Goodman: Get a general contractor involved early on in your budgeting process and let them help guide you through the design process. You can start getting almost immediate feedback on market conditions long before you even take it to market with the subcontractors. This will save both time and money associated with redesign efforts down the road and keep the project on schedule and on budget.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact [email protected].