Case Studies

Acme Erectors Inc.

Challenging Steel Projects in the Midwest
  • Written by: Jeanee Dudley
  • Produced by: Acme Erectors Inc.
  • Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Acme Erectors Inc. (Acme) started as a division of another construction business, breaking away in 2005 as an independent company. The parent company’s former owner and current company president, Aron Clay, founded the business in its most recent incarnation. “I joined the former company in 1997,” says Clay. “That business had been around since 1997, but technically our company as it exists today was founded on its own in 2005. We are a steel contractor with a niche in miscellaneous, specialty projects.” Today, the company employs 40 people full time between the office and the field, with as many as 60 on staff at a time, depending on the workload and required manpower.

Clay has been in the construction industry since graduating from Purdue University in 1993 with an engineering degree. “It was one of those life decisions that happen without you knowing it,” he explains. “The main thing that led me to this was an internship in the college program at Purdue. I knew that internships got you jobs, so that got me started. I chose engineering in general because as a high school student I was good at math and science.

“Our ability to engineer a project really sets us apart from our competition, which is mostly iron workers,” he continues. “Having been iron workers, they think because they have done it, they can now run a company. Everyone in leadership of this outfit has a background in engineering. That allows us to approach projects from an engineering standpoint instead of a hands-on, iron working standpoint.”

Unique Capabilities

Part of Acme’s market involves structural steel work, a common capability in the steel construction industry. Clay and his crew take those capabilities one step further, tackling complex projects with uncommon challenges. “We excel where the jobs get dirty,” he elaborates, “Where you have to move beams into buildings that don’t quite have the space to get them in. We figure out how rig them, how to get them through the windows, through the building and into place without the use of invasive, pile-rigging equipment.”

Based in St. Louis, Acme serves clients in a 150-mile radius from the home office. Within that geographic footprint, the team has performed many unique and challenging projects in a number of sectors. “We have several really interesting projects going on now and completed in the last few yeas,” Clay recounts. “We are doing a project at Missouri Innovation Campus, which is affiliated with the University of Central Missouri and Metropolitan Community College. The structure had some big, heavy trusses. We did some structural framing of that. We also have a project at River City Casino, which is a similar deal with the big trusses. We did the frame under a tight schedule, which was really sequence-driven.

“Then there are jobs at power plants, jobs downtown and other contracts we perform,” Clay adds.” We had one recently downtown where the floors were not adequate to base codes. We engineered and designed the best way to reinforce each floor with a stronger metal decking. We shored the building from the ground up and then installed floor decking underneath the existing floors from the top down. That was kind of a neat approach. That particular building was a historic renovation project.”

Staying Strong in a Tough Market

The recent recession has made competition fierce within the construction industry in many areas, St. Louis included. “All of our competitors think they can do the same work for cheaper than they did last year,” Clay explains. “I think the economy hit us in the sense it hasn’t allowed us to grow. We have been fairly stable, peaked in revenue before the recession, but we have bounced back and have had stable revenue for the last two years.

“I wouldn’t say it hit us hard,” he continues. “We have been very fortunate. A few months ago I would have said our outlook was a lot worse. But to date, things are getting better. We have picked up a lot of work. We are about on par for our numbers, and even increased our budget this year by a million because of the work we have been finding. The market seems stable. Unfortunately, the St. Louis specific market is sluggish. That resulted in our geographic expansion. We are doing work in Illinois, too.”

Fortunately, the team has built lasting relationships, which keep costs under control. Acme subs out less than 10 percent of each contract, but still relies on suppliers for material and equipment. “We don’t own any lifts so we rent those from a handful of people,” Clay notes. “We negotiate rates with them and they stick to it all year. We have a fairly sizeable amount that we spend in a year on rentals. The equipment companies are willing to negotiate for our business. We probably do a magnitude of a couple hundred thousand dollars in lift equipment each year.”

On solid ground and holding onto industry connections, Clay and his team remain cautiously optimistic about the next few years. “I see us fighting through a tough economy and holding our own,” he explains. “I think we will be improving our job selection. Our competitors can fight it out and we can watch them kill each other. As the economy rebounds, we will grow over time, integrating similar complementary businesses.” Acme Erectors Inc. will continue to benefit from careful and experienced management, preparing to reap the benefits of the gradual economic recovery.

Published on: November 20, 2013

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