Crew Builders, Inc.
- Written by: Jim Cavan
- Produced by: Victor Martins
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Every morning between 3:30 and 4:00, while the homes of his neighbors lie still and dark, Jon Archer is getting ready to work. Long before the sun or the competition is up, he’s checking email, having his first cup of coffee, reviewing proposals.
As one of the principals for Crew Builders, a San Diego-based commercial construction firm, Archer’s ritual is one he’s come to embrace.
“When you’re running a company like this, a lot of people depend on you to be on top of things,” Archer says. “I don’t look at it as a burden. It’s an opportunity.”
With a portfolio that includes names like Google, Apple and YMCA, that opportunity is in anything but short supply.
Cofounded in 2006 by Archer and longtime colleague Jeff Salewsky, Crew specializes in building redevelopment and tenant improvements—transforming workspaces of all shapes and sizes into beacons of modern design and functionality.
That means providing everything from stud framing to door installation, and everything between.
What’s more, the company’s slate is just as broad. At any given time, Crew might have 50 projects under contract, from southernmost California all the way to San Francisco. Some days, Archer and his team will drive two hours to a jobsite, complete a project and fight four hours of traffic on the way home.
It’s this anywhere, anytime commitment that Archer says defines what Crew Builders has become. Ten years ago, however, embracing that ethos wasn’t merely a matter of differentiation; it was necessary for the company’s survival.
Survival of the fittest
In 2008, less than two years after Archer and Salewsky first launched Crew Builders, the construction industry—like much of the global economy—was in a tailspin.
“The financial crisis had a huge impact on a whole generation of business owners,” Archer recalls. “The construction sector had become complacent, in part, because wages and costs were artificially inflated.”
By the peak of the recession, the landscape had changed dramatically. In order to compete, companies were being forced to bid lower on projects, resulting in thinner margins. Bankruptcies became commonplace; layoffs, practically endemic.
“I think the recession taught us to be humble,” Archer says. “We had to understand that not every project was going to be a home run from a bottom-line perspective. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t grow.”
Slowly but surely, Crew rebuilt its portfolio. It drove where other companies wouldn’t. It took on small retrofits. Over time, $50,000 jobs turned into $100,000 jobs. Before long, the firm was refreshing outworn lobbies for Verge Campus, a college-themed multimedia company, and overhauling offices at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
Today, 95 percent of Crew’s business comes from repeat clients. The reason, Archer says, has to do with the company’s steadfast commitment to two things—trust and expertise.
“We pride ourselves on giving honest estimates and delivering on deadline,” he says. “Our business is a marathon, not a sprint. So it’s crucial that you develop those relationships and be part of a larger team.”
Since 2006, Crew has grown to 100 employees and $35 million in annual revenue, including an increase of $15 million in the last two years alone.
But that’s never been how Archer measures success.
Building a culture
Having weathered the economic tempest, Archer could’ve done away with long drives and distant jobsites. But there’s a bigger reason why Crew keeps its docket full: a loyalty to those employees who stuck with the company through thick and thin.
As the company sets its sights on larger-scale projects—he cites $1 to $10 million as a target range—the risk of Crew outgrowing its workmanlike roots is one the company’s founders are determined to stave off. No matter how early that alarm rings.
“Having small projects far away is never easy, but it gives people full-time work,” Archer explains. “I think a lot of bigger companies kind of lost that. A lot of tradesmen and their families depend on us, and we want them to have as many of those opportunities as possible.”
Still, Archer says he’s excited to start broadening Crew’s suite of services. Rather than rely exclusively on a cycle of plans, drawings and bids, Archer and Salewsky want to shift toward a more comprehensive level of involvement—“providing a cost structure that the client can be a part of.”
In scope and service, Crew remains a turnkey operation, tackling everything from building shell to door handle. What’s evolved is the company’s collaborative approach, where all parties are flexible enough to change on the fly.
“Our goal is to be more process-oriented,” Archer illustrates. “We want to have that level of trust where we can report costs quickly so clients have access to information in real time.”
The bigger the projects get—as with a recent, 16-week, 25,000-square-foot refurbishment of the Verve Wireless headquarters in nearby Carlsbad—the more important that transparency becomes.
“Being open and honest is part of our culture,” Archer says. “You never want to be uncomfortable trusting someone with a $5 million project. I think where we excel is putting people’s minds at ease.”
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