In a post-recession economic climate, FireTech LLC (FireTech), a Missouri-based design-build fire suppression contractor, has learned to embrace change and use it to gain a competitive advantage. Since 2003, FireTech has been specializing in the design, sales, service, maintenance, fabrication and installation of fixed fire suppression systems for a range of clients in the commercial and heavy industrial sector.
Over the course of the last decade, much has changed in the industry… and so has FireTech. “If you’re a contractor in the U.S. today, you have to be as competitive as possible and embrace new technology to maintain your cutting edge,” explains Jaime Howes, managing partner of FireTech.
Gaining a competitive advantage
That’s why in the last four years, FireTech has made great strides to ramp up its industry-leading capabilities. “2008 through 2009 was a terrible year due to the economy, but we have built back up and we’re doing a ton of 3-D BIM modeling,” reveals Howes. “FireTech has made a $50,000 investment in software and training and we have hired people with the right expertise to really help us compete.”
While other companies are just beginning to get on the 3-D BIM train, Howes says FireTech has been a leader from the get-go. “We have invested the time, energy and resources that have helped us win projects and awards when we’re not the lowest bidder,” he notes. “Half of our competition is now involved because 3-D BIM is here to stay. While some people are just starting to get into it we have been at it for nearly four years now.”
FireTech’s diversity across markets has also contributed to the company’s ability to win bids and expand outside of its familiar Missouri footprint. “We have recently expanded our focus well beyond Missouri,” reveals Howes. “FireTech serves a range of clients from hospitals to casinos, retail outlets such as Cabela’s, Nordstrom Rack, JC Penney’s, as well as nursing homes, museums, manufacturing facilities and the auto industry.”
Headquartered in St. Louis, FireTech has long served customers within the state, but is now covering a more diverse geographical area with projects in the Mid-Atlantic, southeast and mid-west. “We’re not going after these markets willy-nilly,” ensures Howes. “Our ample experience is making things work out really well for us. As far as employees, we’re almost back to where we were at the height of 2008, before the bottom fell out of the market. FireTech has approximately 21 professional staff and anywhere from 40 to 70 people in the field.”
Keeping vital systems going strong
FireTech has gained more market share and a greater geographical footprint by delivering a broad scope of testing, inspection and repair of critical systems, including backflow preventers, fire pumps, wet and dry pipe sprinkler systems, deluge and foam and water systems and fire hydrants. The company also offers 24-hour emergency service, underground piping repair, inspections in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), as well as local jurisdictions.
According to Howes, it is FireTech’s commitment to out-of-the-box solutions that keep clients coming back. “Our niche is in the design-build arena,” he explains. “We will research codes and create engineered drawings to specially meet any fire protection needs or concerns and we will work with insurance carriers to ensure that the best practices are put in place.”
This approach has landed FireTech some major clientele, including General Motors. “We’re currently working on the expansion of the General Motors plant in St. Louis,” reveals Howes. “General Motors is adding a new stamping plant and body shop and I expect our portion to be completed by fall 2014.”
FireTech has also engineered specialized protection systems for Brewer’s Science Facility in Missouri. “Dr. David Brewer has developed the film and coating for microchips for huge technology companies such as Intel,” reveals Howes. “When a tornado came through the area, Brewer’s clients requested the company build a third production plant, so we’re assisting in the 3-D BIM modeling in the new state-of-the-art facility. This has been a unique job for FireTech, because we have been involved from the ground up.”
The implementation of FireTech’s new-and-improved technology has strong potential across a range of upcoming markets, according to Howes. “It truly helps create a better project experience for the owner and the end user,” he ensures. “One major market is health care. Hospital projects are going to be a big player in the next five to six years due to the aging demographic in this country.”
Howes goes on to explain that power generation, water lines, electrical grids and other major infrastructure between 50 and 100 years old are also going to be big markets. “These systems need major investment and maintenance,” he details.
In order to enter new markets and maintain its position in the market, Howes says it’s important to make an investment where it counts: in training and education. “The economic situation is getting incrementally better, but because it’s a slow build, these are the areas you have to distinguish yourself in,” he explains.
With a talented team, capable of designing and building virtually any type of fire suppression and protection system, FireTech LLC remains a step ahead of the competition in the industry.
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