The Forrest Group
Unlike many others, Dale Forrest, CEO of The Forrest Group (TFG), knows how to lead his group of companies to success in a tough market. As many struggle to keep just one company afloat, Forrest has managed to form long-standing partnerships solidifying a group of front-runners. TFG is the administrative parent company of seven separate, yet affiliated, prosperous businesses.
According to Forrest, TFG’s leading companies include Paragon Contractors LLC (Paragon), Northeastern Irrigation and Landscape, as well as United Golf LLC. “There are people that run the other businesses,” explains Forrest, who enjoys doing business with each of them, allowing TFG to run as efficiently as possible.
TFG includes three support companies as well. United Materials is the group’s asphalt business, Paragon Transportation provides trucking services, and Northeast Equipment Leasing provides heavy equipment for the group’s projects, as well as mechanical service and maintenance.
Forrest’s road to heading this group of companies was a winding one. Forrest went to school at Oklahoma State University for petroleum engineering. “My father was in the oil business,” he says. “He had his own company, but when the oil crisis hit in ’81, he had to sell out.” Forrest then returned to Tulsa to be close to his family, but it was tough to find work. “I had friends I’d gone to college with who were waiting tables,” he recalls. “There just wasn’t anything else.” Always an innovator, Forrest found a way to apply his knowledge and make a little money.
Forrest started digging ditches and installing lawn sprinklers for $5 per hour. “That’s where I started,” he chuckles. His first business, a landscaping company, took off in 1987. Only 10 years later he took his experience and applied it to a new venture: United Golf LLC. “The golf course construction led into doing site work,” he says.
A new door opened and Paragon, TFG’s general contractor company, was established in 2005. Gene Harris – president of Paragon, who also heads TFG’s asphalt plant – then become one of Forrest’s trusted partners.
Paragon performs all aspects of horizontal construction. “We don’t build buildings,” clarifies Forrest. “We do infrastructure work, subdivisions, highways, airports, you name it.” With the economy in a slump, Forrest says that Paragon is mostly picking up municipal projects.
“The housing market is down, and we’ve cut way back on golf courses,” he says. United Golf LLC once served clients from the Rocky Mountains eastward and from the Canadian border down to the Gulf of Mexico, but Forrest explains that now most of the golf course projects are regional.
Rolling with the Punches
When the stock market crashed, Paragon, along with the rest of the TFG team, lost a lot of its private contract work. “We’re doing mostly municipal and department of transportation projects,” says Forrest. Like many contractors, the group is running on smaller and smaller profit margins.
“Work is really cheap right now,” elaborates Forrest. Negotiated design-build contracts tend to run well, but the companies have been picking up some hard bid work, which Forrest says “… is pretty miserable. We’ve had projects run with a 3-percent margin.”
The group is pulling through admirably with Forrest’s experience leading the way. Over the past few years, some of TFG’s businesses have scaled back, but the market is turning around.
Forrest is making decisions constantly that affect the efficiency of all of the businesses. “We’re well-positioned, but the market has got to come around,” he says. If profitability doesn’t increase, the plan is to shift the companies’ focus to what they do best. “We’ll work on what’s profitable and we’ll cut back on what’s not,” he explains.
In the meantime, TFG is bulking up marketing to help boost sales. “We’re in the process of redeveloping our websites,” Forrest explains. “We never really needed them until now.” The businesses that comprise TFG have always upheld a positive reputation that spread through word of mouth. Even in the tough economy, some of the businesses’ clients are returning for multiple contracts.
One of TFG’s loyal repeat customers is the Downstream Casino Resort. The resort is owned by the Quapaw Tribe and provides a Las Vegas-style experience in Quapaw, Okla. When the original casino was built, Paragon was hired to perform site prep by the casino’s general contractor, Manhattan Construction.
“We self-performed just about everything horizontal on that project,” Forrest recalls. “We did the excavation, site grade, utilities and we also paved the asphalt and concrete.” The project was completed in record time after only 10 months and six days. “It ended up being a really good project for us,” says Forrest, who then adds that the project was started with no plans and no contract.
Downstream Casino Resort purchased a nearby golf course a few years later. The resort executives had been so impressed with Paragon’s team during construction that Forrest’s United Golf LLC was contracted to completely rebuild the resort’s golf course. “I’ve been told it’s one of the most profitable casinos in the country,” Forrest says. “It’s not huge, but it’s very nice.”
TFG’s portfolio includes several marquee projects, including the William J. Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark. All of the landscaping and irrigation work on the property was performed by Northeast Irrigation and Landscaping.
Again, all three of the lead companies were subcontracted by Manhattan Construction to perform horizontal construction at the Tulsa Drillers’ Stadium, the home of one of Oklahoma’s minor league baseball teams. Paragon Contractors performed the site preparation and dirt work on the project, while Northeast Irrigation and Landscaping beautified the grounds and installed sprinklers. To pull it all together, the group’s United Golf constructed the home team’s baseball diamond.
Forrest’s flexibility and realistic attitude have been key components in TFG’s longevity and success in the industry. The ability to branch out has brought the esteemed group of companies multiple opportunities, in addition to helping TFG to stay afloat even when securing profitable work has been tough. The group’s diversity in services and its dedication to a quality finished project ensures The Forrest Group a long and highly evolved future in the construction industry.
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