Case Studies

GR-8 Builders: A Boost to Bismarck’s Construction Craft

  • Written by: GR-8 Builders: A Boost to Bismarck's Construction Craft
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GR-8 Builders (GR-8) will celebrate one year of business in 2013, but the GR-8 team represents the efforts and experience of long-time Bismarck residents and construction professionals. Art and Dorothy Mariner moved to Bismarck almost 40 years ago with their sons, Greg and Steve, and a backhoe. The backhoe, combined with Art’s ambition and excavating experience, eventually evolved into a full-service earthwork, paving and snow removal operation under the name Mariner Construction Inc. (MCI).

By 2012, the need for more housing in Bismarck led the Mariners to engage with business partner Mark Haugen and establish GR-8. GR-8 was founded as a standalone residential and commercial contracting operation, bringing together MCI’s experience, industry connections and reputation for quality work.

“We’re still in the process of building our own office,” says Tory Otto, business manager at GR-8. “So, for now, GR-8 headquarters consists of my vehicle and a backpack with a laptop.”

Otto came to Bismarck a few years ago after 15 years working as an electronics and mechanics technician for power plants at the request of a friend. That friend eventually started a home building company of his own, which Otto expects could build as many as 150 houses in 2012, up from roughly 38 houses in 2009.

“There are so many systems that go into building a home, and it’s the way those systems are organized, scheduled and installed that makes the difference,” expands Otto. “And that’s what I bring to GR-8. It’s the organization and efficiencies of the system I developed while working at my previous employer that we’ll use to make sure projects go smoothly and efficiently.”

Building a Foundation

GR-8 currently employs roughly 18 professionals, who split their time between commercial and residential projects. The team is just large enough to form three framing crews and two concrete crews to take care of the framing, excavation, foundations and flatwork on a project, leaving the remaining trades to local subcontracting specialists.

Whenever possible, GR-8 draws upon the connections forged over many years by MCI and Otto himself, though the demand for quality construction professionals across North Dakota remains high across the board. The availability of qualified subcontractors is further complicated by a labor pool diminished by the availability of high-paying gigs in the oil field and the huge demand for construction professionals to fuel the oil fields operation. In turn, GR-8 deploys its professionals wherever needed, as the team continually looks to add new contacts to a call list of qualified subcontractors.

“It used to take 85 days to build a new home in Bismarck, but because of the shortage of labor that number is up to 125 days, so every efficiency at our disposal makes a difference,” explains Otto. “Of course, a big component of that efficiency stems from my belief in using subcontractors with the best skills, not just the cheapest subcontractors.”

Looking Long-term

Otto’s previous experience building homes becomes especially critical when considering the specific needs of homebuyers in North Dakota. GR-8 positioned itself to focus on building entry-level homes for the immediate future. The team gradually worked up to semi-custom homes as opportunities arose, but even entry-level homes in North Dakota require an extra degree of consideration given the region’s brutally cold winters. Entry level or not, homebuyers in North Dakota want to buy a home that won’t cost an arm and a leg to heat in the winter. Therefore, energy-efficient insulation and fenestration products will be a focus of GR-8’s first round of inventory.

GR-8’s primary challenge will be developing a product that can still turn a profit. “Market analysis keeps me awake at night,” admits Otto. “Because of the rules and regulations that resulted from the national housing crisis, appraisals here don’t always cover construction costs, so I’m totally focused on making sure our customers can get a good house for a great price.”

GR-8 has already managed to position itself to hit the ground running in 2013. The Mariners helped GR-8 secure 25 lots for development and the team remains on-track to complete three commercial projects in 2013.

Meanwhile, Otto focuses his efforts on shoring up the company’s official business plan and continues to cement the final details on housing plans for GR-8’s first round of developments. “I’m reaching out to all of the subcontractors I have experience with and really pinning down whether or not they can help us take on another 30 to 40 homes for 2013,” adds Otto.

In the next few years, the GR-8 team hopes to keep one eye trained on the housing market and one eye making sure the company’s commercial operation doesn’t take off too quickly at the risk of overextending its resources. As the company settles into a comfortable and steady growth pace, Otto, the Mariner family and the GR-8 team will work to boost Bismarck’s inventory of greatly needed construction expertise and high-quality homes, all the while doing the GR-8 Builders name justice with a smile.

Published on: March 16, 2013

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