New England Finish Systems
Jon Marquis founded a small drywall company in 1985 called New England Drywall. For nearly 30 years, the business has grown. Jon has since renamed the business New England Finish Systems (NEFS) and added five sibling companies that all operate under the same umbrella. He still owns all six companies, though each independent business has its own leadership team. Mary Vinagro works as CFO of NEFS alongside company president Ray Houle. She has been involved with the company for 17 years and works behind the scenes to manage overhead and promote financial growth for the business.
“The second company Jon added to the group was Paint System New England,” she recounts. “That was in the early 2000s. A few years after that, he established Select Demo Services, a demolition business. Eaton Door and Frame, a doors, hardware and bathroom accessory supplier, was established in 2006. In 2012, we added Allan Construction, a local company that installs acoustical ceilings. We purchased that business from Mark Allan, who we have worked with for many years on the same jobs. In 2013, we established Specialty Services, specializing in blinds and other window treatments.”
NEFS and its affiliated companies often work in conjunction to pull together complex projects. Vinagro notes each business maintains a competitive edge through strong management and office staff, as well as skilled union labor. “We rarely, if ever, sub anything out,” she explains. “We are signatory with the carpenters, tapers, laborers and painters unions; we have our own plasterers. We handle it all.”
Handling it all, as she puts it, is made easier with policies and procedures that streamline operations. “We have some of the top guys in the field working for us as core group,” Vinagro explains. “Ray Houle started out in the field and he now keeps a close eye on all of our projects to make sure they run efficiently.”
“We also use tablets in the field,” she continues. “All of our foremen have them. They use the tablets for time sheets, requisitioning for material and estimating. Customers quite often have extra work beyond the initial contract. If they need something, the tablets are there to track the information. A superintendent can get the forms filled out and signed on the tablet. They email it to accounting; it gets priced right away and then is emailed back to the customer. The process is instant. No one can touch us technologically. We have an in-house programmer who works with the staff to streamline forms and create new ones as needed. This is a great system that allows us to do more volume with consistent quality while keeping everyone in the loop.”
These high-tech capabilities have come into play in dozens of diverse projects over the years. Approximately 90 percent of the company’s contracts are in downtown Boston, although NEFS often travels into New Hampshire, Rhode Island and beyond for work. Recent projects include work for Google’s downtown Boston office and Blue Cross Blue Shield, Brown Brothers Harriman, MFS, Ropes & Gray, as well as Berkeley School of Music. The team recently picked up a project for Cabot Creamery in Vermont, which will be complete in the next year.
While the entire country felt the impact of the recession, Vinagro says New England’s market is picking up quickly. “Things are definitely improving here,” she says. “We had a banner year in 2013 and we’re going to do even better this year. Many of the general contractors we work with have backlogs into next year. Boston has a lot going on, especially down by the water in the hotel district. You wouldn’t think they had the room, but there are a lot of offices going up with parking underneath where there used to be open lots.”
Now the company’s focus is shifting again. NEFS and its related companies have had explosive growth in the last two years, so the challenge is in management now. Fortunately, the team has systems in place to control quality while maintaining a manageable balance financially. Efficiency is a growing theme with everything from estimation to delivery.
The company’s bidding template allows the team to process jobs more quickly than other contractors while still coming in with competitive numbers. The crew is also making upgrades to technology. “We are always looking for better ways to do things,” Vinagro explains. “We recently bought a pre-formed drywall cutting machine to make soffits and other varying shapes. We have our eyes open for anything that will make us more efficient, whether that’s a different screw gun or different screws. The technology we use is way beyond that of our competitors.”
Under one umbrella, all six companies are growing. Management is strong, enhancing the businesses’ existing reputation for high-quality work. The team is not looking to make any major geographic expansions, but as far as independent markets go, Jon is always open to new opportunities. No matter how diverse the group of companies becomes, New England Finish Systems and its affiliated businesses continue to perform high-quality work with efficiency and integrity.
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