Pier Construction & Development LLC
When a former competitor asked Michael Thomas to start a construction business during the height of the economic recession, he said yes.
It wasn’t the logical response—at the time, other companies were laying off or going out of business—but it’s worked out nicely.
President and CEO Michael Thomas founded Pier Construction & Development LLC in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2007 at the request of a previous competitor-turned-business-partner. That developer, now the largest multifamily developer in Nevada, had competed with Thomas and a construction company he worked for years before.
“They couldn’t figure out how we could build the projects for less than they could, faster than they could—and I’m talking like half a year faster,” Thomas says. “The quality was as good, if not better, than what they were producing and our prices were always consistently lower than theirs. They couldn’t figure that out.”
When that developer decided to build in Nevada, they asked Thomas to start a construction company and do all of their projects. Thomas agreed, and the founding of Pier to the present has been “a wild ride.”
Building trust within
At first work was slow, but Pier and the development client kept moving forward with new projects that included multifamily developments for rental properties, retail centers and commercial construction. That kept Pier alive and kept Pier staff employed. The steady business in an unsteady time built employees’ trust in Pier and made Pier staff appreciate their primary builder.
“That’s why we’re grateful to our clients because they kept us working when a lot of people weren’t,” says Co-Managing Agent Debra Thomas. “It was one project one year, two projects the next year, three projects the year after that and so forth and so forth.”
“For me, there’s a lot of loyalty with that, to make it through that rough time and to continue to grow was pretty amazing,” says Pier Controller Judy Rusch. “It’s very amazing actually.”
Pier has doubled its output each year for the last four years. In 2015, it completed four apartment projects, each with more than 300 units, and in 2016 its revenue reached $140 million. Today it has seven projects with a total of 1,750 units in the works.
“It was slow and steady for the first few years, and now it’s not so slow but still very steady,” Debra Thomas says.
“Mike, during the recession, was looking to expand, which was pretty unusual compared to everyone else at that time,” John Kakol, vice president of construction, added, “and expand he did. We just got busier and busier, and when you thought you were as busy as you could be, we got busier.”
“It’s been fun and, everyone that’s here, I think they kind of relish the activity,” Kakol says.
There are two main reasons Pier has been able to flourish amid such a frenzy of activity. One is that Pier’s leaders have decades and decades of experience between them. Thomas has more than 40 years of experience, Kakol more than 30 and General Superintendent Sean Burke has more than 25.
The second factor is their high level of organization.
“We’re highly organized in the office so we can handle a lot more work than other companies probably can,” Rusch says. “We can add a project and just kind of tuck it in and keep moving.”
Trust through transparency
Strong relationships and the fact that Pier now has the most work in Nevada have helped attract and retain quality subcontractors. Some of those subcontractors are people Thomas, Kakol and Burke have worked with for 25 years.
“I think they recognize that we’re knowledgeable in what we’re doing,” Kakol says. “We’re not going to wing it or get lost in the timeline. We’re going to be expeditious and to the point to get it complete.”
Pier has also gained the trust of Nevada’s largest banks.
“Because we were completing apartments during a recession, in the timelines and in the budgets that were quoted, [that] made the people like the U.S. Banks and the Wells Fargos especially feel really warm and cozy about where they were with us,” Thomas says.
That transparency and fairness got Pier started with Nevada’s largest developer, and it has helped it attract new clients.
A few years ago Challenger School of Salt Lake City, Utah, bought a building in Nevada and needed a tenant improvement (TI) done in three weeks. Even though the timeline was nearly impossible, Pier pulled together enough subcontractors, its own labor, sweat and blood and completed the TI in the tight timeline.
“We promised that we’d get it done, and I was going to do everything I could to get it done,” Kakol says.
“We worked seven days a week, and we started early in the morning and worked till 11 at night, and that’s when we didn’t have a whole lot of personnel, so I was out there making sure everything was getting taken care of,” he says. “I’d spend the time there on the weekends, and I think those people saw our commitment to them, to the project, and they remembered that.”
The TI project led to two additional projects with Challenger School, a 12,000-square-foot addition and a school in Austin, Texas.
Going forward Pier will expand—carefully.
“There is a limit to what we can do,” Thomas says. “I think 1,750 units in a year is a lot. It depends on the demand. How many projects does that consist of? If it’s seven projects with 1,750 units, we’re good. We might be able to go to 2,000 units, but I don’t think I’d want to push that.”
Thomas says Pier will take the same careful approach internally.
“I want to be careful not to over-hire my staff because I don’t want to lose anybody,” he says. “I don’t want to lay anybody off, so I want to make sure we don’t go the wrong way.”
Though Thomas recognizes the market is cyclical and is working around labor issues in Las Vegas, he is confident that Pier’s primarily builder will continue to push forward and keep Pier in business.
“Anybody that knows me for any amount of time knows I think through all this stuff, and the developers are the same,” he says. “They’re thinking through it as well. They may stop mass production but they won’t stop. They’ll slow down, but they’ll never completely stop.”
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