The Construction Underground: Having Fun Growing Businesses
- Written by: The Construction Underground: Having Fun Growing Businesses
- Produced by: The Construction Underground: Having Fun Growing Businesses
- Estimated reading time: 6 mins
The Construction Underground (TCU) is a construction professionals networking association and subsidiary of Speedy Concrete Cutting, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-headquartered sawing and drilling company with five offices and 25 years of activity in the Southeast U.S. TCU is particularly unique among construction associations in that it charges no fees, generates no revenue, and is supported solely by the efforts of Speedy Concrete Cutting’s marketing and management staff, the TCU board members and its many volunteers.
TCU hosts lavish, upscale networking events for building industry professionals that are free of membership dues or attendance fees via the generosity and dedication of its many sponsors. Kaylee McCall, Speedy Concrete Cutting’s director of business development and marketing, was appointed as TCU’s president by Kristi Ronyak (the former TCU president and founder) two years after the venture was founded. McCall now works with a board of eight (split between South and Central Florida markets) to make TCU happen – all in the name of connecting Florida’s building community and helping industry professionals to grow their business.
Making Networking Fun
Founded in 2009, TCU began as casual, small gatherings between friends in the industry and in three years’ time has grown to become a substantially well-run operation hosting $10,000-plus events at chic venues, and connecting a database of over 16,000 industry professionals.
As TCU’s gatherings continued to gain interest in the first year, the organization decided to have “… a big blowout party for the one-year anniversary in June of 2010,” says McCall. TCU hosted the event at the splashy W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale and it was a huge success, with over 700 people in attendance. In 2011, McCall assumed the position of TCU president; previously the founder of Nomadic PR, McCall brought with her plenty of marketing experience throwing knock-your-socks-off events for the arts-and-entertainment industry.
Now headed into its fourth year, TCU is financially supported by quarterly sponsorships, as well as donations of services and time. TCU hosts quarterly events, every three months, in both Central and South Florida. “My sponsors [typically suppliers and vendors] are how I cover my costs for an event,” explains McCall. “On average, per year, we raise about $17,000 to host our [TCU] events. We typically theme our events around a major project and feature the developers and contractors involved at no cost, giving them the opportunity for free exposure and community outreach; and, by hosting a guest charity at each event, we raise awareness and funds for their cause [through such means as 50/50 raffles].”
Although TCU events have all the elements of traditional contractor showcases, with informational booths surrounding the perimeter of the event, McCall stresses that TCU is about out-of-the-box networking. “I create a party atmosphere and make networking fun through the entertainment,” she emphasizes. That means extravagant lighting, deejays and musicians, red carpets and event photographers, cash bars, and charity benefit casino events complete with Vegas-style showgirls and artisan hand-rolled cigars.
“The anniversary event is by far the most involved; [last year] the cost was over $10,000,” says McCall, describing the 2012 South Florida region anniversary party that was themed as a White Out Casino Night – attendees were asked to wear all white, and they gambled on contractor-sponsored casino tables surrounded by showgirls. All winnings went to that year’s featured charity, Construction Angels, a nonprofit organization founded by Ronyak and devoted to helping families who’ve lost a loved one to an on-the-job road construction accident.
McCall exudes happiness recalling the event, saying, “I always feature a different theme. There is still that face time for companies and sponsors at [their booths], but everyone’s entertained and forgetting that they’re actually networking.”
It Takes Teamwork to Grow
TCU has been strong in South Florida the past few years, and has been working to reinforce its presence and capabilities through strategic partnerships. As a member of The Blue Book Building & Construction Network, Speedy Concrete Cutting reached out to its account manager, Lisa Schmidt, in 2011 in hopes she would join the board and help build TCU’s presence in Central Florida. Based out of Orlando, Schmidt has worked determinedly to expand TCU, and is thrilled to be a part of it. Already, after a year, she notes that excitement has been growing and over 500 people came out for the anniversary event this summer. “After the event, the feedback, energy and excitement were phenomenal,” says Schmidt. “We have the right people involved and we’re gaining an exceptional amount of momentum.”
Schmidt is confident that TCU will become one of the leading industry networking associations thanks in large part to no membership fees, no political affiliations, and its draw for jobseekers. “I think there’s going to be extraordinary growth in the future; we are beyond excited about this,” says Schmidt. “We try to have events at really unique venues that people in the industry will be drawn to attend.”
Schmidt works to grow TCU in Central Florida along with McCall, John Gunther (Speedy Concrete Cutting’s vice president), Stephanie Prescott of Tatro Construction, and Jamie Brush of Schmid Construction. Meanwhile, the South Florida region is doing exceptionally well thanks to TCU’s board members: Andres Correa of Zimmerman & Associates of Florida, Lorin Montgomery of Corporate Insurance Advisors, Mark Vavrek of Gexpro, Sophie Bassal of Trojan Labor, and Maria Krivtsova of Facchina Construction. “Everyone on the board works really hard,” says McCall, stressing that all board members go unpaid and take time outside of their day jobs to raise awareness and funds for TCU.
Keeping the Party Going
McCall also promotes TCU’s ability to connect businesses outside of networking events; she has a database of more than 16,000 Southeast-based industry professionals and welcomes those who come to her for referrals. “Helping business grow is the lifeblood of TCU, and if our attendees need help making that connection, or help getting in with a company or organization, I can assist with opening that door,” says McCall.
“For example, I received an email from a member who recently starting working with Tough Mudder [a 12-mile obstacle course race] as an engineer,” explains McCall. “She said she’s new to the Tampa area and didn’t know any contractors in this area who could help build the obstacle course. Not only had she attended our events, but also I run marathons and the Tough Mudder, and I absolutely wanted to help. I went through my list and sent her 30 potential contractors.”
The giving back continues year-round; this past December TCU’s holiday event – A Holiday Affair – included a toy drive benefitting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County and a pet food and supply drive benefitting Be Kind to Animals Rescue. And when a past TCU-featured charity, like Habitat for Humanity, throws a fundraiser, McCall says she will help promote the event and bring some people from TCU out to support them.
TCU works to capture the trust and respect of all building industry professionals, and help them grow existing relationships or form new ones, have fun and, last but not least, increase business. With 500 to 700 people attending quarterly events, and 300 on average attending more informal gatherings throughout the year, it doesn’t look like the fun will stop anytime soon.
McCall even talks of taking TCU nationwide and jokingly daydreams of one day staging “… a huge party in Vegas, with confetti and the whole nine yards.” More immediately, McCall plans her regional growth tactics. Though Vegas would never be out of the picture, McCall’s first goals involve further expansion in the immediate region. Speedy Concrete Cutting has five office locations, so McCall is looking to introduce TCU more extensively into those markets: Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville in Florida, as well as Savannah, Ga. Launching that steady takeover initiative, she would like to attract more than 1,000 attendees at the South/Central Florida anniversary party in the next one to two years. As the construction industry continues to feed its hunger for renewal, The Construction Underground will bring together those professionals who want to make a difference and have a fun time while doing it.
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