Position Your Firm for Success in the World of Design/Build

You're a mechanical contractor wellknown for your HVAC, plumbing, and sheet metal work. However, you also possess the skills and soul of a great Design/Build contractor. So how do you ensure that you're not seen as a plan-and-spec, low-bid contractor but, rather, as the Design/Build, value-added solutions-provider that you truly are?

The answer lies in being aware of how you're perceived as a contractor and smartly positioning your company in the marketplace.


  • A brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of the client.
  • Positioning is the attempt to control the client's perception of a product or service.

What is Your Position?

Positioning yourself succesfully as a Design/ Build contractor begins by evaluating your core services and key clients. Be honest and ask yourself:

  • Where do you want to be?
  • Is there a market for the services you offer?
  • Do you have a marketing plan?
  • Where do you stand now?

Also, take a look at the message your company sends customers:

  • Does it set you apart from the competition?
  • Is it simple and consistent?
  • Is it focused?
  • Is it true?
  • Does it address the needs of your audience?

What Drives Positioning Success?

The principles that drive positioning success come from within your company, and require that you:

  • Understand your audience/markets — Do you understand who you're talking to and how you can provide value?
  • Have the right organizational values — The Design/Build delivery method is client centric. It's not for contentious, plan-and-spec, low-bid fighters. Design/Build contractors want everyone to win, and want to get the project done the way it should be done. They don't want to spend time fighting over things such what was in the plans, and what wasn't.
  • Company-wide belief in the value propositions of Design/Build — Do you have the corporate culture to do Design/Build? Being truly successful requires a company-wide understanding of, belief in, and enthusiasm for the delivery method and your company's ability to provide great design and service. Successful companies can't afford to have ho-hum, neutral people.
  • Consistent verbal and marketing messages —This company-wide attitude and enthusiasm must be mirrored in all contact with customers and in the marketing materials you produce.
  • Brand awareness — Know what helps and what hurts your perception in the eyes of customers.

The Power of Client Knowledge
A thorough knowledge about your client is the key to of positioning yourself as a Design/Build contractor. You should know:

  • What they do for a living
  • Where they make their money
  • What their products look like
  • If there's danger involved
  • When they started and their corporate history
  • What their values are.

Without knowing all of this, how can you best serve their needs, let alone come up with an ideal system design?

With this knowledge, you can:

  • Create stronger client relationships
  • Improve your odds of penetrating "niche" markets
  • Improve the quality in your promotions and events
  • Create more opportunities with clients.

Different Strokes For Different Folks
As mechanical contractors, we work with all kinds of people who seek our input on how the building will operate. This means different owners and managers will have different hot buttons.

At McKinstry, we work hard at learning how to "speak the language" of our varied clientele, whether it's a building operator or an architect (see sidebar).

This means understanding what's important to clients and being able to convey what are the most appropriate systems for the project, how efficiently the system is going to run, and what it will look like once the installation is complete.

The Road Ahead

So what does it take to be a successful Design/Build contractor in the 21st century?

  • Know your company, including its strengths, weaknesses, and potential .
  • Know what's important to your customers and how best to help them achieve their goals.

Finally, don't be afraid to push your company to the next level and position yourself to become the top-notch, singlesource, Design/Build mechanical contractor that lies within.

David E. Allen is executive vice president at McKinstry Co., Seattle, WA. He can be reached at 800/762-3311, or by e-mail at [email protected].

This article is based on Allen's presentation "Positioning Your Firm in the Wild World of Integrated Delivery," which he gave at the 2004 Design/Build Seminar. For information on this year's Design/Build seminar, please call Michael S. Weil at 216/931-9433.


Key issues for owner-occupied buildings:

  1. Operating costs — How cost efficient is the building system?
  2. Environmental quality — How well are the systems as a whole working?
  3. Employee Satisfaction — How compatible is the facility with employee needs?
  4. Issue response time — How fast are problems answered and resolved?
  5. Building use — How will the economic value of building space and its features be maximized?
  6. Flexibility — Is the space adaptable to a variety of potential uses?

Key issues for facility managers:

  1. Operation and efficiency — Do systems work properly and run efficiently?
  2. Employee Satisfaction — Are occupants satisfied with system operation?
  3. Tenant satisfaction — Are tenants satisfied with facility operation?
  4. Planning and budgeting

Key issues for developers:

  1. Front-end services — Design and pre-construction.
  2. Building flexibility — Will the space meet multi-tenant requirements?
  3. Information — Timely delivery of critical issues and solutions.
  4. Value — Does the facility attract clients? Can it be constructed and operated efficiently?

Key issues for general contractors:

  1. Competence/execution — Ensured performance of project management, scheduling, and safety.
  2. Communication — Timely communication throughout the design and construction processes.
  3. Cost control — Aggressive approaches to controlling costs and managing budgets throughout project.
  4. Resources and people — Teams assembled to take accountability of entire process.

Key issues for architects:

  1. Professional input and guidance — Project development expertise and systems integration solutions.
  2. Adaptability — System solutions that add value to the expected outcomes of projects.
  3. Education — Promotion of the Design/Build method.
  4. Operational quality and performances.

Key issues for property managers:

  1. Cost — Low-cost delivery of facility maintenance and repairs.
  2. Tenant satisfaction — Keeping tenants happy with building services.
  3. Response — Clear tenant communication.
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