Friday, March 5, 2010

From The Ground Up: Building With RDRice

From the ground up.... & up & up & way, way UP!

This chapter we are thrilled to be playing blocks with master builder R. Douglass Rice - -Building Homes of Distinction with RD Rice. You must visit their site to witness quality and versatility of their end results. Each project is transformed into "a thing of beauty"; small wonder since Doug is a noted artist in his own right. And now let's start with the foundation:

1. There's so much talk these days about construction: some projects screeched to a halt, others with 16 bedrooms are full tilt ahead. What kind of sense do you make of this?

We at RDRICE have found the market rebounding. There is a sense that real estate prices may have bottomed out. I have looked at six new apartments and townhouses with various clients since December. We have adjusted to the times and are more aggressive in our pricing as are our sub-contractors. Our efforts are paying off as we have picked up eight new projects in the last three months.

2. A trend I've noticed is that many more clients who clearly have the

means are suddenly more involved in the details, especially if they might

save a few. Your observations?

This is absolutely true. Look at the number of TV shows about design and renovation. More than ever clients want to be informed. A third to half of our clients attends weekly job meetings. This is much different than ten years ago. Value engineering is the standard at the beginning of each project these days and we've gotten very good at maximizing value for our clients. I've always kept in close contact with my clients though- they get my home phone from day one and can call night or day. Communication is key.

3. What building materials seem to be ahead of the curve now and which ones

do you think are kind of over? It really varies- We build what New York designs, which means we build very modern work and very traditional work. HVAC technology has gotten smarter and smaller-which is important particularly for apartment renovations. Walnut floors were everywhere in the last few years- wide plank oak seems to be specified more often. We just looked at a job with Pyrolav countertops-I hadn't seen those in a while.

4. Is RD Rice currently involved in projects in any Newer Neighborhoods say

Inwood, Sunset Park or LI City -Our work has always been based in Manhattan. Nevertheless we just finished a beautiful 40' wide brownstone restoration in Brooklyn Heights and just started a townhouse renovation in Park Slope.

5. Honestly, how much of a concern is "being green" with your typical clients? Have you ever done a job where the client was absolutely militant about these concerns? Prior to demolition we try and off load all reusable materials and appliances etc. We have built green roofs on townhouses; all windows are double insulated, the mechanical systems are energy efficient, appliances are usually gold star in terms of energy use- These are all pretty standard practices these days.

We bid one project where the client was in your words "militantly green"- yet this was his 7th home- go figure.

6. How many clients find you via the internet only, without any referral? Do you find being on line yields you fresh & important business?

We are very proud of our website It is a big part of our overall marketing plan. While occasional inquiries come directly from the site- most of our business comes from person to person relationships with clients, architects, designers and realtors. The website along with other marketing tools is very helpful in letting these people understand the quality of our work and capabilities.

7. How do you make sure to get paid for your last bill?

By successfully completing each job, each punch list, getting all the sign-offs etc. and being tenacious.

8. What percentage of your current jobs is residential vs. commercial? Has that changed since the market plummeted?

Our work has always been about 95% high-end residential -5% commercial. While we are best known for exquisite townhouse and apartment renovations, we have in the past built fashion designer showrooms, a French cooking school in Soho, and soon a small retail store in Nolita. Last year the late Charles Gwathmey had us build new offices for a well known film director-We jumped at the chance

9. Are your competitors obvious? Do you frequently find you are bidding against the same faces?

We find that we compete with the same 4 or 5 high end residential companies. Nevertheless, there are now in New York another seven or eight companies who we come up against who are doing nice work as well.

It's very competitive and we are not afraid of the competition. It pushes us to better, smarter and more creative for our clients.

10. How is this business of contracting & construction different from when you were working for a larger more corporate company in the early / mid '90's?

RD Rice is now in its 15th year. I learned alot working at the larger firm, but there is nothing like having your own business.

I'm an artist and am freer to bring those sensibilities and creativity to the company. My son is now in charge of our estimating department- my daughter just joined as an assistant- It's beyond joy to have them there with me side by side.

I've been able to hire and work with some of NY's most talented PM's, Supers and laborers- Our office staff is committed and smart. Our standards are high and our staff is there!! While we all work hard I try very hard to make a fun place to work as well.

Thanks Glenn,