Over the past 13 years, Precision Precast Erectors has grown into an industry leader, thanks to its culture of excellence and dedication to client satisfaction
To find the moment that sparked life into Precision Precast Erectors, LLC (PPE), we have to travel back to 2007 and a conversation between a contractor called Lou LaVé and his client Walt Worthy. Walt wasn’t satisfied with the building installation options in the market and he asked Lou to set up a company that would undertake the construction of a landmark new office building for him.
“My father wasn’t going to pursue this opportunity,” says Denny LaVé, the Co-Founder of PPE, “but I looked at it, and I had some background in business, and I said, ‘Dad, let’s do this!’”
Drawing on the expertise that the father and son team had accrued over many years in ironworking, precast and rigging, Lou and Denny created PPE and took on their first construction for Walt – a project with an aggressive build schedule of 62 working days. The fee depended on the ability to deliver quality, safety and incredible speed, and this is where the innate benefits of precast erection come into their own. “Precast erection is like working with adult building blocks,” explained Denny. “The components are all fabricated in a plant environment and then they are shipped out to the jobsite where we undertake the assembly of the pieces to make a complete structure.”
Looking back at that first contract, in an industry where an installation rate of 15 precast pieces per day was exceptional, the PPE team averaged 27 pieces per day. The client was ecstatic with the work, not to mention the time and money saved, and from that point Lou and Denny have continued to steadily roll out the business.
“We are now achieving $10m a year in annual revenue, we have made the Inc. 5000 list five times, we are the go-to pre-cast installer for the manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest, and we have manufacturers from all over the Western US calling us to come and do their challenging installations or help relieve pressure on their current systems,” stated Denny with justifiable pride.
PPE’s impressive rise to its current leading position is underpinned by a philosophy that Denny learned when working with Jay Abraham, an American business executive conference speaker, and author. “I really took his strategy of ‘pre-eminence’ to heart,” Denny revealed. “Essentially this means that you see your clients as people that are under your care and protection, and you really need to take that seriously. You need to care for and protect them at a greater degree than anyone else, and if you do that they will continue to do business with you at a much higher level.”
Denny used this methodology to differentiate PPE from the usual players in the industry, approaching precast manufacturers with the idea that they can work much more closely together. “We got a couple of manufacturers to give it a try and they were very happy with the result; they found that they were able to sell more of their product by partnering with us than by being a standalone service and so they were able to grow their market share substantially, and everybody wins.”
Having started its journey with a pre-cast office building, PPE soon expanded its services and now steel projects make up a significant portion of its portfolio. In fact, the company is able to handle a huge variety of requirements and designs, and it has been trusted to create some incredibly important and significant undertakings. From the FBI Building in Portland, OR, to the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, WA, PPE’s ability to be flexible, take on unique challenges and achieve tight deadlines have all contributed to its impressive collection of finished schemes. “One project that stands out is the Providence Park Stadium, in Portland, OR,” highlighted Denny. “That was really an interesting and unique project, featuring giant cantilevered raker beams, with seating units going in on top of those.
“We have also done a lot of schools,” he added. “The precast solution and our ability to deliver at a very high rate of production has been something that has really helped our partners and us succeed in this segment, as we can compress the build cycle substantially from a traditional school build.”
The complex and demanding nature of the builds undertaken by PPE require close working relationships between all parties on site. PPE prides itself on a culture of collaboration and professionalism, not just with external suppliers and customers, but also within its own four walls. “This is another one of the concepts behind ‘pre-eminence’ – your employees and your vendors are seen as your internal clients,” explained Denny. “When you start thinking of your employees as clients, as people that you are obligated to care about and protect, it really forces you to think about and treat them in a different way. That has fostered a culture of respect and loyalty within our business that is really unusual in our industry, which tends to be brash and loud and chase the money. We have found and established a group of men and women who are incredibly loyal, who appreciate the respect and being essentially part of the family, and to be able to take that to scale on even the small degree that we have been able to is really a great achievement for us.”
Denny also describes PPE as a ‘union shop’, sourcing well-trained staff from the union halls and calling on them when extra labor is needed. Usually a very reliable and successful process, with the advent of Covid-19, staff remaining at home and lockdowns being introduced, on a recent project Denny found himself struggling to find staff. His response goes a long way to demonstrating PPE’s overall approach to getting the job done. “One of my best friends, two of my sons and myself went down and undertook the work!” he said.
“While it was frustrating that the labor pool was unavailable, it was a good experience to take my sons on site and show them what it was like.”
Having taken all the recommended precautions for staff to deal with the coronavirus, including temperature checks, face masks, social distancing and working from home where appropriate, PPE has also embraced digital options and taken a lot of its training and meetings online, and Denny believes that this will be an integral part of its success going forward. No stranger to technological innovation, PPE has already been implementing digital solutions for blueprint management and blueprint distribution into its field teams, and looking to the future, this willingness to be at the forefront of new ideas and approaches is going to stand the company in good stead.
“We are making an attempt to venture into solar panel farms and solar power plants,” Denny divulged. “It seems like photovoltaic technology is at a point where it is a good fit for a lot of the sites here in the Pacific Northwest that already have wind turbines established. We are currently negotiating to be the installer of the structural components on a 1600-acre solar power plant and there is something about it that tells me that if this one is successful there will likely be many more.
“The infrastructure and power transmission capability is already there, oftentimes in our region the sun will shine even if the wind isn’t blowing, so it makes sense to layer those renewable resources where the infrastructure is already in place. We think that if we can get into the solar power generation market then that could be a very big step for us as a company.”
Another exciting development for PPE is also underway in the shape of a hybrid construction system that it is working to bring to market. “The technology now exists where we can take the best components from different areas and layer them together in new ways,” explained Denny. “We are working with the North American subsidiary of a Finnish company called Peikko, and we are going to try to combine their structural components with precast and wood components to make a hybrid building structure that is essentially cost neutral to the market. The assembly time should be significantly faster than traditional means of construction. That should allow developers to bring their projects to market and recover their capital more quickly. So, we are excited to see how that goes.”
Undeterred by the challenges that 2020 has brought, and with such ambitious plans on the agenda, the future is filled with positivity for PPE. It is clear to see how Denny earned his title of ‘fearless leader’ and it is going to be exciting to watch as this innovative and inventive business continues to change and evolve, while it cares for and protects both its staff and its clients.
Precision Precast Erectors, LLC
Services: Erection services for precast concrete, mass timber & structural building projects