The old growth timbers that had supported Seattle’s Salvation Army building for almost a century were being delicately dismantled by a giant crane. The building located just across CenturyLink (Now Lumen) Field in the SODO District had served generations of those in need, and now its bones were ready for a new life.
“A buyer was anxious to get his hands on the timber for a new building project coming up,” says Don Simms, President of Rhine Demolition. “He loved them for their industrial look and was ready to snatch them up the minute they came down.”
It was a thrilling project for Rhine, a regional contractor specializing in demolition and reclamation. The schedule on track and progress was flowing smoothly.
And then Covid-19 hit.
“We were projecting to have our best year ever before the pandemic hit,” Don notes. “We went from extremely busy to a total stand still in March.”
Don and his team had to react quickly. They transitioned to a virtual environment (as we all did), and bravely confronted a major decision needing to be made. There were still projects to be completed, but the size of their roster was suddenly larger than necessary.
“We had to rapidly reduce headcount to keep our core group busy,” Don says. “This afforded us the oxygen we needed to get through the crisis.”
An expected benefit of any crisis is when you find clarity about the bigger issue that brought you to it in the first place. Don and his team took the opportunity to revisit their core values and took an exercise right out of the textbook of branding 101: strategic positioning.
During our rebranding process we encourage companies like Rhine Demolition to find one characteristic that connects them, their staff, and their clients as a defining motivator. They share their own opinions, listen to employees and clients, study what their competitors say, and determine a positioning platform that drives the way they do business.
Originally, Rhine was known as the contractor of choice because they provided top quality service to private sector clients. As their dependable reputation grew, they found their business volume exponentially growing. Growth presented its own set of difficulties and soon 95% of their work was in the public sector, forcing them to compete on price and sacrifice margins to keep the machine fed.
“Turning into generalists demanded we accept everything that came our way,” says Don. “Although we had the largest amount of business last year, public work like schools are so competitive it was an exhausting path to meager profitability.”
It was disappointing to dismiss many good people, but the Covid situation has offered a lesson of what really motivates their team. They realized if they continued to aggressively grow for growth’s sake, they would still be trying to keep all the plates spinning and keeping them from crashing to the floor, rather than doing work they were proud of.
Instead, they are eager to get back to their roots and stay small for the time being, which will allow them to be more selective and take on higher-margin private clients. They will be able to be more efficient, responsible, and deliver satisfying results, which will then attract the attention of new prospects who will hire them based on ability, not willingness to sacrifice margins.
Also, Rhine can take its time selecting the best talent to join the team as opportunities arise. The industry is suddenly flooded with job seekers and those who are up to their standards will be more inclined to stick with a company who puts enjoyment of work above churn and burn project volume.
I’m a big fan not only because they blow stuff up (a career path I should have considered when I was a kid), but because they were thoughtful and strategic with their decisions when we worked with them. Although the Covid-19 crisis has turned the world on its head, it was the catalyst Rhine needed to plant a flag and begin the next phase of their journey to a successful future.