Industrial Contractor Carves A Niche


    GRAND RAPIDS — Being a relative newcomer in the area, Peter Perez asked the architect who designed his home what contractor to contact for a new industrial building — one with home-like offices and atmosphere.

    “The architect doesn’t do industrial work,” said Perez, president of Carter Products Co., “but he suggested this young company to me. It has worked out very, very well.”

    The architect’s recommendation was Pinnacle Construction Group, headed by Michael Garrett.

    Perez explained to Garrett that he and his wife, Carroll, are art-lovers with a particular taste for paintings and decor of the Southwest. They wanted this motif in the corporate headquarters at the new plant on Northridge Drive in Walker.

    Moreover, when the Perezes said they wanted a home-like atmosphere in the offices, they meant it: They set their sights beyond stuffed chairs and a potted schefflera in one corner of the foyer.

    The plant itself would be for light industrial assembly and packaging. Carter Products produces inspection lights, mechanical guides, laser guides and cut-off lights for the woodworking tool industry.

    Like anyone building a new plant, Perez was a bit on edge when the project began last year. Construction contracts often are vulnerable to the vagaries of suppliers, sub-contractors and weather. And last November’s record cold and snowfall made a bad beginning to the project.

    “We started on the first day by shoveling snow,” Garrett chuckled.

    “I was really worried at first,” Perez said, recalling that most of December turned out to be as bad as November. “But January and February were fairly mild,” he said, “so they were able to catch up and finish on schedule.”

    And the nice thing about progress on the 12,000-square-foot plant, he said, was that Pinnacle always kept him up to date on what was happening. “They were very professional. There were no $10,000 surprises, and every Friday we’d get a fax explaining just what they had accomplished during the week and what they were going to do the next week.

    “And every other Wednesday,” he added, “Pinnacle’s project manager would hold a meeting with me and with all the subcontractors who were working at that particular point.”

    Garrett explained that sort of contact is his method of trying to differentiate Pinnacle from its competitors.

    “That and we don’t take a cookie-cutter approach to industrial construction. We try to customize each job according to the clients’ needs and personalities.

    “It doesn’t cost any more to be creative,” he added. “ The materials are all the same, and a gallon of paint costs the same, no matter what its color.”

    Pinnacle is just starting a new project, adding a large addition to the Koeze plant on Burlingame in Wyoming.

    “The client wants the front office to look like an old turn-of-the-century candy store. It’s  not a retail center, but it is in keeping with the company’s history and traditions.”

    He explains that his project managers are able to give much more personal attention to projects than traditionally is the case. “Our project managers are dealing with three projects at once,” he said, “while in other companies they may be managing as many as 10 projects.”

    That closer client attention, he said, is what he wanted when he founded Pinnacle in November of 1996. “That was where I saw a need in the industry,” he said, noting that he started the firm after rising to the position of vice president with a regional general contractor.

    Currently, he said, his firm is running projects that take from six months to a year and involve industrial plants ranging from 10,000 to 80,000 square feet in size. Typically, he said, the firm can have anywhere from 10 to 20 projects underway at once.

    Garrett explained that a project manager has an extremely complex job, being responsible for all billing and invoicing, arranging all permitting with local and state governments, managing Pinnacle’s workers and writing the schedules for the subcontractors’ timely arrival and departure.

    “The project manager has to arrange smooth hand-off between the contractors. So he’s in the office part of the time and at the sites part of the time. And he can’t go home Friday night until he has faxed each client to explain what has been done during the week and what will be done next week.” The project manager also conducts the bi-weekly meeting of client and contractors.

    Garrett said he tries to hire the best possible managers and to give them as much independence as possible. “It isn’t my practice to keep them under my thumb,” he said. “I want it to feel like it’s their project.”

    And the type of project manager he hires, Garrett said, knows as well as he does that Pinnacle’s reputation always depends upon the last project it has completed.

    Garrett said his primary job right now is trying to find more topnotch project managers.

    “That’s really the only limitation on this company’s growth,” he said.

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