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Three years ago we decided to plant a few tomato plants beside our office. That small patch of land has become much more.

Our plot has grown into a full garden featuring silver queen corn, rosemary, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, turnip greens, cucumbers, peppers and of course—tomatoes.

Beyond the beautiful produce, the beds have become a way for our company to share with the community. In the height of the growing season we harvest vegetables and put them on our kitchen table.

We share among our employees, friends that drop by and our neighbors. One year we had an over-abundance of tomatoes, so it became a team effort to see what all you could make out of a tomato. You’d be amazed at the creative recipes.

It is a joy for all of our employees to share what we grow with our customers. When we build a building we give them a home for their team, but being able to share from our garden extends into their homes as well.

Those personal relationships are the foundation of our company.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Every year, we have a Christmas gathering to bring all the Stewart Perry families together.

The first year this reunion was held at our place, we spent one Saturday morning planting several hundred daffodils across the lake on the hillside. We chose that spot because it is visible from our conference room and is a reminder of renewal and hope that comes with each new year.

The experience that Saturday with our team and their families was invaluable. We all worked together to create a nice addition to our campus. In the years since then we have added more daffodils so that now every spring across the lake we have a beautiful vista of flowers.

Our daffodils are the gift that continues to give year after year. When we construct an “owner occupied building”, during the design stage, I share with the client that to me a building should be more than 4 walls and a roof and that it should leverage important values of the company. In our case, the daffodils serve us as a reminder to our team of the importance of being cohesive. I wonder what are the important values that your environment helps to communicate?

 

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials) is an organization that can have a substantial impact on construction projects, yet quite a few folks are not familiar with it. ASTM was founded in 1898 for the development and delivery of voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide variety of materials, systems and services.

ASTM’s construction standards are generally recognized as the benchmark by which materials are tested. They cover basics such as wood, stone, concrete, geotechnical engineering and much more. In many projects, these standards can be the deciding factor in whether the job proceeds, so it’s important to get to know them.

Unfortunately, people do not respect the ASTM standards until it’s too late. Even though the building owner may not ultimately be responsible for low results on strength tests, he or she will be affected if a job is delayed significantly because of it.

We prefer “Design-Build” projects as we can utilize these ASTM standards and are prepared before we reach problems during a project. We work with architects directly on behalf of our client and this helps to alleviate any problems before they arise thanks to our knowledge of ASTM standards and past experiences.

Therefore, it is wise to be respectful of ASTM. These technical committees meet twice a year, so keep track of any changes in standards. It might not seem like the most interesting material to monitor, but it could be the most important.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

It’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day activities and then add in family and just life in general. We lose contact with those that are an import part of our lives, whether professional or personal. We are then reminded of them by something that we see or hear.

Through the years, I have made many friends and associates. I am as guilty as anyone whenever I forget to return a phone call or an email due to my own duties throughout the day. It is not intentional. But it takes just a few moments to use what I believe to be the simplest contact tools already sitting on my desk.

These tools are a phone and a pen.

It is a very quick process to pick up a pen and write out a quick note on a company post card. But it can be the make or break for your business nowadays. We live in a highly competitive world and a gesture such as remembering someone’s love of the outdoors and sending them an article out of a magazine that you believe they may find interesting touches their mind and heart.

Returning a phone call is something that I find people are not always willing to do. I make every attempt to either answer the phone as I receive calls or to call back as soon as I am able. It may sound old-fashioned and to some it may be, especially in this hectic, fast-paced world today.

Yet, I strongly believe that a very simple phone call or a quick note can do wonders with business relationships as it breaks the monotony of the interactive barrage. This is not to say that I do not use email or one of the other communication tools such as Twitter or Facebook, as well, but the phone call and the pen offer something many of us may have left somewhere along the trail.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Call an old friend or business associate and catch up.
  • Write a 1-3 sentence email to a business associate and recommend a book.
  • Send a brief note a new business contact and include an article from the newspaper or a magazine related to their business.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

I’ve heard it a million times: “Actions speak louder than words.”

In a country like the U.S., where we vote with our dollars, that becomes even more true. We make a demand and the supplier who meets it wins the sale. Sometimes the government—the officials we elected to regulate policy—can give a push to make it happen. The question is, are we speaking up?

Three weeks ago, we bought a used van for our millwork shop. With a price tag of only $500, it seemed like a great deal. A few days later our shop foreman said the van was getting barely 12 MPG. No problem, I thought. We just need a tune up. Sadly, that did nothing.

The van is circa mid to late 90s. We checked, and the rated MPG when it was brand new was only 13 MPG. At the time, that was all the federal government required. As it turns out, it was operating at peak fuel efficiency.

Due to the rising price of gas, consumer demands and resulting government regulations, fuel-efficiency standards have increased. Pickup trucks are in the 20-MPG range now. Down the road, they’ll probably get closer to 30 MPG. To me, this is an example of the government pressing us to do better. In a perfect world, we’d all become more energy efficient on our own. But the reality is, sometimes laws are needed to encourage businesses (and people) to do the right thing.

On January 1, 2011 every building permit issued in the state of California must be designed to meet green standards. I have no doubt that this can be accomplished throughout the U.S.  I believe we can improve our overall energy efficiency and sustainability practices, like we did with fuel mileage.

So, are you letting manufacturers and elected officials know what you want? We can prompt a gentle nudge in the right direction.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

We at Stewart Perry like where we live, and we like our neighbors. Donna Sue Groves believes you can express those feelings through her relatively newfound art—barn quilts.

“The barn quilts are public art that celebrates the place people call home. They make people feel good about themselves and where they live.” – Donna Sue Groves

We decided to give it a shot on our woodworking barn. We plan to paint several quilts over the coming year to reveal the unique diversity within our small community.

Ms. Groves originated the barn quilt project in Adams County, Ohio in 2001. Almost ten years later, this simplistic concept of painting a quilt square on an eight foot square piece of plywood and hanging it on a barn for others to enjoy is now called the National Quilt Barn Trail, spanning more than 20 states and British Columbia.

She feels this phenomenon sweeping the nation reveals something about our communities. “When we all become part of a team, we actually weave the fiber that brings people together,” she says. I agree wholeheartedly.

Our first effort could not be a better illustration of how teamwork builds a better community. Mitchell’s Place, our across the street neighbor, is a center specializing in services for children, young adults, and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  This past Saturday, several Stewart Perry and Mitchell’s Place families joined together to paint our first barn quilt. As I watched everyone, especially the children, painting the 128 triangles that would make up 64 squares to finally form one large quilt, I could not help but be reminded of how rewarding it is when everyone comes together to accomplish a common goal. Even more rewarding was the laughter of the children, the smiles from the parents and the fun had by all as we got to know our neighbors better.

The geometric design, created by our own Lynn Wilkins, symbolizes the colors representative of autism awareness. All of the pieces, painted by several and pulled together as one, reveal our individual perspectives with collective aspirations. Our hope, like Ms. Groves, is simply for all to enjoy.

The barn quilt will be hung this week end. Please let me know if you happen to drive by. We’d like to hear your thoughts.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I have been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for about 35 years. It’s a wonderful organization—I would encourage you to find a troop for your sons or grandsons if they are not already active. BSA teaches many essential skills that help children as they grow. I’ve found the basic principles they learn as Scouts carry over well into adulthood.

One of the Scouting merit badges is Communications. It’s required to earn the Eagle Scout rank, and that’s for a good reason. They emphasize conversation, listening, writing, persuasion and public speaking—all things that if mastered, comprise good communication. Honing this valuable skill at a young age can give Scouts a tremendous leg up. That’s because communicating effectively is a key to success at all stages of life, whether it’s interaction with your teacher, your boss, your employees or especially your clients.

Think of the classic vision of a Scout: a young boy helping an elderly lady cross the street. He learns early on the importance of looking both ways. The same is true in communication. It is a two-way street in which the traffic from both directions – speaking and listening – is equally important. You must not only be able to communicate your ideas clearly, but also truly take in what is being said. Listening is a huge part of communication. If something is said and it’s not heard properly, then what have you really accomplished? You’ve probably missed valuable input.

How can communication make us more effective? I think seamlessly and clearly sharing our thoughts, then listening intently in return will take us a long way as business leaders, family members and citizens.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

As business leaders, I think it is always good to stay in the loop and try to identify current industry trends. We want to be on the front end of things that are moving in the right direction. I’ve written about economy-related pricing trends and green building, but what’s on the horizon now? I think we’re about to see a little more of the Golden Rule in action. Maybe this goes along with the reuse, recycle and sustainability aspect we are seeing on sites. Maybe it’s a trend toward job sites that are friendlier to consumers as well as the total environment. Here’s why.

I recently read an article in Architectural Record about the city of New York pressing contractors to present a more positive image on city construction sites. While the approaches vary, the theme is not so different from an initiative I stumbled upon in London last fall.

The UK Considerate Constructors Scheme is a national project founded in 1997. Sites and companies that register are monitored against a “Code of Considerate Practice” designed to encourage best practices beyond legal requirements. The Scheme covers any area of construction with direct or indirect impact on the image of the industry as a whole, and focuses on 3 categories: the general public, the workforce and the environment. More than 40,000 sites have participated so far.

So what does the Code of Considerate Practice include to protect builders from getting a bad rap and improve industry image? Here are the 8 basic premises for site evaluation and grading:

  1. Considerate: Does the site minimize inconveniences for all those who may be affected by the work?
  2. Environment: What is the site doing to minimize impact on the environment?
  3. Cleanliness: Is the site doing all it can to appear tidy and well presented at a standard the industry should be proud of?
  4. Good Neighbor: How well is the site communicating with those who may be interested/affected? What impression will contractor leave behind when finished?
  5. Respectful: Does every person on the site create a positive image of their company and the industry?
  6. Safe: Is there a proactive approach driving up safety standards?
  7. Responsible: Is the contractor playing a role in the recruitment and training of the industry’s future workforce?
  8. Accountable: Is the contractor accountable and accessible? What is being done to create a sense of pride in working in construction? Are there any measures taken on the site that could be classed as exceptional and unique?

How’s that for a report card? If you could improve your grades in those 8 areas, think about what you could do for your community and your business. It’s happening in London. It’s happening in New York City. Can you make it happen in your city?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

As I sat in my living room last Sunday evening and watched the New Orleans Saints become the world football champions, I couldn’t help but think back to the days following Katrina. One of our customer relationships called right after the storm to tell us they weren’t sure what happened to their properties in New Orleans. They couldn’t make contact with the managers. Could we help? I immediately said yes. When a friend asks, you step in and do anything you can.

Two days after Katrina smashed into the Louisiana coast, I made a call to a friend at the FAA and he gave us clearance to fly. We rounded up a four passenger Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter and proceeded to New Orleans MSA. It was a relief to discover that, other than minor damage, the properties were not affected. They were even more fortunate that their entire team was accounted for and safe.

These images taken by Clinton Smith came from that uneasy helicopter tour. Revisiting them reminded me how tragedy can affect us all when we least expect it. Nine months after Katrina, I was back in New Orleans and cars remained stacked on top of cars underneath Interstate 10. Many of the shops on Canal Street were still not open.

But instead of being a defeat, the battering from the storm united the city and strengthened the ties that bound residents. The Crescent City has come a long way since the tragedy they endured four years ago. Today, New Orleans is back in business and home to a championship team. A new set of fans rallied around the Saints not because of their football skills, but because of what they represented—the American dream of rising above a challenge. Super Bowl XLIV became the most watched program in television history.

In the final few minutes of the game last Sunday evening, I e-mailed my customer in New Orleans to get his insight on the game. How did it feel? His response: “Who dat gonna beat ‘dem Saints?” What a great story of triumph over adversity.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Last week we received a plaque from The Heart of America Foundation for the improvements we provided an inner city Atlanta elementary school. It’s a beautiful memento covered with pictures of students enjoying their new space. As I looked at all the smiling faces, it reminded me why we made the commitment last June.

Jim Gustafson and Patrick Davis, two of our strategic partners at Target, called to ask if we would be interested in teaming on the rebuild. I agreed, mainly because of the people who asked. When I got off the phone I started second guessing myself. With the Recession and our revenues down, what was I thinking? Fortunately, my conscience kicked in and helped me realize that it doesn’t matter. A friend asked for our partnership—they could help with supplies and we could help with the balance need—and children would benefit for years to come. We would figure out how to make it happen for these kids. Clinton Smith, who led the initiative from our end, did just that.

The library at Beecher Hills Elementary received a complete transformation including 2000 new books, updated technology and colorful interiors conducive to learning. “We know that pre-K through fifth grade is the period that sets the tone for reading,” said first-year Principal Crystal Jones. “Getting this done will go a long way toward making that happen.” Maybe the library can even provide a “tipping point” for these kids just like Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book.

“You have not just changed the library, you have changed the lives of our children forever,” said Dr. Sharon Davis Williams, executive director of Atlanta Public Schools for southwest Atlanta schools.

I knew the children were thrilled, but looking at the pictures last week it made it all worthwhile. I called Jim and Patrick and asked them to sign us up for another school next summer. I couldn’t pass up the chance to help kids learn.

Check out more of the library renovation celebration on my flickr photostream.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.