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Thanks to several social media tools, I have been able to stay connected with increased frequency than before web 2.0.  A couple of years ago we started using several  of these  and the effectiveness of helping with relationships has been very encouraging.  I can count on a brief exchange with someone due to my blog posts, as you see here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  On the other hand, I will say that social media can be a detriment to your time management efforts.

The internet is a large and highly populated space and it is easy to get lost or chasing rabbit trails. I compare it to someone looking into a refrigerator when one is hungry, but not really sure what they want, yet they open the door to see if anything has changed. Some would compare it to insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

But through the use of Social Media, companies can now focus their attention on specific audiences much easier and start topics of conversation with just a sentence.  In addition, you can make people feel more important by personalizing the messages sent.  I enjoy reaching out to old friends to check on their well-being as well as business acquaintances, as I believe that this is a lost aspect of business today.

I believe that the economy is getting better and to me, it more important than ever before to be sure that you’re strengthening and maintaining relationships with your clients and associates in the most efficient ways across multiple platforms.

Listed below are some other blog posts to help you on your way:

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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
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You can’t take anything for granted; even the ground under your feet. That’s why it is important to have Geotechnical testing done before construction begins on a project. But nothing is perfect, and even the best Geotech firms can’t always determine exactly what it is going on beneath the surface.

A Sinking Feeling

On one of our job sites, the crew arrived one morning to discover that the building slab had sunk about 5 feet, taking a nearby forklift down with it. It turns out there was a sinkhole below this area in the slab on grade. Plenty of pre-construction Geotechnical testing done, but none of the reports indicated the presence of this deep sinkhole.

On another project the geotech report indicated the water table had risen 20 feet in a six-month span. The engineer said this was because the region was coming out of a severe drought and that had significantly dropped the water table prior to the recent rains, but I was skeptical. After grading we discovered that there was surface material on the slope that had been acting as a dam. Once the material was removed, the water table dropped, no problems after all.

Infill Building Sites

We are increasingly working on infill sites inside metropolitan areas, which have been passed over for one reason or the other, often because of the challenge of that particular site. With these challenges, it’s easy for geotech testing to often overlook a potential problem until work actually begins. Geotech is important in those situations, but it’s not a perfect science.

Geotechnical testing is important, but it’s not a perfect science. If the reports are too good to be true, then it probably is. Practicality and common sense still have to factor into the equation, we have found.

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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, Chris Brogan and I spent 2 days together here in Birmingham. We were pleased to have him as our guest for the Green Building Focus Conference.

For those unaware, Chris is the well-respected co-author of Trust Agents and Social Media 101. He’s carved out a niche for himself in social tools online and the means, methods and leverage of Web 2.0. He’s teaching business leaders how to stay connected and in the game.

In his talk, Chris compared Web 2.0 and its tools to the telephone when it was invented. At the time, many maintained they would rather write letters and talk in person than use a new device. Even though it enabled them to communicate across hundreds of miles, people were reluctant to move past the familiar. This compares to where we are now in business communication, particularly in relation to social media. The phone and email are now tried and tested ways of staying connected, building relationships and increasing profits, but are they the future?

I found Chris to be genuine, transparent, honest and helpful, both individually and on stage. He is the kind of person who makes you feel like he’s interested in what you have to say and gives you his undivided attention, one-on-one. There were so many takeaways from my time with Chris, but in interest of brevity, I’ll share just a few that relate to social media.

Be in it for others. The ratio you spend helping others should be 12:1 when compared to what you do to promote yourself. Strive to build long-term relationships and trust.

If you do it, do it right. After Chris explained the various social networking tools that work well for him, he made the point that it was best to choose what you can do well and maintain properly.  If you spread yourself too thin, you will represent yourself poorly.

Keep mobile top of mind. As more people are becoming reliant on their smart phones for web use, make mobile a priority when designing a site. A budget spent on expensive flash and non-compatible design is often money wasted.

Reply. Chris suggested that his popularity is attributed to the fact he actually takes the time to respond where many experts do not.

To sum it up, the more I learn about these new tools and their leverage, the more intrigued I become with delving deeper. After all, social media uses less carbon and less effort, often gaining more results. How’s that for energy efficient?


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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.

Next week Birmingham will host the Green Building Focus Conference and Expo.

Experts in the field will be here—Karan Grover from India, Llewellyn Van Wyk from South Africa and Dr. Charles Kibert to name a few. It’s a gathering of like-minded individuals who are interested in sustainable designs and construction, conservation, recycling and reuse. Each will share knowledge with others, all while learning. We are bringing Chris Brogan to Birmingham as a speaker and participant at the event.

Chris is a social media guru. Why is he a fit for this event? I have been getting that question for months. Very simply, Chris and others in this field have mastered the use of Web 2.0 to be trust agents, not marketers but digitally savvy “regular people” who use the Web to humanize and be transparent, honest and genuine. They leverage action tasks for good. To me, it’s a natural fit. Chris has wisdom to share about how to use the Web to influence and build relationships that promote the initiatives of the GBF.

I got a chance to visit with Chris on Monday at his office in New England, beyond the normal “getting to know you” chat. We talked about things that are important in each other’s lives and the trails we have taken over the years. (He is younger on the trail than me.) We talked about the Web. We talked about helping others and not expecting anything in return. We talked about the times in our lives when we have truly struggled. Genuine. Honest. Transparent. And yes, we are trying to make a difference for others as we move along.

I hope you’ll be able to make the conference next week. I can assure you that Chris has a lot to share.

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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.

This week, several of our team attended a workshop led by Matthew Offenberg, a recognized expert in the field of pervious concrete. The discussion centered on the design and function of pervious concrete pavements, new developments in the technology and some of the challenges in implementing it. I found it interesting that the workshop was held here in Birmingham, an area known for its impermeable clay soils.

Our company has experience with pervious pavements in coastal areas with sandy, drainable soils. We will install our first pervious concrete parking lot in this area this month. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones expanding our use of this sustainable method. Factors that have contributed to the spread of the pervious industry to areas not originally thought to be candidates include:

Increased land values. The growing scarcity of suitable building sites have pushed developers and planners to squeeze more out of the site, and getting rid of the detention ponds creates more space.

Availability of materials. Readily accessible and relatively inexpensive crushed stone makes the addition of a “drainable layer” under paving easier in areas similar to Birmingham.

Industry growth. We now have more qualified suppliers and contractors, training programs and continuing education programs. This provides more resources and experience to draw.

As these and other sustainable technologies become tested by time and experience, their popularity will grow. In this instance, sustainable has become practical, and we consider that a success. Here are some pros and cons regarding the implementation and use of pervious concrete:

POSITIVE

  • Allows drainage of storm water directly into sub-soils
  • Omits the need for expensive retention/detention ponds, saving valuable land space for other uses
  • Structurally self-supporting water storage units can be placed under pervious concrete for irrigation use
  • Can be placed over tree root systems allowing for limited space traffic use
  • Can be placed in run-off buffer zones expanding traffic use space
  • Omits need for extensive storm drainage pipe systems as well as curb and gutter
  • No reinforcement required

NEGATIVE

  • Periodic cleaning required to maintain porosity, but minimal maintenance otherwise
  • Relative weakness does not allow for heavy truck traffic
  • Some raveling may occur over time, especially along edges—may require regular concrete ribbon along edges
  • 6” minimum thickness for light duty traffic
  • Requires substantial porous substrate for positive drainage
  • Must be kept covered and barricaded for a minimum of seven days after initial installation
  • Freeze/thaw spalling can develop in northern climates where there are extreme cold temperatures.

For us, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to pervious concrete in the right applications—it maybe something to consider when you’re planning your next project. It’s a good option for the environment and an overall value-add.

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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 try to keep our finger on the pulse of best management practices for today’s construction. To us, that happens when quality means/methods balance with an eye toward the environment. Pervious concrete can do both.

Pervious concrete is a wonderful concoction that holds up structurally and is porous enough that water can seep through it and flow back into the aquifer. It has polymers that glue the aggregate together, simultaneously allowing open cells to be formed in the concrete. The top inch filters out particulars such as oil and grease and the storm water flows through.

We had our first encounter with pervious concrete 5 years ago on one of our Florida projects. Since then, we have used it on several more sites. Here’s what we have learned from our experience:

● The product works better on sandy soil, which affords good drainage.

● Some pervious pavements fail because of insufficient drainage, especially in climates that experience heavy winter freezes that harden the ground.

● Shale aggregates in the concrete can break under freeze/thaw conditions, clogging the water flow.

● The selection of aggregate in the sub-base is important, and the curing process is crucial. A seven-day, wet-curing period is what we have learned works best.

Pervious concrete is a Best Management Practice recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. While it is a little more expensive than traditional concrete, additional cost will be balanced by the reduction or elimination of traditional storm water management systems like retention ponds and sewer tie-ins.

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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, I mentioned a partnership I’ve fostered with WP2DC, the company who designed and implemented a cloud-based application for Stewart Perry. We’ve managed to get all our internal information into an easily accessible virtual file cabinet. As a result we’ve cut out a lot of duplicated efforts.

Using a Building Information Modeling (BIM) is our next goal for being more efficient and a better resource. The American Institute of Architects defines it as a “model-based technology linked with a database of project information.”  Basically, BIM catalogues a structure throughout its lifecycle in real time 3D. All the details—from design, to functionality, to construction, to operation—are accessible from one file. We had a project T’d up using BIM and because of the Recession the project was delayed. We believe that BIM will be a huge value-add for our customer relationships. That’s because, for us, BIM will:

  • improve project visualization
  • improve productivity with easy retrieval of information
  • increase coordination of construction documents
  • isolate and define scope of work
  • increase delivery speed
  • reduce errors
  • reduce costs

BIM will allow us to harness technology to drive long-term improvement in project delivery. It’s a soup to nuts philosophy. If problems come up down the road, building owners can look at how a facility was designed, engineered and built. They can address problems with a holistic approach, often saving them tons of time and effort trying to track down the unknown.

BIM is a huge tool for establishing and continuing relationships. However, I won’t recommend BIM without a word of warning. Adaptation means you’ll have to change the way you look at building phases. There’s a lot less alpha and omega and a lot more ebb and flow. Architects, engineers, contractors and other stakeholders will be sharing more information than they’re used to. It’s more effort up front, but in the end, BIM bridges the information loss often associated with handing a project from design team to construction to owner/operator.

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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.

Around here, everyone knows that when we enter an agreement to purchase goods or services we look at it as a two-way street. We want to both give and get more from a project than just the transaction.

Last year we entered an agreement with WP2DC, a very capable technology firm in Los Angeles. They helped us launch a cloud-based data system for our new business leads. It’s been a huge asset for my team, allowing us to keep all our data in a centralized location. We now have one place to store everything and seamless Internet access to our information, even if we’re offsite. We’re up and running, but true to form, that’s not end of our relationship.

Over the past eight or nine months, the principals of WP2DC and I have regularly exchanged our thoughts on what we are seeing in the market. Our most recent conversations have been about the various tablet devices that are coming to the market, the iPad in particular. We discussed how these might specifically be integrated into a useful purpose for our company. I have learned that WP2DC is a great source for tech information and they look to us for applications. Through the leverage we are both stronger.

I think you’d be amazed at what building a relationship with vendors and subcontractors can do to improve your business model. In turn, you’ll ramp up their efficiency. Both companies win. A little communication is all it takes.

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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 seems that in the construction business—design and finance—there is an ever-accelerating outpouring of technology and knowledge. Because I sometimes worry that advances will pass me by, I’m always trying to figure out how to leverage my time. I want to maximize what I do without decreasing quality or cutting corners. But how?

Someone recently told me: “If sleep didn’t get in the way, I would have time to accomplish all my goals.” Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? Here are 5 things I do to increase my personal efficiency, so that I can get lots taken care of and still find time for a little shuteye.

  • Save industry reads for downtime. I go through the Wall Street Journal every Saturday morning, cutout  the pertinent articles, then read them on my next airline trip.
  • Get an executive summary on technology. I subscribe to two bloggers who deliver an overview of what’s happening in marketing, social media and technology. I think these guys are pretty sharp, and worth my time. Check out Chris Brogan and Mashable.
  • Carry an electronic data recorder. Mine is small and relatively inexpensive. Whenever I get an idea or think of someone to contact, I record the thought straight away, then take action later. I’ve saved a lot of good fleeting thoughts this way.
  • Use voice to text. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking software to dictate my e-mails. It saves a lot of keystrokes, freeing me up to communicate more often.
  • Subscribe to RSS. I use Google Reader, an amazing product. At a glance one can gain knowledge of specifics across a wide spectrum of publications and in my case on construction, design and finance.

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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.