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The clickety-clack noise a train makes when traveling down the tracks can be a soothing sound. But hearing that same noise while driving on the interstate is annoying. For me, it’s partly because it gets me to thinking about how the road was paved and how the breaks in the pavement are slowly, but steadily having a negative effect on the fuel efficiency of the thousands of vehicles passing over it every day.

Pavement smoothness is a key factor in improving fuel efficiency, especially for heavy trucks. The smoother the pavement, the less energy (fuel) is needed to propel the truck down the road. Every crack and dip in the surface creates a small amount of resistance, requiring an equal increase in force to keep the truck traveling at the same speed.

Even the type of surface can make a difference. Asphalt is more flexible than concrete. So when it flexes as the truck is rolling, there’s more energy of that truck put into the pavement and less propelling it forward. This impacts fuel economy and results in more carbon emissions. Fuel economy can be improved by simply increasing density of the asphalt by as little as 1%.

Obviously, each individual incident of resistance is miniscule, but it adds up over the course of millions of miles. A study published in 2006 by the National Research Council Canada found that trucks traveling on rigid pavements consumed an average of 3.8 percent less fuel than those on flexible surfaces. As fuel prices steadily grow, it’s important to find ways to assist drivers in easy-to-manage ways.

This is another example of how, in the long haul, even slight changes in design can make a big difference.

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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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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

Imagine attending a conference and being introduced to a prospective client. This person asks about your company and professional background. Instead of replying to the prospect you say, “Let my friend Dave here tell you all about us.” And then you walk away without speaking a word.

It is extremely unlikely that this potential client would end up hiring you. But in a way, that is what many companies try to do when they use canned programs to implement their customer relationship management.

I don’t believe it is possible for anybody else to tell your story the way you can. Others might be able to provide the basic details, but in order to truly explain your company’s character and culture it needs to come directly from you.

There is ample evidence that executives in the commercial construction and design industry are hesitant to enter into unknown business relationships.

According to a nationwide survey I read recently in Construction Executive magazine, 83 percent of respondents said their primary source of business is a combination of repeat clients, referrals and networking. Yet amazingly, 33 percent said they do nothing to nurture existing business relationships.

What’s going to happen if your competition makes the effort to cultivate business relationships with a personal touch, and you simply rely on canned programs? Sure it takes a lot more time and work to do it on your own.

Success is never easy, but if you don’t take the initiative, someone else will.

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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

Few people endure slumps and a downturn in performance as often as professional athletes. Even the greatest sports stars suffer through stretches where seemingly nothing goes right. During his heyday, Michael Jordan had a commercial in which he stated, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” Then, after a short pause, he said, “And that is why I succeed.”

The point being that we all will go through tough times. To me, The key is how we handle the difficulties, and what we do to maintain a positive attitude and emerge stronger and better.

We have been in an economic slump for the past three years. This downturn has been longer than anything I have ever experienced, and it is not over. But things are improving. Most people expect that 2011 will be better than 2010, and 2012 will be even better than that.

Still, the psychological effects of a bad economy are similar to an athletic slump. Eventually it is difficult to keep your spirits up and you become convinced that the good times will never return. That is precisely when it is vital to visualize success.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that golfing legend Jack Nicklaus used to step back and “consciously regain a positive frame of mind” whenever things were going wrong. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz broke out of a lengthy slump by watching a two-minute video of a series of perfect pitches he had made.

Here are a few things I do to try to encourage those around our office to keep their spirits up:

  • We have company lunches from time-to-time. Some of the ladies in our office take advantage of our kitchen and cook some wonderful and tasty full-course meal for everyone.
  • We go on company outings occasionally. Recently, many members of our staff attended a local football game and we invited not only staff, but their family as well.
  • We ensure that all employees have knowledge of our projects and company functions. While not mandatory, their level of involvement is determined by their own interests and time. This increases their own interests and helps create a sense of not only teamwork, but also ownership of the projects.

I am interested to hear how you keep employee moral up in your office or other suggestions you may have on this topic ?

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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


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

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

Making mistakes is common for everyone. We all make them. Admitting to mistakes is not always an immediate reaction. Instead, many try to redirect the blame to others or maybe provide incomplete answers back. I tell our folks at Stewart Perry that they will always make mistakes along the trail and it is a sign of real maturity to admit what may have happened and to provide solutions.

When I visit with our clients, I tell them that we may make some mistakes along the way on their projects and if we do, we will work toward solutions. I have been in the construction business long enough to know that customers, designers and others involved in the property development process also make mistakes. We will try to help them work through these situations as well, just as we wish for them to help us in return.

We make decisions based on the information that we are given and this information may or may not always be accurate. To me, if you accept the error instead of avoiding it, it will start the correction process sooner. The way in which you handle the mistakes can say a lot about the way you do business. Granted we do live in a society where lawyers are involved at every turn and I would think it would be safe to say that has some impact on the methods in which things are handled.

Good leaders in business admit mistakes and move on.

A couple of ideas we try to live by:

• Let’s all admit when we make a mistake and seek solutions and let’s try to have the team support each other.

• Leaders show strength by showing vulnerability. Part of this vulnerability is admitting the mistake.

Nothing is ever perfect and mistakes are sure to be made. Admitting the mistake will be appreciated, strengthen the relationship and in the end, is a win-win situation.

Is this not what we are all striving to do?

 

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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

Are You Saying Thank You Enough?

As the year comes to a close, I wonder what it would be like if more of us said thank you to each other.  Not just at the end of the year, but throughout the year…

I can count on my two hands the amount of times that someone from downstream has thanked us for a material order or a subcontract we have given them over the past few years. Maybe it’s because people were too busy (before 2007)…or maybe they do not think what a wonderful opportunity this would be to build a relationship.

I’m not talking about the obligatory Christmas present or card. I’m talking about genuinely connecting throughout the year to say “thanks.” If you and your business did this, I suspect that your relationships will strengthen more because your competitors are probably not taking the time to say “thanks” either.

Two simple words, expressed in different ways.

From what I have read recently, people who show gratitude have more energy, more optimism, better social contacts and are healthier. We say thank you (a lot) and we try to do it in different ways because we are sincere. It’s who we are. It’s our culture and besides, we enjoy doing business with our customer relationships.

A teaspoon of honey goes a long way to strengthen the relationships for more opportunities which leads to more success.

 

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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

When the first Tour de France bicycle race was held in 1903; Maurice Garin, the winner, clocked in nearly three hours ahead of the second-place finisher, Hippolyte Auconturier. This year, the margin of victory was a mere 39 seconds. The three-week-long race covered 2,263 miles. That means winner Alberto Contador traveled each mile 0.0172 of a second faster than second-place finisher Andy Schleck; a miniscule margin to victory.

Things are looking brighter, for sure, yet the margin for error to get a project and to be successful is definitely smaller than it used to be. To me, it is important that we watch out for every opportunity and be ready for the right ones that are a fit.

Our attempt at finding and securing new business is similar to a fisherman stretching a net across a river. The web in our net has to be pretty tight these days to catch opportunities that come by and not let them slip away. There are project opportunities out there for all of us; the key is to ensure that we land our fair share.

Everyone does business different ways, but here’s what works for us:

• Remain true to our core competencies and make the most out of the opportunities.

• Building brand awareness utilizing social communications and other marketing efforts.

• Strategic Relationships with others in the industry. We keep the radar up for each other.

 

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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

Nearly every sizeable city in the United States struggles with clogged arteries. It’s a sea of traffic signals, brake lights and all-around urban sprawl. The roads in and out of town stack up during rush hour with smog-spewing traffic jams.

Nobody enjoys sitting in traffic, so there is personal motivation to eliminate tie-ups. It saves time and reduces frustration. It can also reduce pollution.

Here are a few things we have done to limit the impact employee vehicles have on the environment, at least while they are at work:

  • At our office, the best parking spaces are for carpools only. This encourages our team to find a friend to ride with. It saves them gas money too.
  • Our parking lot has low flow paving, so there is less effect on the ecosystem.
  • An island in the lot is filled with plants to limit our carbon dioxide impact.
  • We offer flex hours, so employees may choose to come in at times when traffic is lower, eliminating the extra pollutants emitted while waiting in traffic.
  • Employees can connect to their email out of the office. If they would like to work from home occasionally, it cuts down on gas and pollution.

This is an example of how being green can have benefits beyond the impact on the environment.

But we can always do better. The key is cooperation, especially among officials of neighboring municipalities. After all, polluted air and water does not stop at the city limits. Low-efficiency buildings in one area suck energy from the overall power grid. By pulling together, cities can adopt sustainable practices that will both preserve natural resources and enhance the quality of life.

What steps are you taking to lower your business’ carbon footprint?


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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.