Suburban construction companies are getting creative to beat supply-chain woes

Beating the supply-chain crisis has forced local construction companies to get creative.

For Barry Sullivan, vice president of construction for Westmont-based Ryan Companies U.S., Inc., it's become something of a team game, where he and his co-workers get help from local vendors and subcontractors and return the favor in kind.

He recalled a large apartment complex project that was nearing completion only to find out the appliance manufacturer would not be able to produce the needed appliances until well after the grand opening. Ryan Companies worked with a local vendor to find another manufacturer. The project opened on time, with even better quality appliances than they had originally found.

"That was great. I feel like they pulled a rabbit out of a hat there," Sullivan said.

A couple of years since the supply chain spun off course, contractors still are challenged to find ways to get projects done with quality materials and on time.

"It definitely contrasts with the way the world was in 2020 and 2019," said Tom Murphy, director of project services for Hiffman National, a division of NAI Hiffman in Oakbrook Terrace.

A new paradigm

For Chris Coleman, vice president of development for Mount Prospect-based Wingspan Development Group, getting creative has meant putting just-in-time inventories aside. Instead, he rents out warehouses in which he stores appliances, plywood and dimensional lumber, insulation, windows, flexible duct work and other HVAC components.

So the concept of just-in-time inventory has been put on hold.

"Just in time inventory functions when you can get stuff just in time, but when you can't it comes to a screeching halt," Coleman said.

The expense of renting out warehouse space is well worth the cost to a family-owned and family-operated firm like Wingspan. To the Papanicholas family, missing a deadline is not only costly financially - for instance, missing out on two months of rent across an entire apartment complex - but also expensive in terms of reputation and customer satisfaction.

"Moving is a very stressful experience to go through, and to the extent you put people off it's even more stressful. Then they've got to find another place to stay and what are they going to do with their personal belongings and their furnishings. It's just better for everybody if you deliver on time and keep the promises that you make," Coleman said.

Sullivan said Ryan Companies also has stocked up on appliances and other necessities to some extent. It also is warning clients up front that they might have to be flexible in the course of their project, being proactive about the situation.

The supply chain issues continue to keep Sullivan, Murphy and Coleman on their toes, with no end in sight.

"Yeah, there's a lot of extra work," Sullivan said. "You kind of have to just be agile. We have a lot of local relationships. Over the years treating all of our local subcontractors and vendors well over the years has really paid off that they are helping us find some products in some cases.

"... You kind of have to be creative. There's not really one right answer. You're always on your toes, kind of finding new solutions in solving whatever problem comes up next."

Is relief in sight?

So when will it end? That's a tough question, one that doesn't have an obvious answer.

"Are we completely out of this? No, absolutely not," Murphy said. "I think there's a lot of different geopolitical factors going on here right now. It would be difficult for me to say that hey, 12 months from now we should be good.

"We all just need to continue to monitor and just be vigilant on what we're specifying in our drawings or how we're guiding clients to build out a certain space."

Meanwhile, it's a grind to try to continue to find solutions. Back to normal sounds far away for Sullivan.

"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "Yeah, I think that would be great. You kind of wonder sometimes what is normal. What will be the next thing.

"I'm sure that things will get more normal as far as the reliability of materials, availability, but I'm sure there will be another challenge that we'll have to tackle. Who knows what that will be, but we're ready for it."

Illustration courtesy of Wingspan Development GroupThis spring, construction got underway on a 16,000-square-foot Angelo Caputo's Fresh Market located on the ground floor of the Maple Street Lofts in Mount Prospect.
Photo courtesy of Wingspan Development GroupDeveloped by Mount Prospect-based Wingspan Development Group, Maple Street Lofts is a six-story, 192-unit development near the Metra train station that welcomed its first residents last summer.
Chris Coleman
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