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Distinguished Specialty Contractor David Allen Company Earns ABC’s Top Award

Some companies—like some building materials—stand the test of time.

David Allen Company, Raleigh, N.C., is one those companies, and it’s fitting that the company masterfully installs some of the construction industry’s most durable and appealing materials around: granite, marble, tile and terrazzo.

In March, David Allen Company earned the honor of being named Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Contractor of the Year—an award bestowed on a company that outshines others for its corporate integrity, commitment to the professional development and safety of employees, dedication to expert craftsmanship and esteem in the industry at large.

Founded in 1920, the company has grown to become one of the nation’s largest marble, granite, terrazzo, tile and underlayment contractors, with nearly 500 employees and craft professionals in its Raleigh, N.C., headquarters and branch offices in Birmingham, Ala.; Columbia, S.C.; Washington, D.C.; and Miami.

Its stunning craftsmanship can be seen in the flooring and finishes of most major airports on the East Coast—with over four million square feet of terrazzo installed in airports including Ronald Reagan National, Charlotte Douglas International, Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International. Airports currently under construction include Charleston, Tallahassee and Sarasota. The company has helped transform numerous educational, government, hospitality, institutional and medical interiors and exteriors into works of art through its meticulous focus on detail and museum-quality installation methods. Some iconic projects that exhibit David Allen Company’s skills include the Smithsonian, the National Archives, the White House, the Pentagon, and the headquarters of the CIA, NASA and NATO.

David Allen Company’s foundation is built not only on the strengths of its experienced workforce, but also its industry relationships. Many of the company’s craft professionals are second- and third-generation employees, while several of its general contracting partners have been doing business with the company for more than 75 years. The leadership team of Chairman Robert Roberson, CEO David Roberson, President Art Odom, Executive Vice President Martin Howard and Secretary-Treasurer Terry Preston collectively have more than 200 years of service with the company.

“From the very beginning of any project, we have to be committed to superior performance and craftsmanship. With the materials we provide—marble, granite, terrazzo, and tile—there is no place for inferior work,” Robert Roberson says. 

Pride in quality permeates every inch of the business—not just the stunning details of its corporate headquarters, but also the attention paid to every employee’s well-being and quality of life. Executives turn the lens on their own performance by conducting 360 reviews to seek feedback from peers, staff and customers to ensure they’re meeting the company’s mission, vision and goals.

David Allen Company is one of the few firms of its type with a full-time safety director on staff. In 2015, it earned ABC’s STEP Platinum status, and its safety incidence rate is exceptionally low, with an Experience Modification Rate of 0.63.  

The company shines in its professional development efforts as well. Executives regularly host training forums for office staff, mid-level managers and craft professionals, and encourage employees to attend educational seminars hosted by tile and terrazzo experts such as the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association (NTMA).

The executive team is responsible for setting many of the gold standards the industry uses today. Both Martin Howard and David Roberson serve on the technology and quality control committees that write the standards for the entire specialty. For example, the industry needs a new standard for installing a new variety of extra-large, remarkably thin (3 millimeter) tiles, and Howard has a seat on the committee that writes those standards. 

In addition, the company is staying ahead of the exterior finishes trend of installing energy-saving rain screen systems with porcelain tile or ventilated façades that allow air to breathe throughout the system, shielding the exterior from radiant heat and managing the dew point to generate cleaner, drier air inside the building. “These systems have been used in Europe for years and are just beginning to be part of buildings in the United States,” Howard says.

“When you expect your finished product to be high quality, you have to expect your installers and your entire team to execute high-quality work,” he adds. “That’s one reason we invest so much into training and education. We expect a lot, and we offer a lot. We want to give our team members the tools to produce an exceptional final product that brings added value to an owner’s building.”

The result of this commitment to education, training and safety is what keeps project owners coming back to the company again and again when they desire the highest quality installation their budget can afford.
“Our goal, as an ABC member, is to be the preferred trade contractor,” Art Odom says. “We want to provide the best customer service and be the best craftsmen to the construction team, but we can’t always be the lowest cost. We hope our customers recognize this, and I think they do. They appreciate our integrity and are comfortable knowing that our team members will deliver the results that contribute to a successful project, and do it safely.”

In addition to investing in team members’ professional growth, the company fosters an environment of employee health and satisfaction. It has a fitness center and offers personal training sessions onsite at its headquarters.

David Allen Company prides itself on earning top honors in peer-reviewed awards programs and has received many such awards that justify that pride. This year, it won an ABC Excellence in Construction Award for its interior finishes at Grandview Medical Center, Birmingham, Ala., with project partners Earl Swennson Associates, Inc. and Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC. It also earned three NTMA 2016 Honor Awards for quality installations on High Point University Student Excellence Center, High Point, N.C.; Gaillard Center, Charleston, S.C.; and Bow Creek Recreation Center, Virginia Beach, Va.

A Culture of ‘Family’
While David Allen Company is not a family business in the strict definition, it operates with the same mindset as one, with a long legacy as its foundation and team member loyalty steering the course for the future.

At the turn of the 20th century, David Allen, the company’s namesake, was just 14 years old when his father died. He took on the role of head of household for his four siblings, and soon was managing his father’s small masonry business. With an early client list of upscale homeowners and local commercial business owners, David Allen started his tile, marble and terrazzo company as a proprietorship in 1920.

Robert Roberson joined the company as an office assistant and accountant in 1957, intending the job to be temporary. Ten years later, Roberson bought the company while Allen transitioned into retirement.

“From that very humble beginning, Mr. Allen’s attitude about his work was that of a very proud craftsman.  He had a tremendous reputation, and he built the business on his integrity, which reflected his Christian values. He was highly regarded in the industry, though it was more local at that time,” Roberson says.

“Over the years, becoming one of the nation’s largest tile and terrazzo contractors was never our goal; it resulted from our performance and our desire to be a preferred, reliable and capable team member.”

David Roberson, Robert’s younger brother, joined the firm 45 years ago. Even though he had earned a business degree, he started in the field like everyone else, pushing a wheelbarrow. He is now responsible for the entire terrazzo operation. “Our company has grown naturally under the core values of excellence and professionalism, customer service and integrity,” he says.

Last year, David Allen Company began a self-financed employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). This means employees are especially invested in the value of professional development and their own long-term leadership potential.

“For the most part, training and developing our people, on all levels, is an ongoing process,” David Roberson points out. “For example, within a four-man terrazzo crew, a new person will train on the job with three more experienced workers. These crews often include father-son pairs or brothers and cousins. For a period of time, three generations of craftsmen—grandfather, father and son—were working together on jobsites.” Many laborers move up the ranks to become crew leaders and superintendents, and a few former summer interns are now full-time project managers.

“People sometimes laugh when I say we are a small company,” Odom remarks. “But it feels small because it is a family affair. We pride ourselves on the longevity of our team members. The very fact that family members want their brothers and sons to join the David Allen Company team tells us a lot about how our leadership values our team. They are family to us. It goes back to our founding principles that we treat others as we’d want to be treated.”

Even with this supportive culture and positive benefits, David Allen Company struggles to attract young people into the industry. Getting an 18-year-old to commit to a five-year program to become a master craftsman is a rarity, especially when a college degree takes only four years.

“Everyone in the industry is recognizing we have to train craftsmen in less time,” Odom says. “Some learning can be done online, but a lot of our skill set is hands-on. We must find a way to blend those together, and it’s a significant problem. We’re going to have to work together in the construction industry and with educational institutions to develop training programs in the vocational schools and the high schools to fill the needs for construction in the years to come.”

As a step in the right direction, David Allen Company hosts tours for local technical and design students, performs terrazzo demonstrations, and provides a scholarship for students interested in construction and design. Company leaders also are working with the ABC Carolinas Chapter to influence the state legislature to provide grants for vocational programs.

Weathering the Economy
Adding to the industry’s workforce woes are the challenges of compressed schedules, tight budgets and materials price fluctuations, which David Allen Company has weathered gracefully during the economic downturn.

“General contractors were committing to owners’ fast schedules, the demands of which filtered down to all of the trade contractors,” Odom says. “The stacking of the trades can be really hard on our projects.” For example, electrical, mechanical or other crews can’t be working on scaffolding above craftsmen installing a terrazzo floor. Typically, a building is already 70 percent complete when David Allen Company comes onsite, and if the schedule is running behind, the finish crews doing the final detail work get rushed.

“Now that the economy is improving and work is becoming more plentiful, that compressing of schedules is not as demanding as it was the last three or four years,” Odom says. “Budgets are still tight, but budgets are loosening up to be more realistic. Also, everyone is beginning to realize wages must increase to train skilled workers in the trades, and this is going to help with the budget issues.”

“We try to work with the best general contractors, most of whom have returned to the scheduling mode of inviting everyone to the table, getting all the stakeholders involved, and creating the schedule together, as opposed to imposing unrealistic expectations,” Howard says. “That is making a positive difference.”

The ABC Network
For Odom, the Contractor of the Year award symbolizes a culmination of the company’s dedication to the association and the networking opportunities it provides.

“To me, ABC is the association of the top performers. If you’re a long-time ABC member, you will be committed to your employees’ safety and training and open competition. It’s a humbling experience to be respected by our peers in what I consider to be a top association.  It makes me very proud,” he says.

Odom has been an ABC National Board Member since 2006 and has chaired the Free Enterprise Alliance and Political Action Committee for several years. Chris Walker, vice president of the Washington, D.C., branch, and Chad Love, vice president of the Birmingham branch, have both served as board members of the Virginia and Alabama chapters.  

“Many of my best personal friends are ABC business associates,” Odom says. “The longevity of friendships is common in this industry and in ABC.”

The company’s chairman recognizes the value of contributing—both to the industry and to associations like ABC—because it encourages the younger generation who will take on leadership roles.

“Although we have been around for 96 years, if we continue to focus on what is important—our integrity, professionalism, craftsmanship and customer service—there is no reason we cannot celebrate another 96 years,” Roberson says. “Our years of experience bring great value to our performance, but we must not forget—it’s what we do today for our customers that will allow us to write the next chapter of who we are.”

The Leadership Team
Robert Roberson, chairman, has led the company for more than 56 years. Having served as president of several associations for the marble, granite, terrazzo and tile industry, he is a highly regarded industry leader, technical consultant, editor of industry publications, teacher and trainer.

David Roberson, CEO, oversees the company’s terrazzo operations, managing single terrazzo contracts exceeding $20 million. He served for 12 years on the board of directors of the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association (NTMA), where he chaired its technical and promotional committees and served as president for two years, during which he set up NTMA’s Industry Promotion Fund. Since retiring from the NTMA board, he initiated, founded and for years chaired the NTMA Industry Benevolence Fund that has aide many in the industry facing medical hardship.

Arthur Odom, president, is a certified public accountant with more than 30 years of experience in construction accounting and finance, including many years working with CPA and general contracting firms. He is past chairman of ABC of the Carolinas and a current national board member, as well as past national board member of the Construction Financial Management Association.

Martin Howard, executive vice president for tile, stone and branch operations, has more than 30 years of experience in the construction industry, including general contracting. He is a highly regarded expert and consultant in the technical aspects o tile and stone, and serves on four National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) committees. He also serves on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A-108 Committee and the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC-189, which writes consensus standards for the tile industry worldwide. With six years of service on the NTCA Executive Committee, he will become NTCA’s president in October.

Christopher Walker
, vice president-Northeast Region, manages the Metro DC and Northeast branches. He has more than 25 years of experience in the tile and stone industry and is a board member of ABC’s Virginia chapter. He also serves as chairman of the ANSI A-108 Committee and U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC-189. He is an executive officer of the NTCA, serves on multiple industry technical committees and is considered an industry expert.

Chad Love, vice president, manages Birmingham, Ala., branch operations. He has more than a decade of experience managing tile, stone and terrazzo projects, and is an expert in an array of other flooring materials. He is currently the Alabama state director for the NTCA and sits on several committees for associations, including ABC of Alabama and Associated General Contractors, and is active with the SubAla Association.

Terry Preston, secretary-treasurer, acts as special assistant to the chairman. As an MBA graduate, she is a recognized expert on negotiating acceptable contract language and often tutors other subcontractors. She serves on the board and is a past president of the American Subcontractors Association of the Carolinas, and is a past president of its Triangle Chapter.

Lauren Pinch is managing editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email pinch@abc.org or follow @ConstructionMag


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