A winning niche: Marion construction firm finds success in healthcare niche

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MARION, Mass. — For Marion-based design, construction, and management company, South Coast Improvement, finding a winning niche in the contracting world has dictated their success.

SCI originally started as a general contractor with a commercial lean, doing projects in schools, colleges, condominiums and offices, said company president Tom Quinlan.

But between 2000 and 2001, it began doing work in assisted living centers and decided to slant its marketing toward that industry.

The decision proved to be a good one and now, healthcare and senior living makes up between 65 percent and 70 percent of SCI’s projects.

In fact, the company has worked on approximately 300-million-square-feet of those kinds of facilities, Quinlan noted.

SCI officially acknowledged this aspect of its business recently by announcing a formalized Healthcare Senior Living Retrofit Division.

“The work we do is all in occupied facilities,” said Quinlan. “You have to say, ‘How do you reconfigure and refinish this while the patients and staff are there? How do you make sure their daily activities are unimpeded?'”

SCI’s niche is not just in healthcare but within a certain segment of the industry. The company generally works on $3 million-to-$5 million projects, which Quinlan said “Are too small for bigger contractors, but too big for smaller contractors, which left us.”

The business expands its employee base seasonally, adding up to 40 people when good weather allows more exterior projects.

Luckily for Quinlan, the healthcare and senior living contracting sectors were not seriously affected by the 2008 economic crisis.

“There was a little hiccup, (and) projects (were) put on hold,” he said. “But they ultimately went forward.”

In fact, SCI has more than doubled its business financially since 2008, with revenues increasing significantly: $3.7 million in 2008, $4.7 million in 2009, $7 million in 2010, and $10 million in 2011.

And here’s why, according to Quinlan.

“A.) We were lucky in our niche and B.) We really took care of our customers, and they keep coming back,” he said.

This dedication to customer service is another key to SCI’s achievements. “There was a time when general contractors forgot they were in the service business,” said Quinlan. “Shame on us if we don’t attend to their needs.”

To illustrate his point, Quinlan noted a recent project when just after completion, a hurricane destroyed the newly-constructed facility. He said the workers kept at the reconstruction through both Thanksgiving and Christmas to refinish the facility in a timely manner.

“We had to get it done,” said Quinlan. “That’s the type of service we bring.”

These days, SCI is getting to the point where it grows its business through word of mouth, having achieved a solid reputation in Massachusetts senior care. Often times, Quinlan said, they get invited back by past clients to do future jobs.

“Take care of our existing clients, and they’ll keep us busy for a long time,” he said.

In addition to health care, the remaining 30 percent to 35 percent of SCI’s projects include office buildings, planned communities, and commercial sites.

Their services include conceptual development, design engineering, preconstruction and construction services, project management, renovations, add-ons, interior/exterior finishing and painting, carpentry services and custom millwork/cabinetry.

In the future, Quinlan hopes to expand into traditional hospital work.

Another trend that has helped SCI grow despite the economy, Quinlan said, is a move by older nursing homes to transform a wing in their facility into short-term rehabilitation centers. Generally, these clients look for hotel quality and premium finishes, he said.

In addition, existing rehab centers are frequently looking to enhance their facilities, and often put money toward upgrading occupational and physical therapy rooms and gyms.

“It’s a great market. We’ve been able to expand geographically, which is so much more than I expected,” said Quinlan.

Although based in Marion, SCI has ongoing projects in all of New England, New Jersey and Maryland and has handled projects as far away as Washington state. It also has a mid-Atlantic region office, located in King of Prussia, Pa.

SCI has also tapped technology to help it run its operations smoothly and has a system of on-site cameras linked to the Marion headquarters that allows Quinlan and other supervisors to keep tabs on project progress, even from hundreds of miles away.

Particularly with its out-of-state projects, SCI taps local employment markets and will hire subcontractors. But the company prefers to use their own workers who are willing to travel. They also make sure they have a minimum of one senior project manager on-site.

“We maintain control by using as much of our own labor as we can,” said Quinlan.

With his own company comfortably on a successful path into the future, Quinlan does have one piece of advice to offer growing companies looking to thrive.

“Remember,” he said, (that the) client is king.”

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