Building Beyond Price

After years of developing subdivisions, Richard Dickson, president, Dickson Development Corp., Plainsboro, N.J., decided to focus on custom design/build work. Dickson is a meticulous estimator, and appreciates the accuracy of the design/build process.

“I saw an opportunity for the design/build market, and it was my desire to diversify and not be a general contractor. When I bid, the only factor was price. There was always someone who would do it for less, and I was done working like that. As builders, the design/build process allows us to control the cost in line with the budget. Now I’m looking for clients who appreciate the concept of design/build,” Dickson says. “Sometimes it’s hard for a consumer to understand that the price they get on a bid might not be what they pay if the job is not bid properly. We’re focusing on more design/build work so we can ignore other ways of doing things.”

Dickson’s plan is to not only do great design, but to be serious about bringing it in on budget. “Our profit center is the building not design. If we design something that the client likes then they’re less likely to bid out our design. When you can establish good relationships and build trust, you can have a very high conversion rate, like we do,” he says.

Dickson Development, in an effort to improve its conversion rate, has hired a full-time designer, which has reduced the turnaround time on smaller jobs. The builder still maintains a relationship with an outside design firm to do working drawings and help on design.

To secure business for his clients as well as his company, Dickson offers assistance with financing. The builder suggests relationships with banks that offer construction financing in which the loan is based on the value of the finished product. “We have the ability to introduce them to several institutions. It’s simply a way of facilitating the project. And it falls in line with our philosophy of offering any services they need.

“When you do custom work, you must be prepared to do anything. And you must understand that you won’t always be able to turn every little job into a profit center. Sometimes you do things to accomplish the job for your clients, and nothing more.”