written by Justin Fields
Northwest weather conditions can wreak havoc on otherwise well-built structures. The persistent rain we experience finds ways to penetrate the exteriors of our homes and businesses, causing thousands in dam- ages before we even know it. One Portland-based construction company, Gores Construction, specializes in repairing those damages and preventing them from reoccurring. Owner Sean Gores says his company is like, “the building doctor. You call us when your building is sick and needs medical attention.” Since it’s inception in 1998, Portland-based Gores Construction has grown to include offices in two western states and employ well over 300 presently. Continuous demand for services has Gores planning major expansion this year and next.
I sat down with Gores at AboutFace offices and discussed good building practices, the art of building maintenance, and how an idea for developing a niche market led to a very successful family-owned business.
How is your company different from other construction companies?
Our company specializes in being the doctors of the construction industry by fixing problems that occur during construction. Usually developers, contractors, and sub- contractors build things with a primarily schedule-driven, and budget-driven mindset. That’s why problems happen. Often construction happens too quickly to provide proper oversight and quality control. As a result, we stay very busy fixing problems.
Water intrusion is a major concern in the northwest. How much of your business is water damage related?
About 75% of my business is water-intrusion repairs. We work on anything from a one-story, single-family residential home, to a 19-story high rise. That includes multifamily condos, town- homes, apartments, and commercial projects as well.
Why aren’t NW builders more prepared to prevent water intrusion?
Sometimes it’s lack of proper training for general contractors. If they’re not correctly overseeing the subs and making sure they’re doing things correctly as far as waterproofing components of the building exterior, then you’re going to have problems. Proper training and oversight would prevent these problems.
For people who are not in the construction industry what does a building envelope mean?
It’s pretty much the exterior of the building. It’s the roof, it’s the walls, it’s the exterior siding; the decks; windows, doors, foundations. Let me explain it another way: If it’s raining out- side and you tuck your rain jacket inside your pants and walk around Portland all day in the rain, your underwear is going to get wet. If you lap that rain jacket the right way over your pants, then you’re going to stay dry. It’s the same with the building envelope. If you don’t sequence the materials and procedures correctly and you miss a bunch of flashing details that are sup- posed to be there, the water is going to get inside and rot out the walls. That’s when you will need to call us.
You mentioned that was about 75% of your business. What about the other 25%?
Remodels, new construction, and tenant improvements are part of what we do as well. We also have a very large service department and a maintenance division, which we use to main- tain the exterior of buildings and catch problems early.
You offer loss recovery services and regularly provide testimony in litigation cases. Are customers sometimes unaware of how to proceed with holding builders account- able for faulty construction?
Absolutely. Usually the phone calls come to us when their just at wit’s end. They’ve asked the contractors to come back and fix it, and the contractors just don’t know how to fix it. A lot of contractors in the state of Oregon and Utah think that they’re only required to provide a one-year warranty on their projects. In Oregon, the reality is that there’s a six-year and ten-year statute of limitations, so they have to stand behind their work for up to 10 years. Because they don’t know that, after a year they just give up and tell the homeowner they’re on their own. Then the homeowner is stuck pulling their hair out trying to fix it.
So what happens when you get involved?
When they call us, we try to avoid taking sides. Instead, we speak for the building. We identify the building’s problem; then put reports together about what it’s going to take to fix it. A lot of times the homeowner, HOA, or commercial property owner will ask us for advice. Since 1998, I’ve been involved n about 1,400 litigation projects. Out of the 1,400 litigation projects, I’ve been involved in 24 trials, and about 800 mediations. So we’re very well-versed in what the law says. However, we still recommend speaking to an attorney to help make a proper business decision moving forward.
How important is preventative maintenance? Does getting out in front of issues and discovering potential problems lead to savings for your clients?
If a homeowner or building owner or an HOA doesn’t have a proper maintenance plan in place to maintain the exterior of the buildings—again from the roof to the siding to the windows to the doors and decks—they end up thinking they just have to go out and paint it every 8–10 years. But what happens to all the sealant and caulking joints? What happens to all the deck coatings? It’s going to deteriorate over time. So we provide a customized maintenance plan for each project specifically. A lot of times we sign them up to come out and do that work once every three years or so. The cost of maintenance with us once every three years is very, very small compared to what it would cost them if they neglected it for 10–15 years. If ignored, it could end up being hundreds-of-thousands of dollars worth of work, compared to thousands.
What does it mean to be “your trusted partner from the ground up”?
Our customers like having a trusted partner to help ensure things go smoothly throughout, because some of these projects could last a few months. I’ve got one right now that’s going on three years. It’s over 600 units, so that takes a long time to rebuild. But not every single building that we look at requires a full strip and reclad, or tear everything apart because the sky is falling. We look at each project individually and come up with a solution as a team.
You mentioned your team. Tell me more about how your team came together over time.
When I started my business in 1998, I had a few carpenters and masons working for me. Now, between both Salt Lake City and our Portland office, we’re over 300 strong, all full-time employees. My upper management staff has been with me for 19–20 years, and I personally trained every single one of them. They all know how we treat our customers, train our employees, work with subs, and work with third party inspection companies, such as architects and engineers, in getting the best results. I also trained our managers to treat every single customer and their property as if it were one of my own.
I know that your family is also involved with your company quite a bit. Is that something that you set out
to do from the very beginning?
Well, in my industry you have to have people you can trust, that will not only look out for the best interests of my business, but also our customers. I find the best way to do that is starting with my family first, because we all grew up with each other, and we have that trust. My wife Debbi has worked side by side with me from the inception of the company and oversees the administration side of the company. Also, both of my kids are helping me run the business. My daughter graduated from Portland State University, and at age 25 she’s now in charge of our marketing and business development. I have a son that’s 24 that graduated from Portland State University as well. He’s taking on the role of an operations manager in the field, dealing with our crews overseeing quality control, making sure that things are being done right.
Is there anything else that makes your company uniquely Oregonian or Portland?
You know, to be honest with you I’ve been in the United States since I was eight years old. When I came here, I knew it was the land of opportunity. Growing up in the northwest has made me appreciate the natural way of life. I love the outdoors; I love living here, even though in my opinion it rains a little too much. Rain is what creates my business. I’m all about sup- porting the local economy and the people that live here. I do the same thing in my Salt Lake office as well. But in Portland, people definitely get to know you quickly. We don’t advertise, we don’t knock on people’s doors, and you don’t see us all over the radio or billboards. Everything we do word of mouth, and that creates enough work that we’re about a year or two out on all of our work.
What other numbers can you tell me about your business? Is Gores Construction growing?
We are in a big growth spurt, and have been for the last 10 years. We’ve already beat last year’s sales by the third month of this year. Our sales are very strong, and we don’t have problems getting work. Our projection for the end of 2016 is that we hope to be about 400 employees strong in both states, and by 2017 we’re going to be over 500.
Did you just recently relocate offices?
We did. We were in a lease in Milwaukie, but the place was too small for us at about 10,000 square feet. We just purchased a 19,000 square-foot building and rehabbed all the interiors, so we will be able to add a lot more space for ourselves. That’s about 6,000 square feet of office space, and the rest is warehouse. It’s in Milwaukie, so it’s easy for us to get downtown when I have to go in for depositions or litigation support. I can also get all over the northwest from that side of town, so it makes it easy for us. We have projects right now in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Utah. Our Utah office is just going crazy, and in 2017 we’re looking to expand into Denver.
What else would you like to tell the readers about your company?
The biggest thing is that we’re not a new construction contractor, and we’re not a remodeling company. We’re in a very unique niche market that I recognized and created in 1998. When I first went into business I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have this many employees, offices, and equipment. I love helping people in distress in doing so, raising the standards in the construction industry. If it means I’ve got to spend several days fighting for your right to recover your loss through litigation, that’s what I will do.