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Unified Construction builds on foundation of service

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by Steve Vert

SBJ Contributing Writer

These days, things seem to be looking up for Unified Construction. In 1998 it boasted a total of 30 full-time employees and more than $6.5 million in annual billings.

But it wasn't always that way. Like a lot of construction companies, Unified started small and built itself up one job at a time.

"In the beginning it was just a couple of guys and a pickup truck," said Unified Vice President Mark Terbrock. "But from there, things have been pretty good. The company has grown and grown."

Since 1984, when it was founded by owner Dan Robbins, Unified has specialized in light commercial construction, preferring to leave residential construction to others.

"We've found the commercial market is good for us," Terbrock said. "It's a little more formalized than the residential market. We feel that allows us to do a better job."

According to Bruce Colony, who handles the company's sales and marketing, the secret to Unified's success, from the early days when Robbins ran it from the kitchen table in his home until now, can be summed up in one word: service.

"That's what it's all about," Colony said. "And a constant dedication to making sure your clients are happy."

Colony said in a geographical area where numerous construction companies operate in the $5 million to $10 million range, competition is tight. And there's no substitute for word-of-mouth advertising.

"Word gets around about the quality of work an outfit does," Colony said. "Those who don't keep up their standards can be in trouble in a hurry."

The payoff for making a commitment to excellence, Terbrock said, is satisfied customers who come back some as much as a decade after an initial project was completed.

"We have multiple clients that we do repeat business with," Terbrock said. "A couple we're very proud of are McDonald's Corporation and NationsBank."

Terbrock pointed out that Unified has completed projects all over, including several McDonald's restaurants and a five-acre housing project for Drury College.

Among Unified's current undertakings Terbrock included projects for NationsBank in Lebanon and University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield.

"We'll be starting the new Early Childhood Center in Strafford soon," he said. "We just completed the bidding process on that last week."

Looking to the future, Terbrock said Unified hopes to be part of the project to convert the old Payless Cashways building on South Campbell into a library.

"That's going to be a nice project," Terbrock said. "We're going to give it our lowest bid and hope for the best."

Two key elements in Unified's successful day-to-day operations are its employees and the increasing use of technology.

"The number of employees we have fluctuates with the workload," Terbrock said. "But we don't hire part-time. We try to keep our employees with us."

Terbrock said in addition to keeping employees, Unified's management team tries to maintain a positive atmosphere.

"We don't have a boss-employee relationship so much as a teamwork relationship," he emphasized. "We all feel like we're part of a team."

And technology keeps that team functioning smoothly.

"We're very progressive in the use of technology," Terbrock said. "We're advanced in our estimating system, and we're building a Web site to help us communicate with our customers."

While Unified's customers can be sure that its mission to provide them with an unwavering dedication to quality won't change, they can look forward to the addition of a service division that Colony believes will allow customers to focus on running their businesses instead of fixing problems.

"It will be a separate division catering to clients with emergencies," Colony said. "We'd like them to be able to call us 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get things fixed."

That's one of the reasons Unified plans to continue its focus on an operations area within a 100-mile radius of Springfield, Terbrock said even though some clients do receive service outside that limit from time to time.

Unlike big companies that complete a project and just move on, Terbrock said, Unified has always had a policy of sticking around and serving its customers.

"Contracts dictate that you have to for a time," he said. "But we want our clients to feel like they can call us anytime they have a problem."

Although there have been some tough times for Unified in the past, when economic or seasonal factors brought down its workload, Terbrock said that's to be expected; there are highs and lows in every business.

"It would be nice if there was always a steady flow of work, just enough, not too much," Terbrock said. "Still, we've had some awfully good times. And we're confident the best ones for us lie ahead."

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