HCI Steel Building Systems Inc.

September 1, 2004

6 Min Read
HCI Steel Building Systems Inc.

HCI Steel Building Systems Inc.

One-stop supplier beats deadlines and exceeds expectations

By Michael Trunko

More and more often, self-storage owners are purchasing theirbuildings directly from a manufacturers authorized builder, eliminating themiddlemen. Until recently, this approach was primarily used by experiencedoperators who wanted to expand their facility or build a new one.

Today, however, even first-timers are opting to go this route. HCI Steel Building Systems Inc., with its in-house engineeringand manufacturing abilities, can listen to an owners concept and turn hisidea into a reality. The company is capable of handling all the details of theconstruction process, from drawings through erection. Having all materialsstructures,roofing systems, wall panels, etc.designed, fabricated and delivered by onecompany offers many benefits. It not only saves money, but can also ensure aquicker and smoother project.

Worth Its Salt

Most brokers and suppliers farm everything out to a numberof different vendors, says Gary Lundgren, owner of Alaska Mini-Storage. When too many suppliers are involved, and levels ofcommunication go from person to person and supplier to supplier, mistakes anddelays can occur during the process. Lundgrens company, based in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, has been developing property andoperating real estate in Alaska since 1963. He has been in the self-storageindustry since 1978 and currently owns six facilities.

Alaska has only about a six-month window for outsideconstruction, roughly May through October, so you dont have a lot of room todeal with delays, Lundgren comments. We didnt start our Fairbanks project until July 2003,which meant we had about three months to get as much of the project completed aspossible. We hoped to complete 90,000 of the 170,000 square foot facility beforethe severe cold weather hit.

We knew that the total amount of square footage we couldcomplete in such a short period of time relied heavily on the supplierscapabilities, Lundgren admits. We couldnt afford delays because ofmaterials or missed deadlines. Therefore, we took great care in choosing asupplier for this project. Many factors were taken into account when we comparedsuppliers and proposals.

Lundgren not only considered costs, but also the quality ofthe companys workmanship, reliability and willingness to meet strictdeadlines. In the end, it came down to two companies, but only one of themproposed to design and fabricate everything internally in its own manufacturingplant.

HCIs team offered us a better production and deliveryschedule at a better price than any of the competition, states Lundgren. Wewere already into the building season and, in their proposal, they committed todesign the facility, fabricate the material and deliver everything on afast-track basis. None of the other companies could compete in terms of time orprice.

Founded in Alaska in 1981 as a manufacturer of pre-engineeredsteel buildings and metal panels, HCI designs, engineers and fabricates thematerial for all of its customers buildings in house. In 1986, the companymoved to Arlington, Wash., and, in 1996, built a new, 90,000-square-footfacility. Today, HCI is one of only 26 manufacturers in the United States tohave the AISC-MB certification for quality of workmanship.

One-Stop Suppliers

Most self-storage owners have a vision of what they wantwhen building a new facility or expanding an existing one, says Lee McDaniel,vice president and general manager of HCI. They usually know they want acertain unit mix of 5-by-5s, 10-by-10s, 10-by-20s, etc. Based on this, we prepare drawings, do the engineering anddetail work, provide sealed drawings for building permits, fabricate the steel,and ship the material to their sites. We often assist owners in finding aqualified erector to put up the facility.

The companys buildings are typically based on 5-footmodules in width and length. They are available with single- or double-slopedroofs, may have inside corridor access, and can have single- or multiple storiesand climate control.

We buy steel directly from the mills. We do all of the manufacturing and engineering ourselves, andwe ship the ready-to-assemble material to the job site, says HCI PresidentJoe Holden. You dont have extra layers of people and suppliers,which is where mistakes can be made. You also eliminate extra layers of markup.By doing everything in house, we are as competitive on the East Coast with amultistory, climate-controlled building as we are in our own state.

Timing Is Everything

HCI not only designed and fabricated all our material inhouse, it provided assistance in finding a qualified erector for the project, Lundgren says. Since we were getting the material on afast-track basis, we needed an erector who could put up the buildings in-kind.It wouldnt do us any good to have the material arrive on time, then havedelays in putting it up.

Lundgren hired Farrell Contractors, an authorized HCI builderbased in Boise, Idaho. I wasnt too concerned about the short time framefor construction, says company owner Hayden Farrell, who specializes inself-storage. I knew my guys could complete the 90,000 square feetas longas there were no delays in getting material and the weather held out. How muchyou can complete depends a lot on your supplier. With the Fairbanks project, HCI had everything bang on for us,and there were absolutely no holdups because of material.

Farrell, originally from New Zealand, was impressed by thequality of HCIs material and workmanship. He also appreciated the fact thatpractically no material was left over at the end of a job.

Toward the end of the project, Lundgren learned anotherbenefit to working with a one-stop supplier: Last-minute changes did not poseany problems. He gave HCI preliminary design criteria, and the companysengineers were able to turn them into drawings within a few days. The companythen instantly began fabrication of the material. Less than one week later, the material was on its way toAlaska, and there was no delay in construction.

Ease of Erection

While Farrell and his crew were initially going to build only90,000 square feet, the smoothness and punctuality of the project enabled themto build 136,000 square feet. In addition to timeliness, he says, Thematerial went together well, and it all lined up perfectly. These buildings areextremely easy to erect.

HCI recently completed a 37,500-square-foot, three-storyproject in Sacramento, Calif. The crane time totaled only 26 hours,approximately one-third the usual time required for this type of project. Theerector, who was very experienced, had budgeted 75 hours for the job. Needless to say, he was pleased.

Our buildings go together quicker and smoother because weare accustomed to manufacturing buildings to very high tolerances, says Holden. Our first customers back in the early 1980swere the Army Corps of Engineers and oil companies in Alaska. They demanded a high level of quality and conformance to exactspecifications. All the details and connections are designed for ease of goingtogether in the field.

Its important erectors not have to fight the parts asthey go up. We can fabricate buildings up to 600 feet clear-span with 80-footside walls. You dont want to be fighting steel when you are up there. Youwant the connections to go together very easily.

Surpassing the Goal

Lundgren has an additional 34,000 square feet of buildings toerect at the Fairbanks project next year, with construction beginning in May2005. I look forward to it, because this was a great experience, he says.Everything went together perfectly. There were no hitches, no problems and nosurprises. Everybody makes promises in business, but not everybody candeliver, Lundgren says. This is a supplier and erector that deliverswhat it promises and in the time it promises. HCI not only met all the deadlineson the fast-track schedule, it actually exceeded them! For more information,call 800.255.6768; visit www.hcisteel.com

Michael Trunko is an Ohio-based writer specializing inconstruction and related topics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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