Transitional Space

Summer 2015

Small-scale commercial jobs provide growth opportunity for residential installers

Jeremy Layton

Gleason Works Entryway


Transitional Space

The worlds of commercial and residential concrete paver installation are vastly different. Commercial jobs like parking lots and streets often require specialized equipment such as mechanized paver installation equipment and the financial resources to finance the longer period of time required to get paid for a job. In contrast, residential jobs are typically smaller in scale, with fewer stakeholders wanting answers, but where creativity is a driver for success. As a result, the great majority of contractors specialize in one area or the other, and few bid for both commercial and residential projects.

However, some have found a unique middle ground. Small commercial projects, such as business entryways or corporate courtyards, can provide a point of entry for the residential installer looking to expand into commercial work. These smaller commercial projects can be executed without specialized installation equipment, and often feature creative designs that are a residential specialist’s forte.

Gleason Works Entryway - 2
The 1,100 sf entryway courtyard for Gleason Works in Rochester, NY, featuring a 250 face foot wall, is the kind of small-scale commercial project ideal for residential installers to seek out as a springboard into the commercial world.

John Welch, owner of John Welch Enterprise outside Rochester, NY, is a residential contractor who recently expanded his business to include these types of small commercial projects. His company started developing commercial relationships by doing plantings and irrigation work for commercial properties, but they soon saw opportunities to bid on some hardscape projects as well. Rather than tackling parking lots and the like, his company focuses on specific areas like main entrances. “We sell our customers on the artistic value of what we’re doing, versus just being a functional entrance,” Mr. Welch says.

Mr. Welch prides himself on the artistry of his work, and the decisions his company makes when they tackle residential projects. With small commercial projects, Mr. Welch and his team can still cut and craft paver inlays by hand, allowing for much more artistic freedom. When designing small commercial entryways or courtyards, he maintains creative freedom, and the companies that hire him value his designs. As a result, Mr. Welch has developed a good reputation in the commercial world and a marketable portfolio for these types of jobs.Mr. Welch speaks to the benefit to small commercial projects where contractors often have some influence or complete control over the design and artistry versus larger commercial jobs designed by an architect or landscape architect. With large jobs such as parking lots, contractors are hired for efficiency rather than creativity, says Bill Gardocki, owner of Interstate Landscape Co. in Londonderry, NH, who has also done some small commercial jobs. “In the [broader] commercial market, you receive a plan and you bid on it,” Mr. Gardocki says. “There’s no creative element, generally speaking.”

Last year, almost 24 percent of John Welch Enterprise’s revenue came from commercial projects. This year, it’s up to 29 percent. “Once you get into these commercial areas, companies start to see you,” says Mr. Welch. Expansion into commercial work has been good for business, and the company’s growing reputation has attracted new customers every year.

However small these projects may be when compared to the larger size of most commercial work, they still have similar challenges, for example, how long it takes to get paid. “We don’t get paid nearly as rapidly,” Mr. Welch says. “The size and cost of the project is generally more, so we are trying to get a larger sum of money, and that’s a challenge as well.”

All things considered, that small commercial space between these two worlds might actually be a better fit for some residential contractors than commercial ones. Residential contractors may not need to invest in specialized equipment, and commercial installation companies focused on paving production may not want to engage in time-consuming custom detailing. Some residential contractors are likely poised to fill that sweet spot and reap the rewards. Mr. Welch profited from it, and other residential installers might find lucrative new business opportunities by following his lead.