We Are Doing It: New Blue Construction
Sep. 22, 2020
As Chattanooga area businesses shift, pivot and change, trying to adapt to a new normal, many are tapping into the passion that led them to open their business in the first place. Over the course of the next number of weeks, we'll profile some of these owners and share their inspirational stories on how they are doing it.
The message to his team... 'do you want to keep working?' That’s the bottom line for Stuart Gaines, president of New Blue Construction, located on the Southside of Chattanooga.
“Renovation is at the heart of what we have always done, we have to be in people's houses, we want them to trust us or they aren’t going to hire us,” Gaines says.
At the height of the pandemic, Gaines and his team got to work learning all they could about how to stay safe so they could stay in business.
“Amazing what you can get used to,” he says. “We were an early adopter of stringent protocols and mask requirements.”
Thanks to the Association of General Contractors and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, Gaines took a systematic approach on how to handle the pandemic in his line of business, how to enforce protocols and what to say to his team.
“We have done everything we can do to encourage our crew to be compliant."
And, they have proof it’s working. After two of his crew tested positive, he shut down a job site, fearing the rest would too.
“We tested 18 people,” Gaines says. “The job was well sequestered from the client. We stuck to protocols with masks and distancing, disinfecting surfaces and in the end not one additional positive case. We use this as an example. It’s stressful and expensive, but it does show that protocol works.”
With a major focus on safety and a PPP loan to bridge the gap during the initial work slow down in March and April, Gaines says they are pressing forward.
“We had enough momentum before the bottom fell out, and we were able to close a lot of those deals. We ended up with a busy summer for which we are very thankful.”
New Blue Construction is now working on the next round of bookings into fall and winter.
“No one has a crystal ball, but we are trying to prepare. There might be a longer recession,” Gaines says. “We are trying to have our eyes on that, and be financially prudent and take care of our employees.”
Like many successful small business owners, Gaines has surrounded himself with a strong and talented group of people.
“Our senior carpenters ... if you take our three senior guys, they have 100 years experience between the three of them. And we have plenty of talent next to that. We are very fortunate, their craft is at the center of our success. We have a first-rate crew.”
He believes good carpenters are crucial to good construction.
“They support all of the trades on the site. They build the bones of the project. They put the finishing touches on the project ... having great people involved in our work is the cornerstone of what we want to do.”
For New Blue Construction, they aren’t just strong carpenters on the job site, they are part of the whole in-house production team and the key to how New Blue sets itself apart.
“It’s why we keep the carpenters in-house, we control that quality,” Gaines says. “We have guys that care about that attention to detail on the crew. We have a little bit of a niche ... more craftsmanship centered projects, building nice things with attention to details.”
It’s that high-level craftsmanship that drew Gaines into the field of carpentry and construction to begin with. With an engineer father who built the house he grew up in and a grandfather in the same field, Gaines initially wasn’t that interested. Then in college, he found himself picking up carpentry jobs off and on while working on his journalism degree in Asheville, North Carolina.
“If you work with really good carpenters, that really know ... I was fortunate in the first couple of crews,” Gaines says. “Being a carpenter is about solving problems. I was able to work around guys that had a lot of answers and troubleshoot those answers...doing the work and doing it well, it was naturally attractive to me.”
Over the course of five years, Gaines took on more carpentry jobs and then did a stint with his dad’s company, a small builder in Sequatchie County. It took the major housing crisis to push him to start his own business.
“I just lost my job and it was one of those fork-in-the-road moments."
He and his wife were expecting their first child at the time.
“I could go back swinging a hammer for someone else or try to make a run for it on my own. We made a run for it and it's been good.”
Gaines loaded up with a bunch of handyman type projects at first, leaving no stone unturned for work, and within a few months, he landed his first major project, the restoration of an old functioning water wheel at a historic mill in North Georgia.
“It was like this old cedar wheel and it was falling apart, so we decommissioned the whole thing and we rebuilt it in cypress,” Gaines says.
From there he had to figure out how to get the old wheel running again. A newly built flume and pond gates later, he had it working.
“I had never done anything like that. Lots of head-scratching to figure it out. It’s beautiful and runs to this day.”
That project is still proudly featured on his website 12 years later. With a team of 25 now, he believes it’s that type of high-level craftsmanship that will keep New Blue Construction around.
“One of our strengths is the versatility that comes with the in-house production. We build things in-house. That does give us versatility in an uncertain economy. I am confident we will find good projects to work on even in a bad economy. That crew is the heartbeat of our company and they make it happen on the ground. It’s crucial to us staying afloat."
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