Rhode Island Contractor Triples Volume In Three Years


-Catalano Construction outpaces national economy with torrid growth in public and private site work
story by Paul Fournier ( article taken from New England Construction, May 24, 1999)

In just three years, a Rhode Island site contractor has tripled its work volume – much of it repeat business from many of the largest building contractors in southern New England.

“This seems to be taking on a life of its own” said Diane Catalano, president of Catalano Construction of Cumberland. Diane, 45, and husband Bernie, 47, vice president, have seen their ten-year-old firm experience skyrocketing growth in the last few years.

“We grossed $1.8 million in ’95, but last year we topped $5.4 million,” said Diane, a registered nurse and mother of three, who continued to practice nursing on a part-time basis until last year.

So remarkable was this young company’s growth that Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Diane as one of the nation’s top ten woman entrepreneurs of the year last year, based on a business list prepared by Dunn & Bradstreet.
Bernie, her husband of 20 years and a graduate civil engineer with more than 30 years experience in heavy construction, said much of their business is from the same customers.
“We have a lot of repeat work, as much as 50 percent,” he said.
Persistence has paid off for the Catalanos, as large building contractors whose business they sought for some time have begun employing the Cumberland firm for site work, parking lots and other earthmoving tasks.
“It took us eight years to get our first site contract with O.Ahlborg & Sons, and in the last two years we’ve had four big projects with them. Another large and reputable Rhode Island contractor, E.W. Burman, Inc., has used us for at least 60 jobs in the last few years. We’re doing five site jobs for them right now,” he said.
Other regular contractor clients include such well-known firms as J.L. Marshall & Sons Inc., Dimeo Construction Co., H.V. Collins Co., Housing Systems Inc., and Berkshire Construction.
Site work preformed by Catalano consists of general excavation and backfilling, installing sewers and drains, demolishing structures, clearing and grading, and forming and placing concrete foundations. The company subcontracts paving to others.
The Catalanos cite their employees as the number one reason for their success.
“We have 38 full-time employees, and they all do good work,” said Diane. “They don’t tolerate shoddiness themselves. They’re dedicated and proud of what they do. And this leads to a lot of repeat business.”
Employees possess wide-ranging skills. There are equipment operators, cement finishers, bricklayers , carpenters, and laborers. And they’re all union members.
“We’re an all-union company,” said Diane. “Most of our work is on prevailing wage jobs, for example, federally financed public projects. However, we do a lot of private work and we still pay them union wages. We get some concessions from the unions which allows us to compete with non-union companies.”
At the management level, key personnel include manager / estimators Bob Fruggiero and George Damiano, P.E., general superintendent Tony Costa, carpenter foreman Mark Sherman, and site foremen John Garcia, Joe Santos, Ed Cordeiro, Alan Cordeiro, and Carlos Carvalho. Site layout is done by surveyor Ron Moore.
There are no fulltime mechanics on the payroll. Preventive maintenance and repairs are accomplished by an outsource.
“Almost all of our equipment are John Deere,” said Bernie, “and we send them to a local company, Steve’s Equipment and Repair of Bristol. Each week, superintendent Costa gets the hours and comments on each machine from the operators. Equipment needing maintenance or repair is sent to Steve’s. He’s really knowledgeable about John Deere, since he was employed by a John Deere dealer for about ten years before he started his own business. He’s also expert in repairing and maintaining trucks.”
Several of the employees came with Bernie when he left an area site contractor to start up his own company with Diane.
“Bernie just got tired of doing work for others,” said Diane. “We set up the business with me as the majority partner, but I still had to work in nursing three days a week because we needed the income in those early days. The company grossed just $12,000 the first year.”
Bernie had worked for a half dozen site and foundation contractors over a period of 20 years, following his graduation from Roger Williams University with a degree in civil engineering.
“Over the years I had worked for many contractors. I started with Forte Brothers, and worked for them all through college on the cooperative education program. Later, I was employed by Campanella Corp., D’Ambra Co., Pasquazzi Construction, and Fleet Construction, to name some, so by the time we started our own business I had plenty of field experience in site and road work, demolition, concrete foundations and paving.”
The Catalanos’ children are all involved to some extent in the business.
“We have three children, Jason, Lauren, and Corinne,” said Diane. “When we established the company, Jason was only nine and Lauren seven, and Corinne wasn’t even born yet. Now Jason is studying architecture at Norwich University, and he works for us during breaks doing surveying, working as a laborer-helper, or going for parts and equipment for job superintendents. Lauren does secretarial work on school breaks, and helps with invoicing and office paperwork, and Corinne does filing, makes copies and does other office chores for us.”
Even Bernie’s parents are involved. Retired architect Frank and wife Yvette do payrolls, typing, general bookkeeping and other clerical work for the company on a part time basis.
Business administration is handled by Diane, which includes general finances, payrolls, job costing, union reports and other paperwork, while Bernie draws on his long construction experience to oversee estimates and project management. He also personally manages selected projects for longstanding customers. This division of labor seems to be mutually satisfying as their personal relationship, which goes back many years. They grew up together, attending the same elementary school.
“I started dating Bernie when I was just 13 and we’ve been together for many years. We’re best friends, and we work very well together.”
As for the future, the Catalanos are content to let the market determine their company’s rate of growth.
“We have no grandiose plans for expansion,” said Diane. “A lot of the volume depends on the status of the clients and the general economy. But judging from the amount of repeat business we’re getting, it appears we’ll continue to grow as our reputation does.”