Building long-term relationships to make it through a downturn

Julie Onufrak

Jay Dacey started out pouring concrete to build the Westin Hotel Copley Place in Boston. A couple decades later, he is weathering another recession at the helm of Integrated Builders, which he formed during the economic downturn in 1992 with his partner, Dan Russell.

Dacey had worked for a management consulting company and a commercial real estate developer before starting Integrated Builders, which handles construction management and general contracting services for developers and owners in different commercial markets.

Dacey and Russell had worked together in the corporate, industrial and retail division at the Flatley Co. in Braintree since 1986.

Integrated Builders has 20 employees and handles projects up to $20 million in size. It is currently working on the Shops at Quonset, a 200,000-square-foot mixed-use development in North Kingstown, R.I. Integrated is also renovating an EMC data center in Westboro. Dacey, 50, lives in Norwell.

What did you learn from starting the company during the recession of the early 1990s?

We started up towards the end of that, which turned out to be actually good from the standpoint of learning how to operate an efficient company, how to control your costs.

And much like today, you have to get out, you have to hustle, you have to find work. It’s easy being an order-taker when business is good. But these are the times when good companies shine through and prepare themselves for good times that are going to certainly be ahead of us.

We’re struggling like everybody else is, but a lot of our customers have been longtime customers – companies like EMC, Philips Lifeline, (Framingham real estate firm) Atlantic Management – and most of our clients are corporations, and some developers.

Last time in 2001 when we had a problem, we had to diversify ... but really, Corporate America is who our main clients are. Fortunately, they’re not housing-related. So they’re economy-related, but even if difficult times occur, if they need a data center that needs upgrading, they have to do it. And corporations that have money, they can get a pretty good value for their dollar in this particular market. So if you’ve got money, and you have a project, it’s a good time to be doing it.

Is this current recession comparable?

I would say it’s comparable on the overall economy to 1991, 1992. We had the first Gulf War in ’91, we had a poor economy in ’91, layoffs. It’s very similar to 1991. Except that was more on the corporate end and the consumer was still strong. This one here, the consumer’s not as strong, and corporations – not banks, but corporations – are probably better off than the consumer is. We’ve got to figure out where the new jobs are going to come from, because it’s all jobs-related.

Is diversification the way to make it through tough times, then?

Diversification and, if you’ve done a good job of setting yourself up in the good times, then you find it a little bit easier to make your way through these difficult times. We resisted the temptation to get too large, because it’s construction, but it’s a service industry. We think we’ve serviced our clients pretty well. When times were good and a company like EMC needed a wall and a door built, we did it. We didn’t say, no, we’re too busy and we can’t do it. We serviced our clients. So, it does pay off when times get tough.

We resisted the temptation to get too big, to build a large overhead. We’ve been as high as 30 people, but if you went to 50 or 60 people, you probably would have to have laid off 35 or 40 people in the last six months. That doesn’t appeal to me.

The Patriot Ledger