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Feature Story - August 2009

IMS Celebrates Milestone

Masonry contractor celebrating 20th anniversary; aims to be the best in the business

IMS has grown from a solid, middle-of-the-road mason in terms of annual revenues to one that billed out more than $17 million of work last year. Despite a tough construction climate right now, the firm remains committed to improving performance, safety and overall day-to-day company processes.

By Brad Fullmer

When Alan Johnson initially started a masonry contracting business in the 1970’s, he remembers having some grandiose plans right from the start.

“Early on, I told my wife I wanted to be the biggest, but then I thought I just want to be the best,” says Johnson, president and founder of IMS Masonry of Lindon, Utah, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. “I’ve truly worked on trying to be the best. As a company we’re always working to be better. I really believe in continuous improvement. You’re either moving forward with technology, internal processes and safety, or you’re going backwards.”

IMS Masonry president Alan Johnson (left) and vice president Heath Holdaway stand outside Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, a hallmark project for the firm. The masonry work on this project was one of the most complex jobs IMS has ever done. IMS Masonry president Alan Johnson (left) and vice president Heath Holdaway stand outside Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, a hallmark project for the firm. The masonry work on this project was one of the most complex jobs IMS has ever done.
IMS Masonry president Alan Johnson (left) and vice president Heath Holdaway stand outside Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, a hallmark project for the firm. The masonry work on this project was one of the most complex jobs IMS has ever done.
IMS Masonry president Alan Johnson (left) and vice president Heath Holdaway stand outside Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, a hallmark project for the firm. The masonry work on this project was one of the most complex jobs IMS has ever done. (Top photo by Dana Sohm; others by Jon Caputo)

“We just want to be progressive,” says IMS vice president Heath Holdaway, Johnson’s partner and an 11-year veteran of the firm. “We want to continue to grow as a business not only volume wise, but we’re working on procedures and processes from every aspect. We want to be more efficient, more productive, and expand our services. We’re always looking for opportunities that feed off of our core business.”

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Johnson got his start as a hod tender in 1972 working for a masonry contractor in Utah County. After a three-year apprenticeship program through the local union and a year working as a journeyman mason for another contractor, he decided to test his hand running his own business and founded AJ Masonry in May 1977. It didn’t take Johnson long to realize he still had a lot to learn about being a business owner and running a profitable company.

“I left without having a real good understanding of the management side of running a business,” says Johnson. “But I continued to work hard, figured some things out on my own and made it work the best I could.”

Johnson started off in residential construction, and gradually moved into commercial work in the early 80’s after three years of working in the Southern California market. Johnson’s company grew steadily, albeit modestly, throughout the 1980’s. Johnson continued to work in the field and oversee his crews until ’89, when he realized he needed to switch gears if he wanted his firm to grow. He started learning how to delegate more day-to-day field responsibilities to key foremen and superintendents, and began to look at ways to get more work. He also made the strategic move of changing the company’s name from AJ Masonry to IMS Masonry in June 1989.

“Associations bring so many networking opportunities and help teach you ways to improve your company; you get out of it what you put into it.”
– Alan Johnson, president and founder of IMS Masonry.

IMS joined some local construction associations, including the Utah Masonry Council and the Utah chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC Utah), and Johnson started marketing his company to some of the more prominent general contractors in the area with the belief his masonry firm was as good, if not better, than anyone around. He says being actively involved in associations has been a real key in building relationships in the industry.

Projects like the Spanish Fork Justice Center in Spanish Fork, Utah and the MegaPlex 20 Theaters in South Jordan, Utah highlight IMS Masonry’s diversity and attention to detail. The MegaPlex 20 project is the largest ICF project in the nation. Projects like the Spanish Fork Justice Center in Spanish Fork, Utah and the MegaPlex 20 Theaters in South Jordan, Utah highlight IMS Masonry’s diversity and attention to detail. The MegaPlex 20 project is the largest ICF project in the nation.
Projects like the Spanish Fork Justice Center in Spanish Fork, Utah and the MegaPlex 20 Theaters in South Jordan, Utah highlight IMS Masonry’s diversity and attention to detail. The MegaPlex 20 project is the largest ICF project in the nation. (left photo by Jon Caputo; right photo by Dana Sohm)

“People don’t realize the benefit of associations because they’re complacent,” says Johnson, who is the current chairman of the board for ABC Utah. “Associations bring so many networking opportunities and help teach you ways to improve your company; you get out of it what you put into it.”

Good People Key to Explosive Growth

“IMS has a great safety program and their workers have excellent technical knowledge of their trade. They share our view of how the construction process should work.”
– Carl Schrank, operations director, Sahara, Inc.

Like any good business owner, Johnson has realized for a long time that having good, loyal, hard-working employees is an absolute necessity to running a successful business. He also realized a few years ago that as sole owner, he needed to get a transition plan in place for a future successor and tabbed Holdaway as the right person to be his partner in the company.

“What stood out about Heath were his work ethic, character and attitude,” says Johnson. “He was aggressive from the start and wanted to improve and grow, and his actions backed it up. He had the attitude of doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”

The Sorensen Unity Center (above) and St. Stephen’s High are recent projects IMS Masonry has worked on.
The Sorensen Unity Center (above) and St. Stephen’s High are recent projects IMS Masonry has worked on.
The Sorensen Unity Center (above) and St. Stephen’s High are recent projects IMS Masonry has worked on.(photos courtesy IMS)

IMS has many other key employees, including office manager Suzanne Carter, foreman Miguel Frigosa, director of risk management Odell Fowles, and project managers like Tracy Allen, Kenny Spencer and Russell Jensen. All say Johnson is good at being fair, delegating key responsibilities, and allowing them to learn from whatever mistakes are made.

“One of IMS’s strengths is the way they treat employees,” says Jensen, a 35-year masonry veteran who has been with the company since 2005. “It’s the best company I’ve ever worked for in terms of employee treatment and benefits. Alan is fair and lets us do our jobs to the best of our ability.”

“Alan wants IMS to be the most desired company, especially with speed, safety and quality,” adds Spencer. “He’s more focused on that than anybody I’ve ever known. He wants an ‘A’ on everything. He stresses self-improvement, gives me complete discretion on jobs, and trusts me 100%. He’s very meticulous and compensates us very well.”

IMS’s versatility is apparent on large institutional projects like Wasatch High School in Heber, Utah (above) and Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah.
IMS’s versatility is apparent on large institutional projects like Wasatch High School in Heber, Utah (above) and Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah.
IMS’s versatility is apparent on large institutional projects like Wasatch High School in Heber, Utah (above) and Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah. (photos courtesy IMS)

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Alan is his entrepreneurship,” says Holdaway. “He’s a real visionary – he sees beyond things that most people see.”

General contractors are also quick to praise IMS Masonry and the value they bring to the table as a subcontractor on difficult projects.

“We have a wonderful relationship with them,” says Jake Greenland, a senior project management for Layton Construction Co. of Sandy, Utah, and project manager for Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium, a high profile, $110 million soccer stadium project that features some very unique, ornate masonry work. “Their employees seem to be a step above the rest. My last job with them was the Real (Salt Lake) Stadium and the quality of work they did was exceptional. They did exactly what they said they were going to do and delivered a great product.”

“They’re a first-rate company,” adds Carl Schrank, operations director for Sahara, Inc. of Bountiful, Utah. IMS has worked under Sahara on a number of challenging projects, including Miller MotorSports Park in Tooele County, Utah, the MegaPlex 20 Theaters in South Jordan, Utah, and the MegaPlex 13 Theaters in Ogden. “IMS has a great safety program and their workers have excellent technical knowledge of their trade. They’re just really decent people to work with and they share our view of how the construction process should work. I’ve never been on a job with IMS where I thought they were the cause of any schedule delay.”

IMS workers are currently busy with the Meldrum Science Center at Westminster University in Salt Lake City.
IMS workers are currently busy with the Meldrum Science Center at Westminster University in Salt Lake City.
IMS workers are currently busy with the Meldrum Science Center at Westminster University in Salt Lake City. (photos by b. Fullmer)

IMS Masonry’s revenues in recent years also stand as a testament to the practices they put into place on a daily basis, and the relationships they’ve forged with clients and contractors.

When Johnson changed his firm’s name to IMS Masonry in June 1989, the company was bringing in between $2-$4 million annually. When Holdaway was made a partial partner in 2004, revenues began to significantly rise, averaging a remarkable $3 million annual increase the past five years. Last year revenues peaked at $17.2 million, up from $15 million from 2007 and $12 million from 2006. Johnson says despite the tough economy right now, IMS should bring in around $12 million in 2009, with expectations that conditions will improve in the construction market in 2010.

“As a company we’re still being aggressive,” Johnson says. “$12 million is a significant reduction (in revenues) with lower margins, but we’re just trying to stay healthy and continue on the road we’re on. We’re better off right now than a lot of other (masonry) contractors. Our greatest asset is our people; we’ve worked hard to be fair with them. Our turnover is low compared to other companies.”

Cutting Edge of Technology

Johnson is always looking for an advantage on his competition, and vows to stay on the cutting edge of whatever masonry technology is in the market place that will help his firm be more efficient. Approximately 10 years ago IMS began looking into insulated concrete forms (ICFs), a hollowed-out Styrofoam block that allows concrete to be poured into the block itself, which increases energy efficiency and sound mitigation of walls. Johnson first learned about ICFs near the end of the 90’s and today his firm is one of the foremost authorities on the subject.

“It’s been an interesting learning experience,” Johnson says of working with ICFs. “We’ve had to educate ourselves on the entire process, since few masonry contractors even know how to work with ICFs. We even came up with our own system on how to brace ICFs and hold walls tight.”

IMS just finished up St. Stephen’s High School outside Riverton, Wyoming, and did the ICF and masonry work on MegaPlex 20, which remains the largest ICF project in the country.

“We feel like we understand this technology better than anyone,” says Johnson. “It’s satisfying to have the knowledge of (ICFs) that we do, having been through a steep learning curve. It’s a tricky product if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

In addition to understanding new technologies, IMS has implemented a rigorous safety training program that makes employees accountable on a daily basis for their actions.

As for the future, Johnson says he’ll remain active in the company on a daily basis for at least another decade, and will eventually pass the reigns over the Holdaway, who will become a full partner in another five years.

“When I started in masonry, it just turned me on to be a bricklayer,” says Johnson. “That hasn’t changed – I love the trade. I appreciate the aesthetics of masonry, and being able to create a beautiful building. It’s gratifying to look at a project like the Real Stadium or a school like Dilworth Elementary (in Salt Lake City) and know you had a big hand in how that project looks. It’s a very rewarding industry to be in.”

 

 

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