FULTON – You wouldn’t normally think of a subcontractor having a work force of 1,100. But F.L. Crane and Sons, a subcontractor for interior and exterior finishes, has ridden the construction boom of the 1990s to rise from the 90th largest private company in Mississippi in 1996 to the number 52 spot in 1998.
“Back in 1992, we saw an opportunity to expand into some other markets,” said Chip Crane, executive vice president of F.L. Crane and Sons. “Prior to that we had offices in Texas and Louisiana, and our home office here in Fulton. We saw an opportunity to expand and opened offices in Franklin, Tenn., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and in Southaven, Cleveland and Jackson. In all those locations we were fortunate to have key lead people who helped us expand in those markets.”
F.L. Crane and Sons does finishes for ceilings, floors, interior walls and exterior finish systems including plaster. The company also does spray fireproofing, and in the last few years has expanded into load-bearing, light-gauge steel framing for hotels and retirement home facilities.
Crane said it is unusual for a subcontractor to have such a large workforce in the construction business. He attributes the success of the 56-year-old company to quality employees.
“Good people, that’s basically it,” Crane said. “You’re only as good as your people are.”
He adds that doing quality work, and finishing the project on schedule, are hallmarks of the company that keep customers coming back.
Crane is the third generation member of his family to participate in the business started by his grandfather F.L. Crane 56 years ago with a couple of helpers. F.L. Crane sons, Johnny and Jimmy Crane, are president and CEO of the company, respectively.
Crane said that computer estimating has made a big difference, allowing more accurate bids and a greater volume of bids.
“We also benefitted from the casino boom,” Crane said. “There was a lot of opportunity in 1992 and 1993 when those things started kicking off. We were a part of the construction of most of the casinos. The casino work was so fast-paced that it kind of got us into another gear. People in the workforce have learned to do things on a faster scale. They are more efficient. It is faster, but we still keep the quality.”
Crane said there has been a general boom in construction across the Southeast that has allowed the company to expand. By having a large number of employees in offices throughout the region, it allows the company to gear up on a major project that might have tight time schedules, and require a large number of workers.
“We have the ability to pull workers from our other offices instead of hiring other people you don’t know and who might not be qualified,” Crane said.
Diversification into fireproofing has also been profitable. The company’s fireproofing division in Franklin, Tenn., has grown rapidly.
Crane also thinks that steel framing will be the wave of the future.
“With lumber prices what they have been, steel prices are fairly competitive with wood prices right now,” Crane said. “The speed with which a steel-frame building can be erected compared to a wood-frame structure results in quite a bit of savings to the owner as far as being able to get into his building quicker.”
F.L. Crane and Sons does so much work that most of their products are purchased directly from a manufacturer, which results in cost savings over contractors who have to go through a supply house. And because of their large purchasing power, F.L. Crane and Sons knew the sheetrock shortage was coming, and stockpiled the material to prevent being held up on jobs.
“As far as I know, none of our jobs were ever held up by the shortage,” Crane said. “With our past history, when allocations came, we were still being allocated enough rock with the stock we had put back to keep up. The shortage is easing up now.”
Crane said he expects that the construction boom will continue into the first decade of the new millennium at the same rapid pace currently being experienced. The company plans to be aggressive capturing more of the market.
“I see the construction boom continuing on as it is for the next two to three years,” Crane said. “We stay in constant contact with architects and developers all over the state. Knowing what they have on their plan tables, and what they are looking at in the future, we feel construction will continue on at the same pace.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.