A POINT OF PRIDE
Achieving total client satisfaction is more than a business goal for John Tahtabrounian, Founder and Principal of Oliver Construction, Incorporated (OCI), based in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
It’s a point of pride.
“I was raised to take pride in everything I do, whether it’s sweeping a floor or constructing a building,” John says. “Whatever it takes, we find a way to get it done. We can do all or a portion of a project.”
OCI is part of StyerGroup, the umbrella organization that includes Styer & Associates, Inc., an interior design firm, and KAJ Architects, LLC. Amy Styer Tahtabrounian, a professional interior designer and John’s wife, founded Styer & Associates in 1985. After John married Amy, he started OCI, which provides construction and project management services.
In 2014, Ken Stevenson, a registered architect, joined Amy and John’s team. Together, the three founded KAJ Architects, using the first letter from each of their names. Amy, Principal and General Manager of StyerGroup, runs KAJ Architects in concert with Ken.
Amy Styer Tahtabrounian, Principal and General Manager of StyerGroup, with her husband, John Tahtabrounian, Founder and Principal of Oliver Construction, Incorporated.
“The principals’ ownership is intertwined,” John says. “When we provide design-build services for a client we do this as StyerGroup. Since we are all in the same office, we can operate as a single company when the client or project requires that.”
On the construction side, OCI can also work with other design firms, architects and engineers. About 30% of OCI’s work is completed using a design-bid-build process, with the remaining 70% delivered on a design-build basis.
John says this flexibility to either serve as general contractor/construction manager or to work as an integral part of StyerGroup’s design-build team has helped OCI to grow and diversify. OCI now completes hospitality, retail, pharmaceutical, entertainment, corporate and religious projects of all sizes throughout the United States and Canada.
“OCI started with painting an office,” John recalls, “In comparison, the most recent construction project we’ve completed began as a 13-acre raw site in eastern Pennsylvania. We had to raise the elevation with an extra 10,000 cubic yards of fill, coordinate with the utility companies to bring all services to the site and work with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and local township to redo an entire street from one end to the other.” In addition to completing the sitework and landscaping, OCI built a 50,000-square-foot auto dealership and 18,000-square-foot body shop.
Communication & Project Management
Regardless of which delivery model a client chooses, John stresses the importance of good communication and project management for achieving total client satisfaction.
“I am not a born contractor,” he says. “However, I have a lot of customer service and managerial experience. By age 28, I was a national sales manager for a publication company. I led a department with 40 salespeople who focused on providing customer satisfaction from beginning to end. We looked beyond just signing the order; we made sure the order was accomplished and that the customer was satisfied.”
At Grace Tabernacle Church in Norristown, PA, OCI remodeled and updated the sanctuary’s pulpit area, renovated the kitchen and provided new ADA-compliant restrooms, five mixed-use classrooms and a mothers’ room.
ARI Global Headquarters
As a design-build project, StyerGroup/OCI transformed a 180,000-square-foot facility in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, into a global headquarters for ARI, a Holman Enterprises fleet management company. This undertaking illustrates how Amy and John apply the knowledge gleaned from their individual career experiences to work together in the architecture, interior design and construction industries.
“This project required a flawless managerial process,” John says. “It involved moving 850 employees from three different office buildings to a single location. ARI operates 24/7, so the company could have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day if we hadn’t executed the process properly. We had to get the server room up and running, make sure that the existing three locomotive-sized backup generators were operational and ready when needed, and finish all the public areas before a single person moved in. We kept the means of egress clear at all times and safely separated construction areas from those where people were moving in.”
Clear and open communications were equally essential for the success of this complex project.
“We coordinated our work with various department heads, cafeteria staff, furnishing and equipment vendors and others at the same time we were working with township officials to secure permits and pass all inspections,” John says. “We were able to complete this project on schedule without a glitch—because we made sure that everyone was on the same wavelength at all times.”
Imagining All the Steps
John says collaborating with Amy and the design divisions of StyerGroup helps to set OCI apart from other construction companies because he is accustomed to imagining all the steps of the planning, design and construction process in advance.
“Amy is very bright, talented and detail-oriented,” he says. “She puts everything together the way it needs to be.”
“We research clients even before we meet them,” Amy explains. “Out of respect, I like to know who I am speaking with. I take a sincere interest in their path in life as well as their achievements and goals.” She says information gathered from clients early in the design-build delivery process helps their project teams cover “much more ground, more quickly” and ensures the spaces they create address the specific needs and wants of each client.
“By speaking to clients’ interests, goals and limitations as well as understanding past successes and failures,” she continues, “we achieve concrete, effective results that we believe affect their bottom line. We do this in an educated and trained way to maximize their resources and achieve a win-win for all involved.”
This deep-dive research and expert planning are especially critical for the challenging renovations and fast-track remodeling projects OCI completes.
For example, OCI developed a carefully planned, multiphased approach to renovating Kindle Ford-Lincoln’s building in Cape May Court House, New Jersey. By isolating and remodeling one area at a time and scheduling the noisiest and most disruptive tasks outside of business hours, OCI kept this automotive dealership operating throughout an eight-month renovation period.
“We know how construction mayhem can deter sales,” John says. “So, we don’t say ‘you’ll have to take your losses while we get this done.’ In fact, we do the complete opposite.”
Cleanliness was also key to streamlining the construction process and maintaining a safe work environment.
“Our superintendents know that when I walk onto our job sites, they have to be clean and orderly,” John says. “I have to be able to see everything clearly without pushing and pulling and moving things out of the way. This helps the subs perform in a timely and efficient manner because they can immediately see what their role is in each project.”
Instead of experiencing a decrease in sales, Steven Kindle, Vice President of Kindle Ford-Lincoln, says his business experienced an increase in both service and volume during the year of construction.
Valley Beach Poolside Club
Although it is smaller in scale, the Valley Beach Poolside Club that OCI built at Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, also required careful planning and expert execution. StyerGroup/OCI created this pool-themed outdoor environment by:
- – Designing, constructing and attaching 35-foot-high structural steel and corrugated metal structures to one half of the main resort building’s back wall and installing a new 35-foot-high scored EIFS (exterior insulation and finish system) on the other half.
- – Designing and repositioning a new entrance to the venue area.
- – Relocating and reconstructing a service drive.
- – Replacing an employee smoking deck and asphalt drive area with a multitiered dining deck and Tiki bar, which included relocating standpipes and manhole covers.
- – Adding fences, a patio, firepit areas, cabanas and a stage.
Mike Bowman, President and CEO of the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, is impressed with both the speed and quality of OCI’s work. “The entire process was completed within 11 weeks—including six weeks of construction—to reposition and renew a tired asset,” he says, adding that he believes OCI did a “tremendous” job that was “on time, on budget, first class and best-in-market.”
Grace Tabernacle Church
The firm’s practice of doing whatever it takes to achieve total client satisfaction applies to all the work John, Amy, Ken and their project teams do, including the support they have provided for community organizations, such as Grace Tabernacle Church in Norristown.
In late 2017, when John and Amy were looking for an opportunity to support a local cause, Frank E. Legette III, Pastor of Grace Tabernacle Church, was praying he’d find the right company to accomplish everything on his building committee’s list of renovations and improvements.
“I found several contractors and architects by searching online and asked them to submit proposals,” Pastor Frank says. “Some of these were nice, but I wasn’t satisfied. Then I used ‘design-build’ as my search phrase and up came ‘Oliver Construction’ right here in Norristown. I looked at the projects they’d done, and I said to myself: ‘We cannot afford them.’ I’m a deeply spiritual man, though, and the voice said: ‘Call the number.’ I obeyed.”
After speaking via phone, John and Pastor Frank met at the church to review the preliminary scope of work. Then, John brought Amy back with him for a second building tour so they could prepare and present a design-build proposal.
Pastor Frank says the final budget approved by the Allegheny East Conference Corp of Seventh-day Adventists couldn’t cover everything on his building committee’s list of priorities. “I told John, ‘Look we are going to have to cut something out,’ ” he recalls. “So, to get down to the amount that had been approved, John said we would have to eliminate the new bathroom, the pulpit and the mothers’ room. We were all depressed, but there was nothing we could do. John said: ‘I want you to have everything.’ But he didn’t make any promises. We left understanding we’d have to take some things off the table.”
One day, when construction was well underway, Pastor Frank says the church’s first elder, who was his special assistant for this project, called and said: “Pastor, they are measuring the pulpit.”
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they are going to do it. John never even told me,’ ” Pastor Frank remembers. “They did the pulpit area, then they added the new bathroom and the mothers’ room, too.”
“The church badly needed these improvements,” John says. “So, we contributed time, materials and funds to make up the difference.”
OCI completed the construction within five weeks to make sure the congregation could celebrate the 2018 New Year holiday in its revitalized building. The finished scope of work included a new universally accessible restroom and mothers’ room, new heating for the lower level, five remodeled classrooms with updated audiovisual technology, remodeled men’s and women’s bathrooms, a fully renovated kitchen, new concrete walkways and ramps for two entrances and a variety of other improvements.
“We got everything we asked for and then some,” Pastor Frank concludes. “Our church looks great and we feel great—not just about the renovation, but about the people who did it! We know they care about us. You can’t have a better situation than that. We were supposed to meet.”
Although OCI’s clients span the private, public and nonprofit sectors, they are unified by the firm’s unwavering commitment to achieve total client satisfaction.
“It takes months or years to find a customer and seconds to lose one,” John says. “You lose clients when you don’t satisfy their expectations. Every member of our team wants our clients to win, to be satisfied.”