Master Builders, Interior Specialists

Principal Builders
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Since 2003, Principal Builders has taken a fresh and innovative approach to tenant improvements. With over 150 years of combined construction industry experience, the sixty-person San Francisco-based firm is recognized as a master builder and interior specialist. The company has been honored as one of the Bay Area’s fastest growing companies and, in addition to countless industry awards, in 2015 was voted one of its best places to work by the San Francisco Business Times.
Principal Builders provides general contracting services and has completed work for Fortune 1000 companies across sectors including advertising, financial and law firms, health and wellness businesses and technology.

The firm’s culture is built on developing and nurturing client relationships from the outset of a project. Internal teams know that fostering relationships and exceeding expectations results in satisfied clients and repeat work which makes up many of Principal Builders’ projects.

Principal Builders has completed projects for Wired Magazine, Dodge and Cox, GoPro, Alibaba and many more well known organizations. Most recently, the company has worked with notable industry leaders Stripe, Nokia, Dropbox and Uber on high profile build outs. Preconstruction Manager Brandon Jones describes it this way, “We limit the type of project, not the type of industry partner.

“There is a high level of design that exists on projects in this market,” he says. “We’ve got some of the most decorated architects and designers – not only firms but individuals – in the world that operate here in the Bay Area. In order to be considered a trusted partner, we have to differentiate ourselves from the field, whether with design professionals or subcontractors.”

The company has also made a commitment to differentiating itself, highlighting its passion for building beautiful spaces, a passion that has translated into success for the firm since the outset.

Principal Builders was founded by individuals who were dissatisfied with the level of service they were able to provide as part of a very large company. In particular, they believed that the numerous administrative processes compromised the personal service that they wanted to bring and knew they could offer to projects of all sizes.

“We yearned for a more agile company, one that was able to be more flexible and adapt to different clients and adapt to different project styles. So fundamentally, that vision was why this company was established, and we moved away from that large company mentality,” Jones noted.

The approach was not about growth at any cost; rather it was about scalable growth that allowed the firm to sustain its unique flavor and focus on building industry relationships and delivering outstanding project results.

“In terms of growing our company, we have the size of company that we want to be, an organization of between sixty and seventy people that is big enough to handle the larger interior improvement jobs that exist in our market, but small enough to have a nimble feeling, not only in terms of how we service clients in more of a family environment,” Jones said.

Principal Builders maintains its boutique feel, yet despite Jones’ relatively small ideal team size, the company can undertake jobs of varying sizes and complexity. “You can maintain a lot of that feel, without being limited by the scalability of the projects. We currently have projects over $50 million for tenant improvement projects, which is on the higher end,” Jones explained.

One of the company’s major differences is the creativity and collaborative spirit it brings to every project. Every team is empowered to translate visions into reality and ideas into exquisite spaces. No design concept is too intricate to build and no obstacle to difficult to overcome.

Principal Builders believes that incredible interior spaces begin with communication and collaboration from a project’s very beginnings. Through early site evaluation, risk assessment and budgeting, the company studies a project’s feasibility before doing everything possible to bring it to reality.

Principal Builders undertakes full project oversight. This includes furniture procurement, information technology, security, signs, relocation, landlord communications, jurisdiction and any other aspect of a tenant improvement project that is required by its partners. “We care about what is happening ‘during’ a construction project just as much as we do about the end result,” noted Jones. “In order to deliver the kind of project that we want to be associated with, in a tight timeframe with these high-level design firms, what we have to be able to do is be engaged with the project from very early on and generate project budgets from the roughest of renderings.”

“Being a master builder, I think – using our vernacular here – begins with understanding the designer’s vision well before there are any proper construction documents to reflect it,” Jones said. “Because of the tight timelines we have to enable this vision, looking ahead and understanding the design and the architectural vision in a pricing and planning sort of framework.”

Principal Builders is known for working with only the industry’s best subcontractors. The company brings the experience of its superintendents and its highly-qualified and personable team of professionals from carpenters to custom millworkers.

“A comprehensive skill set means a level of quality in the field that is very detail-oriented, as opposed to just production-oriented,” Jones said. “I think that’s one of the key differentiators is our approach to construction, because oftentimes it’s sacrificing quality for the speed of implementation, and we always try to balance that against the high quality.”

Principal Builders knows that the lowest bid does not always give the best value. As a practice, the firm analyzes bids closely to identify the best value available for its clients to realize their project vision.

The firm also boasts a positive work culture and has no trouble securing industry partners and subcontractors with a shared commitment to quality delivery. “We have what I consider to be a highly developed filter of people that work with our approach, and it’s a combination of talent and people skills. The general vibe around the office is something that we hold in high regard.”

A strong commitment to safety has been paramount to the company’s success. Since Principal Builders undertakes projects of varying complexity, instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all safety program, safety protocols are on a site-specific or project-specific basis with a superintendent’s oversight.

“Our approach is at more of a project level than it is at a company-wide level, so that’s a difference you would see when you compare our company to a larger company. Our safety programs are customized to the project they are on,” acknowledged Jones. “We do cosmetic facelift projects that don’t require the same level of safety, for instance, as you would if you were installing a new staircase between four floors of a building.”

Training and professional development is also adapted to the needs of each individual employee. Recognizing that everyone possesses unique strengths and areas of improvement, Principal Builders develops its workforce in a very thoughtful, customized way.

“The reality is, people come into your company with different skill sets, and they have different needs in terms of their education, whether it’s computer skills or construction knowledge or presentation skills, which is very important in our industry,” Jones explained. “What we do is assess each individual as their own entity, and then through mentorship, we just focus on their individual needs.”

“We make sure that the folks are getting the education and rounding out of their abilities. If you feel like – as an employee – your needs are not being met and you are not learning and you are not growing and you are not being challenged, I do not think you vote for your company as the best place to work,” said Jones.

Although Principal Builders’ culture is most clearly witnessed in the company’s outstanding portfolio of work and satisfied industry partners, it does not stop there. The company also makes a philanthropic commitment to the community. Examples include work with a domestic violence center, a homeless shelter and most recently an AIDS chapel. “We try to focus in on one group where we feel like we can really make an impact on them if we really focus our efforts and not spread ourselves too thin,” Jones added.

Maintaining relationships and ability to satisfy project expectations have been crucial to Principal Builders’ past achievement and will continue to play an important role in the company’s future.

“We want to create relationships with the folks that we do business with, blow them away with our services and then be asked back to do the next one. That’s what our goal is. What you won’t find in our goal statements is a headcount projection, a net volume or return on number of projects. We don’t really define ourselves that way. Those kinds of metrics prove themselves out,” Jones concluded.

By what Jones referred to as “impress, over-serve and over deliver,” Principal Builders intends to expand its market while preserving the unique character and commitment to quality for which it has come to be known.



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