Building For The Future

Slater Builders
Written by Allison Dempsey

Tackling a wide variety of construction projects that vary in both size and scope, Slater Builders has created a thriving business built on years of exemplary customer service, quality craftsmanship and an impressive array of knowledge and experience. The company prides itself on embracing a wealth of knowledge and experience that serves to provide quality work, trust and reliability. With a solid base of both loyal subcontractors and repeat clients, Slater’s longstanding family history and a dedication to moving forward with vision and integrity allows the company to draw from its past successes while looking ahead to a productive future.

Founded by Ed and Liz Slater in 1993 in San Gabriel, California, before moving to Costa Mesa in 1994, Slater Builders is now a woman-owned business serving Orange County, Los Angeles County and beyond. All projects are treated with equal respect regardless of size, from the reconstruction of Mayfield Junior School’s 900-square-foot chapel, to the building of the 57,000-square-foot One Subaru Dealership in Hayward, California.

Liz and her husband Ed started the business 27 years ago, when their third child Hannah was born with disabilities that required costly surgeries. Ed was in the commercial real estate business and Liz had owned a tennis retail shop, and both had to make some tough but necessary decisions.

“Hannah had her brain surgery before she was two,” says Liz. “It cost us a lot of money outside of health insurance, so we sold our house, a car, and our boat. Ed wanted to get into a different business, and his family had always been in construction – his dad, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather. So we decided to start Slater Builders.”

Hannah is now doing well at 31, and four years ago her family started a nonprofit called Mae House, in honor of her middle name.

“It’s a home for developmentally disabled women, and it’s going awesome,” says Liz. “It was very trying at the time, but looking back at everything, God was leading us and it worked out great.”

Embracing a mission statement centering on quality construction delivered on time and on budget, Slater Builders is committed to earning clients’ trust and respect while building solid, reliable partnerships with employees and subcontractors.

“I was thinking about what brought the company to where it is today,” says Liz. “It’s taken a lot of hard work. We’ve really been blessed with great clients, we’ve had wonderful projects over the years, and I really believe – most importantly – we have such a great team, including wonderful people here like Kim Harvey, our Project Manager. Over the years that’s made all the difference.”

It is these kinds of relationships that have strengthened the company as it continues to focus on the future. Years of invaluable experience coupled with extensive construction skill sets means Slater Builders can guarantee quality work on any type of project it undertakes. Recent standouts include the $20 million, 88-unit senior living facility in Midway City.

“We provided extensive pre-construction services as well as construction on that project,” says Kim. “That’s part of what got the company to where it is today, by being a full-service, very customer-focused type of firm. We do repeat business with repeat clients.”

One of the company’s larger projects, the 200,000-square-foot industrial metal buildings in Desert Hot Springs are pre-engineered metal buildings that will accommodate 20 future tenants, and include mechanical, electrical, plumbing provisions and structural building foundation.

“We provided full turnkey services, a design-build approach on that project,” shares Kim. “That was one of our bigger projects, around $16 million, that we completed a little over a year ago.”

Currently, Slater Builders is working on a large commercial remodel upgrade and tenant improvement project in Newport Beach worth about $13.5 million, featuring extensive structural upgrades, an all-new glazing system, new roofing, new exterior panels, and all-new interior tenant improvements.

Kim is also project manager on the upcoming Subaru Auto Dealership in Hayward, sitting just under $25 million, a build that involves both extensive site work including a large retaining wall, along with the new Subaru dealership itself.

“Some of the projects we do involve a lot of repeat work with some of our best clients,” she says. “We do a lot of faith-based school and education facilities, and we’ve been doing a number of medical office buildings recently as well.”

Typically, Slater Builders has at least 20 projects going on at some stage of development, adds Liz. “We’ll have a few in pre-construction and several ongoing, and the rest just finishing up. We keep pretty busy! It’s great; it’s a good problem to have.”

On the customer side, Slater often gets involved very early on in projects, even in early conceptual design, doing pre-construction design assist, budgeting, scheduling, and constructability reviews. On some projects they’re also the design-builders, bringing in a design consultant team to perform full design and construction.

“The level of service we give during the pre-construction phase as well as construction is that we can provide design and value engineering input, and the owner knows what the budget’s going to be early on for the project,” says Kim. “It helps us with establishing procurement on long lead materials and staying on top of schedule as well. We’ve been pretty successful at it.”

All companies face obstacles, of course, and for most, this year’s biggest has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Liz feels Slater has managed to turn the negatives into something positive, however.

“We really believe that we’re a better company now than we were before COVID,” she says. “We’ve had to adapt with our field operations and Zoom calls and meetings, staying safe per CDC guidelines. We’ve all really communicated well and we’re in our office, so we’re lucky that we’re an essential business.”

While the pandemic has impacted the company’s backlog of work with projects that would have started in the last six months subsequently put on pause, Kim says it’s great that the company managed to maintain its staff throughout that effort, a testament to Slater’s employee devotion.

“I think employees showed flexibility in the beginning when a lot of the office staff worked remotely, but really the jobs didn’t miss a step,” she shares. “Management continued forward, and honestly, remote communication helped with my job in Northern California. Everybody was on Zoom calls, so in one sense it made that project work more efficiently.”

Kim attributes the company’s ongoing success to its family-oriented mentality, especially during trying times. “The balance of work-life culture is reinforced here, and I think that really helps when situations like COVID come up. We’ve got a great team of people that work together to help each other out.” Most of the jobs under construction remained active, with field staff adapting as seamlessly as possible. Changes have created additional tools for some flexibility to help when things are remote, including communication tools for sub-contractors and clients.

That communication and commitment has created robust growth at a good pace for the last four or five years, says Kim, allowing the team to take on larger projects for the mid-size firm. They’re currently pursuing some above the $40 million dollar range.

“We certainly have a larger number of higher revenue projects now than ever,” says Liz. “As far as growth goes, I’d say a milestone is to continue a minimum of 10 percent per annum while maintaining the retention of our employees.”

That growth has also come while being a woman-owned company in a traditionally male-dominated field, which has been both interesting and motivating. “We think it’s great working with women, and being a women-owned business certainly has allowed us to grow and attract other quality women to assist in our organization,” says Liz, who adds the company is “strongly” represented by its women employees.

Kim herself has been in construction for almost 30 years now, entering the business first as a civil engineer before transitioning to construction. “I think I expected more resistance, and I’ve almost been surprised how I get the opposite reaction,” she says. “Once you get into projects and people can see your commitment, your level of experience and your effort and teamwork, it’s been a pretty smooth process for me. I’ve always felt comfortable in the construction environment.”

She says although it’s definitely more skewed to men, there are considerably more women now than when she first started in the early ‘90s. “Right now I’m working with a large grading company up in Northern California for the Hayward project, and their project manager is female as well as one of their main estimators, and that’s a very male-dominated field. I think it’s a great industry for women to get into if they have an interest and desire. It’s a great industry for women in general.”

In order to draw more women into the field, education is important, along with sharing available options in college, something that has improved in recent years in STEM, says Kim. “Slater’s definitely one of those firms that have given women opportunity. We need to have open minds and allow people to gain experience and understand there’s not just one path.”

Moving forward during a particularly challenging time is important for the company, as it works to stay safe and profitable. Maintaining staff is a top priority, as well. “Keeping all the folks working for the company speaks a lot to the firm, because that takes a commitment,” says Kim.

Liz adds, “We’ve never let anybody go because of the downturn in the economy or COVID. That’s important to us.”

Loyalty is another key feature for Slater’s success, particularly with their sub-contractor community. “That’s one of Slater’s aspects that attracted me to the firm as well,” says Kim. “The relationships they have, how the company pays on time and is committed to their sub-contractors. I’ve experienced companies that don’t have that approach, and Slater has built up some very loyal and productive relationships.”

Success also comes from Slater’s seamless transition from the pre-construction to the construction phase, lending field experience to estimates as they’re being put together. That cross-training and expanded role benefits both clients and projects as a whole. “And also you’ve got owners like Liz and Ed who are very involved,” says Kim. “The company makes every project a priority and ownership is very accessible to any client at any time.”

In the end, it’s the people who make the company what it is, something Slater Builders takes to heart.

“I really believe it’s our culture from the top down,” says Liz. “We’re pretty much a flat organization on purpose; we like to work as a team. We keep our eye on personal growth for every employee. For the future that’s just what’s really important to us – to have that balance between work and personal life is so important.”



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