Construction, Economic Development, and Small Business & Startups

Breaking into the business side is more satisfying for a former mason

CRM Construction founder couldn’t wait to confront the next challenge.

January 22, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Neil Gillett isn’t a “good ol’ boy” — at least not yet.

Working at Rockford Construction as a preconstruction manager at age 35, Gillett wasn’t sure where his career would take him or where he fit into the company’s future.

“There are some things that a company can guarantee: pay, benefits, working location,” Gillett said. “No one can guarantee a fit.

“I didn’t want to be restricted. To break into that good ol’ boy system takes time — time I wasn’t willing to wait.”

Gillett’s career has long been dedicated to finding the right challenges. He started in the early 2000s in masonry, but then realized suffering a beat-up body from doing manual labor wasn’t for him.

He started taking classes at Grand Rapids Community College before graduating with a degree in construction management from Ferris State University, and then earning an MBA from Western Michigan University Haworth College of Business.

After five years on the business side of the construction industry, including a stint with Lamar Construction prior to Rockford, Gillett felt it was time to branch out on his own and started CRM Construction in September 2015.

“My grandpa told me, ‘Old men only regret the things they don’t do,’” Gillett said. “I didn’t want to be the old guy sitting on the porch saying, ‘Man, I could have done this, I could have done that.’”

To start the business, all Gillett had was a pad of paper, his computer and his connections.

His family helps with some of the administrative work, but for the nuts and bolts of the projects, he is in control. He recently obtained his residential construction credentials to help take hold of a market that previously was relatively unknown to him.

Currently, CRM is doing work for Gerber Auto and Glass in Springfield and Plainwell, as well as several residential projects in Grand Rapids. They’re relatively small jobs to start, but Gillett knows it’s all about getting his feet planted and making use of the relationships he’s built over the years.

“It’s all about keeping your ear on the street,” he said. “Joining chambers, talking to subcontractors — you never know who has information. It’s important to go straight to business owners and start that relationship and be the first to offer your services with the right price.”

Offering the right price is easy for Gillett as a one-man operation, since he doesn’t have the overhead of a large office and staff. While he can’t offer the in-house construction services some large contractors have, he does have relationships with solid subcontractors he can rely on.

“It’s nice to have a general trades crew in-house or some specialties to help control costs and schedule, but with appropriate management, I can do the same thing,” he said. “I need that strong subcontractor base that I’ve worked with in the past and can count on because it can make or break the company.

“They get out and perform for you. They are the faces of the construction company, so keeping them happy is what keeps the ball rolling.”

Gillett said he’s never worked harder or more hours, but he’s also never been more satisfied and goes to bed looking forward to getting up early and getting back to work.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a right time to do something like this,” he said. “I’m just looking to make a splash in Grand Rapids. I’m so excited about it.

“I like my mobility now, but I’d love to build my business toward the goal of being a big player in town.”

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