Unit Building Services – A family tradition of design-build contracting in Cincinnati
In the greater Cincinnati area, UNIT Building Services has been a household name in the design-build and construction industry for more than 43 years. Serving the tristate area, UNIT designs and builds industrial, office, medical and retail buildings for business owners, professionals and developers who seek personalized service and a single source of accountability for their midsize projects. UNIT was established in 1972 by Tom Schmidlin and the Neyer family as a merit shop contractor in an effort to capitalize on the strong union presence in Cincinnati at the time. Today, the company is focused on the commercial and industrial sectors and in 2015, the company worked almost exclusively for materials testing companies, completing expansions and renovations for Cincinnati Testing Laboratories, Element Materials Technology and Metcut Research. Element Materials Technology recently bought out a previous client of UNIT, Accutek.
The project involved the conversion of a 50,000-square-foot warehouse into a lab as well as adding an office mezzanine and additional parking space. UNIT completed a tilt up expansion with lab space for Cincinnati Testing Laboratories and started on the project for the client’s parent company, Metcut Research. UNIT has worked with each company on prior projects and considers being called back for additional work as passing the ultimate test.
While often working with repeat clients, UNIT remains in connection with the Cincinnati brokerage market as well. “The brokerage market is pretty strong,” says Steve Schmidlin, president and owner of UNIT. “We stay in contact with the real estate brokers and if they have a client that is purchasing a building that needs renovation, they will bring us in.
We’re always marketing to past clients and the brokerage community to keep ourselves in front of potential deals.” Schmidlin says that one of the most beneficial aspects of his company for clients is the single-source responsibility that his design-build firm is able to offer. “People can go the design route or the hard-bid route, but if something goes awry, they’re going to have five different fingers pointed in different directions claiming who’s responsible,” he explains. “The key to any successful project is bringing the right team together. It’s my job to know the right people in the market to bring to the table who will serve a client’s needs.”
Within a relatively short amount of time with a client, Schmidlin is confident that UNIT is able to dissect what their needs are and devise a plan of attack that will create a quality structure with creative design that makes sense economically. “Once we come to an agreement on preliminary designs, I can come back in two weeks with detailed pricing,” says Schmidlin. “Ultimately we provide the business owner with a path from point A to point B in the most economical manner.”
Adapting to change through relationships and reputation
Throughout UNIT’s existence, the company has maintained a steady workflow while maintaining manageable and continued growth. A focus on quality rather than volume has allowed UNIT to uphold a solid reputation within the industry that has proven to be an asset during periods of economic downturn. “During the recession it definitely helped that we had been around for a long time and had built up some strong relationships,” says Schmidlin. “We did have to get leaner as a company during that period, but fortunately things have rebounded and the company is in expansion mode again.”
Many of those strong relationships have been not only with clients, but also with subcontractors and suppliers. As a design-build firm, Schmidlin says that his company’s relationships with the electrical and mechanical contractors it often works with are some of the most important. “I’m acting as a single-source responsibility, so I need to turn to my electrical and mechanical tradesmen and have them do the same for their portion of the work as well,” Schmidlin explains.
While UNIT works primarily in the greater Cincinnati area, the company will venture out of its target demographic for the right job and the right client.
During the recession, a past client approached UNIT about completing a renovation on a building in Beckley, West Virginia, which is a five-hour drive from Cincinnati. The company completed the job on schedule and under budget.
A Family Venture
Schmidlin started working full time for UNIT in 1989 and became president of the company in 1993. While growing up, Schmidlin often worked with his father on the weekends and during summers and developed a passion for the industry, which inspired him to earn a construction management degree.
Through his education, Schmidlin was exposed to civil and structural engineering, architecture, mechanical and electrical design, scheduling, accounting and business management. “I took a strong interest in design-build contracting under the tutelage of Don Neyer,” he recounts. “Don was a great leader and teacher who helped me develop excellent problem-solving skills.”
While leading a company started by his father creates a great deal of pride for Schmidlin, he is looking forward to seeing the company continue to grow. He plans to maintain the manageability of the firm that enables it to give the extra special, personal attention to each client that UNIT Building Services has become so well-known for over the past 43 years.