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Gais Construction Combats Rain to Complete Newk’s

The company battles the elements - and the clock - on a million dollar project.

Mon July 08, 2013 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

Sometimes the weather cooperates and sometimes it does just the opposite. Rock Hill’s busy Dave Lyle Boulevard is the site of much construction these days and at the moment one thing all of the job sites here have in common is their daily struggle to stay on schedule. Weekly or sometimes even daily rains have made that tougher than usual.

Newk’s Eatery is very interested in opening its new restaurant as soon as possible. The fast-casual category is a bright spot in the restaurant industry that, as a whole, has been struggling.

According to food service industry consultant Technomic, the fast-casual segment showed revenue gains in 2009 while overall sales for the top 500 U.S. chains declined. Same-store-sales for Newk’s Eatery increased 2.6 percent in 2009 and they increased by almost 10 percent in 2010. The opening of five Newk’s Eatery restaurants in 2010 increased system-wide annual sales to more than $55 million, an increase of almost 10 percent from the previous year.

The estimated initial investment necessary to open a Newk’s Eatery ranges from $719,500 to $1,054,500. Royalties are five percent of net sales with a 0.5 percent contribution to a national marketing fund. The typical Newk’s Eatery is approximately 4,500 sq. ft. in size with seating for 150-plus customers. A full-service catering program and grab-and-go provides an additional revenue stream for franchisees.

Gais Construction, Denver N.C., has been grappling with the weather conditions for a number of weeks in the heart of winter 2013 in their construction of this latest Newk’s restaurant. Big earthmoving equipment is now off the site and the mini-excavators are hard at work. That mini-equipment features rubber tracks which are a bit too slippery for the slick, wet clay soil.

"The mud on site turns into grease as work starts and even the best equipment is hard to operate," said Mike Gais, Gais Construction vice president. "We’re two weeks behind schedule right now; we’ve had 14 rain days and that’s not even counting the after-rain problems."

Gais Construction does a wide variety of commercial projects — no matter what the weather. These projects run the gamut. They also do medical office projects, industrial, retail and commercial office work. Mike’s brother, Kevin and father Louis Gais also are involved with the company’s operations.

Newk’s is a one million dollar project, at least Gais Construction’s portion of the project. The early preparation stages of the project have required four different subcontractors. For the later portions of the work there are many more, ones for lighting, walls, finishing and painting.

But for the exterior work on this or any project, rainy days are pretty much worthless for those in the construction industry. Fourteen days is almost three weeks of working days, according to Gais.

"On top of just the rain days after the fourteen, you also have days where it’s just too wet. Say last week, it rained — it’s too wet the next day to operate; not only did I lose the rain day but I lost the following day or at least part of it. If it rains all day and through the night then the next day is virtually shot as well even if the sun comes out," Gais stated.

"The completion date on this project was scheduled to be at the end of March, 2013 or into April 2013; but as of this time we are probably looking at a much later completion date. We are constructing and managing the contractors involved in the construction of this new business. In the end though, the hardest part is getting the slab down."

"This is what it is; I have rain delays built into my contract," said Gais. "It is well-recorded through the weather service, so all I have to do is pull up how many rain days we’ve had — nearly five total inches of rain in the past months. This has made up for the drought deficit this area of the country was dealing with in the past year or so.

"We went into this project being down five inches in rain and now we’re up one inch and that’s all in a matter of two months. We have short windows. If it would rain all weekend starting with Friday it would be perfect. But it rains on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday..."

There is a lot of work added when rainy weather is abundant because workers must clear off the mud and make the area workable. Another repercussion of this situation is that Gais needs inspectors and every job site in the area is dealing with the same thing, weather-wise. A nearby Sam’s Club also is under construction and that operation needs inspectors too. And rain puts inspectors behind schedule too.

If it’s raining on Monday and everyone is out working on Tuesday, they will have inspectors called in and inspectors need to be on site early in the day so that work can get accomplished during the rest of the day. But inspectors in turn may have 25 other places to visit and will simply explain that they will get to you when they get to you.

Problems also arise with extra weeks in rental equipment including the job site office construction trailer. Once the building is up the planning work can move inside of that structure and the trailer can be returned. But if the building is not up the trailer must be rented an extra month. Gais has a compactor which has to be used for an extra two to three weeks. Extra man hours for overtime in getting caught up with the work must also be factored in.

"We’ve had tougher projects with wet weather. One job in Lenoir, N.C., just would not dry out. This was a bank job and it was a nightmare for us. But you can’t do anything about the weather. It’s a very common construction issue," said Gais.

"They deal with snow and ice up north. In that case equipment or even personal vehicles cannot be moved. But you can push it out of the way and dry things out on site; water is a little more difficult, it soaks in. It will get done. We are working Saturdays and we are working nights.

"Luckily the pieces of equipment we are using have lights on them. In addition to that, because we are tightly squeezed between a BP gas station and a Staples Office Supply store, there is a lot of residual light reaching us from the parking lot lights already in place."

Gais has anywhere from five to 12 workers on site at any given time. The mini-excavator on site at present is a Bobcat. Other mini-excavators which have been used on the site have included Komatsu and Takeuchi in addition to a John Deere backhoe. A subcontractor on the job utilized a large Komatsu track hoe.

Stevenson-Weir Concrete, Rock Hill, S.C., is doing the concrete work on this job which is a fairly average job for them.

The company does jobs that size all the way down to residential driveways, thus covering most of the market. They run dry-batch plants, the mix is loaded on the truck at their Rock Hill headquarters and then the mixing is done on the truck while the concrete is in transit. Their business covers south Charlotte as well as locations in South Carolina. They are getting ready to start on another huge project in the area too.

"We will be on this Newk’s Eatery job from start to finish for some two or three months," said Gary Shehane, project manager of Stevenson-Weir. "Ryan Burkette of RyanCo is doing the concrete placement and finishing. Stevenson-Weir pride ourselves on being one of the few family-owned suppliers left in this market. On this particular job some ten employees are involved. The rain affects our productivity; however, we don’t shut down for the rain."

Stevenson-Weir doesn’t actually do concrete demolition work on site. But they do have their own crushing operation in which they recycle their waste and they also accept waste from contractors that buy from them as well. The firm crushes that material and makes a recycled base out of it. RyanCo Construction, Fort Mill, S.C., does not work for Stevenson-Weir but they supply RyanCo with materials for building.

RyanCo did the concrete foundation and also is doing the concrete slab on this project.

They are currently under contract for all the sidewalks in the city of Gastonia, N.C.

"If there are any problems with people walking on the concrete while it’s still wet, we have to tear that out and redo it completely," said Ryan Burkett, RyanCo Construction owner. "In those circumstances we keep an eye on things. Every city, every project is different."

Burkette’s crews do not typically wear hardhats unless there is equipment overhead. His onsite equipment usually includes a Bobcat skid steer and Bobcat mini-excavator.

Newk’s Eatery currently has more than 50 restaurants open in 11 states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. More than 40 of the restaurants are franchise owned. Projections call for 10 restaurants to open in 2013. This restaurant will be one of the first to open in South Carolina.

Newk’s Eatery was founded by Don Newcomb, Debra Bryson and Chris Newcomb, with the first restaurant opening in Oxford, Miss., in 2004. The team has long been recognized for its talent in developing and growing innovative and unique restaurant concepts.

If the rain holds out the area should be having some satisfied Newk’s Eatery customers in the not-too-distant future. But the weather is the one variable all construction projects must contend with no matter what date is written into their plans and schedule.

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