Sometimes when Dan Mertes drives by old job sites, he shakes his head and smiles. “Some projects are just a comedy of errors from the start,” he says.
As Perficut’s Director of Construction, Dan has had a hand in hundreds of projects, many of which have gone just as planned. But there are always a few that seem to go sideways. The District at 6th rooftop patio was one of those. As he always does, Dan worked with the client to create a preplanning budget to outline costs and process. As things progressed, they moved through another round of budgeting to make adjustments. And then another. All told, the project went through five budgeting sets before things were nailed down. Breakdowns in communication meant that other trades came in earlier or later than they should have, which meant that Team Perficut ended up undoing and redoing a lot of the work they had completed, including hand-digging out planters that they had filled just days earlier so a piece of big machinery another trade needed could access the site.
Dan and his team persevered through the challenges and the end result is a beautiful rooftop patio adorned with more than 4,000 custom-grown sedums, raised concrete beds with trees and shrubs, and a dog pad area with artificial turf and plenty of drainage. Dan likes to point out that the rooftop patio is actually on street level. “It’s odd but the patio is still considered rooftop because there’s concrete under all of your plants, so you have to get creative about soils,” he says.
Solving Problems Creatively
The soil wasn’t the only thing Dan had to get creative about on this job, and that’s fine by him. Dan joined Team Perficut in 2012 and in the last 10 years, he has moved from erosion control to project management, eventually running the project management team as well as overseeing his own projects. A couple of years ago, the director role opened up and he took the leap. He enjoys the challenge of each new job and managing shifting budgets and shifting deadlines. He manages Perficut’s construction team from top to bottom, which means he is responsible for 25-30 people broken up into seven three-person crews. Crews sometimes work together on larger projects, and Dan often does a lot of plotting and planning to make sure he has the labor to meet deadlines.
And deadlines are a big deal in his world. When Perficut gets a contract to work on a project, Dan schedules a preconstruction meeting with the general contractor, other trades, and his Perficut team. The group works together to draw up a schedule and confirm variables like crew size and materials availability. From there, the race begins to meet the deadline. Each client has their own deadlines, and there a hundred factors that actively work against meeting them—including weather, labor shortages, and supply chain issues. Dan and his team try to take all of these factors into account when they’re budgeting and planning, but it’s an ongoing process that requires a lot of flexibility.
Once the big deadlines are in place, Dan hands things off to his project managers, but he still stays involved. Some jobs stretch into months or years, and those situations require weekly meetings, safety orientations, and coordination of other trades. There are a lot of moving parts, but everyone has the same goal: to get the work done on time and on budget.
“When we have a big push, it’s all hands on deck. I’m out there hauling mulch or doing whatever needs to be done to make sure we meet that deadline.” – Dan Mertes
And clients notice and appreciate this commitment. A lot of the feedback Dan gets from clients is that Perficut doesn’t miss deadlines. “We understand it’s a huge machine—it’s not just us,” he says. “We have a deadline, but then the client has an open date and deadlines for when the city has to sign off on things.” This is an even greater feat considering that Team Perficut is usually the last one on the site, and their schedule often gets compressed because of delays with weather and other trades.
Sticking to a Budget
Budget is always a big deal to clients, and Dan and his team do whatever they can to keep things affordable. They often work with clients on what is called value engineering, a process in which Dan and his team comb through the budget and look for ways to reduce costs. This can be something as simple as changing pavers or swapping out shrubs, but the end result can save the client thousands, depending on the scope of the project.
When it’s not possible to reduce costs or they are running into challenges, Dan tries to be as upfront and honest with clients as possible. “Sometimes, I might be the bearer of bad news, but I feel like communication is key to building relationships,” he says. Open communication was essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the entire industry experienced major labor and materials shortages. Dan and his team are still fighting some of those battles today with the ongoing shipping crisis, but he finds that clients are much more understanding when there is frequent and open communication happening.
Communication is just one thing that clients appreciate about Perficut. Commitment is another. “We are expected to be there and get it done, regardless of extenuating circumstances, so we make it happen,” Dan says. “We get it done and we do it the right way, on time. That’s part of what makes us different. Every person at Perficut is passionate about honoring our commitment to the client.”