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In 1992, Doug and Patricia Kuiper founded Suncor Inc. to bring high quality fabricated structural steel products to Hialeah, Florida. Today, Suncor stands as a trusted name in the structural steel fabrication industry, building a reputation and a strong client base on customer service and proven results.
Every business has its own style and strategy for growth. Some aim for growth at any cost, submitting bids on every possible project that could come their way. Suncor’s own strategy is more reserved, but comes with its own set of rewards that has helped it stay successful throughout the years.
“What we do is we seek out repeat type customers, and we focus on building relationships with good companies,” says Kuiper. “My focus is more on working with people who want to work with us—more like a partnering. That both decreases my overhead, because I don’t have to have a whole staff of estimators, and also gives us the kind of trusting relationship that you get with customers when you do work repeatedly.”
As Kuiper explains, trust is a commodity that can be hard to come by in an industry where projects can take months—if not years—from start to finish. When it comes to dealing with large construction companies, where points of contact may be promoted or long gone by the time the next bidding cycle comes around, reputation and past experiences together are crucial.
“If you do repeat work with companies, like we do, you trust each other,” he says. “We trust them that we’re going to get paid, and they trust us that they know they’re going to get quality products delivered on time. So we pride ourselves in the quality that we do.”
What keeps clients returning to Suncor? A strong part of it is the high standards that Suncor strives to maintain. Those standards aren’t just a point of pride: they’re also vital to ensuring that clients are able to get jobs done accurately and on time with minimal stress.
“We have standards for that to make sure that what we’re giving them fits,” says Kuiper, noting that Suncor works with state-of-the-art rendering technology like TEKLA to reduce errors and keep measurements as precise as possible—a critical necessity for any fabricator. “We pre-manufacture all these steel components so that, when you put them on a truck and ship them to a job site, everything just bolts together,” Kuiper explains. “You have to be very precise on what you do, to within 1/16 of an inch.”
Claims of accuracy and high quality product standards are easy to say, but they mean much more when they’re backed up by third-party audits and certification. Because of this, Suncor takes care to maintain certification with the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).
“Not every fabricator has AISC certification—most of the larger fabricators are certified, some of the medium ones are certified, and very few of the small ones are certified,” says Kuiper. “It can be very difficult to achieve this, because you have to have a lot of systems and organization and quality built in to get that.” But according to Kuiper, putting in the time and effort to obtain AISC certification is more than worth it for the credibility it brings and the clients it helps attract through the promise of high standards that are guaranteed.
In addition to its own AISC certification, Suncor also holds its third party partners to similar high standards in order to ensure that clients are getting the best service wherever possible. “We don’t install materials, but we hire people to do that—and the erectors we hire are typically also AISC-certified,” says Kuiper. “So we have quality of product, and we have quality installers. That gives the customers a certain satisfaction that we’re going to do what we say we’re going to do.”
As the economy continues to improve and construction projects keep growing and expanding, the future is looking good for Suncor. The company is involved in several high profile projects, including the multi-building Brickell City Center project underway in Miami, as a subcontractor to AMJV (joint venture). Consisting of three, 30-plus stories high towers, the project presents some unique challenges and calls for the kind of high quality steel that Suncor prides itself on delivering. Meanwhile, a project with Skanska USA for the Miami Science Museum presents its own complex challenges in the form of architecturally exposed structural steel that must be as smooth and beautiful as it is strong.
In other words, they’re the kinds of projects that keep Suncor growing and thriving. “Our outlook is positive toward this year,” says Kuiper. “I think 2015 looks very strong for us, and I think we’re going to have a very good year.”
Suncor isn’t the largest steel fabricator in the world, or even in the United States, but as far as Kuiper is concerned that’s a positive—staying smaller allows Suncor to be more agile and in tune with its customers. “You want to be big enough to have good profit, but you want to be small enough that you can have your hand on the pulse,” he says. “When you get too big, sometimes you lose that.”
But what truly sets Suncor apart from the competition is those long term repeat relationships—that level of trust that all stems from a good attitude and exemplary service. “
“There are companies who do what we do just as well as we do, but in terms of customer service, I think we’re among the best,” says Kuiper. “That’s probably the biggest thing— the customer relations and just really truly caring about what we do. Everybody’s in business, and Business 101 is that the goal of any organization is maximizing profit for the stockholders. We’re all about making profit. But I’ve learned that, if you can build your customer base strong, the profit takes care of itself. So instead of having the goal of money, my goal is customer relations—everything else works itself out after that.”