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Tools of the Trade

Sometimes, simple tools make the biggest impacts on productivity.

Gatorback mortarboard.
Gatorback mortarboard.

During a challenging economy, when construction is not at its finest potential, the time to work smart and hard in order to be competitive and profitable is now. One important action is to invest in tools and equipment that will reduce job costs, especially the costs in your control. Whether the product offers more efficiency in production, decreases labor costs, adds to the level of work quality, or diminishes the expense of replacing tools that may break down or wear easily, mason contractors have the ability to take a bite of their costs.

Let’s start with a tool as simple as the mortarboard that’s been a part of the masonry trade since its inception. Estimating or bidding a job, as we all know, has become extremely competitive and highly important in today’s market. Estimators primarily focus on material costs, labor costs and equipment-related costs for a project, while perhaps giving little consideration to the concept (and initial cost) of adding new tools that will increase job efficiency and, ultimately, company profits. If common thinking in the industry is that working with the same traditional tools and processes gives a masonry crew an advantage over its competitors, the voice of innovation will scream just the opposite.

The masonry industry, like every other, depends on technology to compete. Whether it’s a major change in process and a big budget piece of equipment, or just a simple tweak in a contractor’s course of action along with a low-cost product that saves significant time and money, change is good. Depending on how the contractor operates, in most cases, it’s easier to start with small changes within a business and its people than big changes and expense.

From the mason’s mouth
GATORBACK mortarboards and pans are relatively new tools that, ultimately, can offer benefits such as the ability to complete jobs faster, due, in part, to less labor hours and increased productivity that outweigh the initial investment cost.

“Just like any kind of tool used on a job, it doesn’t make sense to buy an inexpensive or sub-standard tool,” says Mike Sutter, owner of Sutter Masonry in El Mirage, Ariz. “It’s never worth it! In my opinion, to go cheap, ultimately, is costing you more money in the long run.”

Sutter was introduced to GATORBACK mortarboards during the World of Concrete show 2004. “We use Gatorbacks on all of our jobs and continuously recognize the cost savings,” Sutter says.

It is important that estimators, masonry foremen, purchasing managers and owners communicate to learn what tools on the market can help save time and money. Jeff Younger, operations manager of Masonry Arts, Florida’s Gulf Coast, recognizes the importance of using effective tools and has been a long-standing user of Gatorback mortarboards.

“We consistently look for the life of a product, not necessarily just the cost, and it has paid off huge,” says Younger. “There are several reasons why finding the most efficient tool with something as simple as a mortarboard is important. We use Gatorbacks, not just for the obvious reason – they suck less moisture out of our mortar mix – but the simplest reasons, like the handles on the boards. The handles alone are so elementary, you don’t even think about them. But, if I can carry five or six Gatorbacks to set up and during relocation, I have saved time 4:1 versus using a substandard board or a piece of plywood. And most important to us is the life of the product. We have purchased more than 400 boards and haven’t had to replace boards due to destruction or damage.”

Mike Soderman, job superintendent for Falls Church Construction in Virginia, also prefers GATORBACK mortarboards on all of his jobsites. “My guys use the Gatorback mortarboards,” Soderman. “They are so much better than wood or any metal boards we have used in the past. Really, masons can’t afford to use wood anymore with the green boards out there. They are the best on the market. They’re lighter, easier to handle and stand the test of time during freeze/thaw temperatures.”

With project estimating and costing is at its all-time competitive height, it is important to recognize what products can, over time, drastically reduce a line-item cost. “While I may never have, in the past, put money into a job for mortarboards or for flat tires on equipment, you have to recognize that it is a real cost, and you must come up with the money from somewhere,” Younger says.


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