In June 2006, Steve and Greg Killian, brothers and co-owners of Killian Dental Ceramics, Irvine, California, realized a long-time dream. After over 20 years of renting space for their laboratory, they purchased a new building that would be their new home and give them--and their 28 employees--the space they'd been longing for. "We had outgrown our 3,200-sq.-ft. facility years ago and now we have more than twice as much space and plenty of elbow room," says Steve. The new building also offers new features, like a bright shade-taking room and a 1,000-sq.-ft. multipurpose room for staff meetings and client education seminars.
Since part of the building had previously been a warehouse with just two large, open rooms, the Killians underwent a six-month renovation process to add walls, create a second floor and make the facility laboratory ready. (Click here to see the new laboratory.) They served as the general contractors on the project and, at times, the process was challenging. Here, they offer their advice to other lab owners considering buying or renovating a building:
1. Stick to your dream even when times are tough. "Just as we closed on the building, a sizable slump hit our workflow," recalls Steve. "We even considered 'flipping' the building without moving in." Then Steve sought the advice of his former boss, who just happens to be one of the most successful laboratory owners in the industry: Jim Glidewell, owner of Glidewell Laboratories, Newport Beach, California, and five other labs in the U.S., Costa Rica and Mexico. "Jim's advice? 'Don't let go of your dream.' He reminded me that business fluctuates and to not let it stop us from moving ahead."
2. Hire an expert to oversee critical construction stages. The Killians learned this lesson the hard way. Since Greg was knowledgeable about construction and engineering, they declined the architect's offer to oversee construction, but soon ran into a problem. The contractor placed the retaining wall nine inches too short, meaning it could only accommodate three workstations, not four. By the time the error was caught, the second floor was already being built on top of it.
Although it was the contractor's mistake, it would have been too costly and time consuming to fix. "We saved money by overseeing the construction ourselves, but if I were to do it again I would budget for construction to be verified by a qualified expert," says Greg. "It was a big headache to deal directly with the contractor and discover their little and not-so-little errors, and they didn't respect an amateur's opinion about engineering."
3. Review your contract with a fine-toothed comb to be sure you understand what it covers and what it doesn't. For instance, at the end of the job, the Killians' contractor came to them with an additional bill for supplies ordered during construction. "Because I was so familiar with our contract and had done my homework, I was able to spot items that were inflated or covered by the original estimate," says Greg. "I had also documented everything extra that we approved during construction, so I was able to contest those that I hadn't signed off on."
Although finalizing the bill required weeks of negotiation, the Killians' sharp eye for detail paid off: they came in under budget and even returned some money to the bank to decrease the total amount of their loan.