Across Buist Electric’s primary stomping grounds of western Michigan, business continues to be strong. The Byron Center, Mich.-based electrical contractor is on track to grow its regional revenue by 25% in 2023, continuing a pace set over the last several years. Buist experienced a 32% revenue increase between 2020 and 2022, moving from $81 million up to $107.4 million.
“Like many, we have been pleasantly surprised by the number of businesses continuing to move forward with projects. Specifically, the health care and food industries have been strong customers for us,” says Aaron Cooper, contracting department manager at Buist. “Many industries are still strong, and this appears to be due to the amount of money available for business growth as well as companies still catching up from the pandemic, which seems odd to keep saying.”
Still, 2022 was a year of “surprise abundance” given the significant rise in inflation alongside the pandemic recovery, says Brent Brinks, Buist president.
So far in 2023, clients are showing the same bullish tendencies as last year, with many projects on the books and plenty of projects to price, he adds. “Supply chain challenges really set in in 2022, and although there has been some easing, supply chain continues to affect projects in 2023,” Brinks says.
For its strong performance and success on a wide range of projects in the face of industrywide challenges as well as its steadfast commitment to its people, ENR Midwest has named Buist Electric its 2023 Specialty Contractor of the Year.
Buist recently led renovations to the 8th floor of the Meijer Heart Center at Corewell Health's Butterworth Hospital, transforming the space into a new 24-bed Critical Care Intensive Care Unit.
Photo courtesy of Buist Electric
A Focus on People
Nine different specialty groups fall under Buist’s umbrella, including audio visual, automation, communications, contracting, outdoor utilities, engineering services and testing. This minimizes the need to subcontract, which in turn speeds product delivery to customers, Brinks explains.
“We are a big proponent of owning our own equipment fleet, maintaining a large inventory and investing significantly in technology and tooling,” he says. “This allows us to shift resources very quickly and take control over the factors that impact efficiency on projects.”
Being a sort of one-stop shop that offers more than just electrical gives the firm an edge, says John DeBlaay, vice president and project executive at Dan Vos Construction Co., noting clients’ appreciation for the continuity in all the services that Buist provides.
“They’re truly a partner, a team player,” he says. “There’s no finger pointing, no ‘us versus them.’ We all sit at the table together and we help each other.”
“We’ve got a long relationship with Buist Electric, so there’s a very high trust level.”
—John DeBlaay, Vice President and Project Executive, Dan Vos Construction
Buist’s success comes down to its culture and its people, along with a growing customer base. Attracting and retaining talent has been vital to Buist’s ability to meet greater revenue demands. That means seeking out projects that allow its employees to go home at night, offering “unmatched benefits packages, supporting employees in the areas that are important to them and giving employees an excellent company that they can be proud of,” Brinks says.
For the last nine consecutive years, Buist has been honored by the Best and Brightest Companies to Work for Awards. The company is a five-time winner of the Best and Brightest Elite Award in Employee Engagement, Enrichment and Retention.
Buist became employee-owned in 2005 and will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2024. Since becoming an ESOP, the company’s share price has also averaged double digit growth.
“They’re employee-owned, which is a big deal, and they act like they’re employee-owned,” adds Shane Napper, president and COO at Rockford Construction. The two firms operate in the same areas, which plays into their working relationship somewhat, but Rockford chooses to work with Buist because of a value alignment.
“They really focus on their people,” he says. “They also have a really strong work ethic. That’s one of their main pushes—but not by cutting corners. And we really like that.”
Although Buist moved into a brand new office in 2017, a recent 10,000-sq-ft office expansion will provide even more room for all its rapidly growing divisions, particularly the specialty and engineering groups. Dan Vos Construction led design and construction on the project—returning the favor, in a fashion.
“For our new office that we built for ourselves, we chose Buist to do electrical and data,” DeBlaay says. “And now that they’re building their office, we’ve been able to reciprocate there. We’ve got a long relationship with Buist Electric, so there is a very high trust level. We’re very much like-minded in how we run our businesses.”
A new cleanroom at Perrigo’s Allegan location, part of a 30,000-sq-ft design-build remodel for pharmaceutical manufacturer Perrigo. This cleanroom houses a new Glatt, used for mixing powder in medications.
A Broad Portfolio
Both the number and size of projects across the Midwest appear to be growing, and by being diversified in the types of projects it can handle, Buist is able to adapt to the market when needed, Cooper explains.
“Whether it’s been the preferred electrical contractor on large office buildings, big box stores, heavy industrial, health care, grocery stores, food processing or pharmaceutical facilities, we make a point that our teams are as diversified as possible from estimating to field craft professionals,” he adds.
In downtown Grand Rapids, Buist is design-assist partner and main electrical trade contractor on the Corewell Health CTI (Center for Transformation and Innovation) campus, alongside Rockford Construction as general contractor. This 300,000-sq-ft corporate campus features an eight-story office tower with an integrated parking structure, a stand-alone four-story parking structure, a stand-alone pavilion, campus site lighting, campuswide emergency infrastructure and general power infrastructure. The facility also has all electric heat and cooling systems. Like most projects in recent years, early procurement of large electrical equipment such as switchgears and generators was vital to the schedule.
“We have had to work closely with our clients and vendors to identify these obstacles early and schedule accordingly as best we can,” Cooper says. “While our team has done a good job controlling what we are able to, this continues to be a challenge today. Getting involved in the design process early to identify these obstacles has been key.”
Other major projects on which Buist and Rockford have partnered include 200 Monroe, a family office in Grand Rapids, as well as the Grand Rapids Art Museum in the city’s downtown.
In contrast, Buist is also doing work on a new slaughterhouse for West Michigan Beef with Dan Vos Construction.
“We’re adding an almost 80,000-sq-ft new processing facility for cows, from slaughter to further processing. It’s a state-of-the-art facility—all the production equipment is coming from either Germany or The Netherlands,” DeBlaay says. “It’s a very high-tech project, which sounds weird when you’re talking about processing beef.”
Over in Battle Creek, Mich., Buist provided electrical services on the Bronson Behavioral Health Hospital, which is a single-story, 68,000-sq-ft mental health hospital for Bronson Healthcare and Acadia Healthcare. Buist’s scope included a variety of work such as setting up the electrical system, fire detection and alarm system installation, arranging temporary power, exterior light pole setup, providing and installing audio visual systems and installing the nurse paging system. This 68,000-sq-ft build was completed in just 12 months despite supply chain constraints.
On site, Buist’s teams work in tandem with the lead contractor, meeting not only its own protocols, but theirs as well, Napper adds.
“How are they different from other firms and what makes Buist successful? Profitability is not their inherent No. 1 focus,” he continues. “It goes back to their core values about treating people with integrity and being a good team, and being a service-based organization, both in skill and in mentality.”
At Stryker Instruments' new 485,000-sq-ft, three-story research and development facility, Buist's team completed $26 million in electrical work, which included 5,600 light fixtures, 130 miles of conduit, 440 miles of wire and 165 miles of communication cable.
Photo courtesy of Buist Electric
Embracing a Mission
As 2023 winds down, Buist’s leadership has more confidence than worry for the next two to three years. “There continues to be very large projects that are in their beginning stages as well as the high demand for our skill set,” Cooper says. “Our main point of focus that gives us confidence is our people. We believe that the teams we assemble for projects are the best in the industry.”
A bullish view of the future also comes from an investment in succession planning. “We have a talented group of up-and-coming team members throughout the company who are poised to provide leadership in the field and in the office for well into 2050,” Brinks says. “We’ve never measured our success in terms of revenue or margins. We’ve simply always strived to do better and to be very prepared for what may come.”
It also means trying to balance the effects of inflation on not only the business, but on employees and clients as well. “Each of these groups has seen the cost of doing business and daily life go up. It’s been important for our business to adjust quickly to address increased costs in order to minimize disruption in our team members’ lives and our customers’ ability to effectively invest their capital,” Brinks says.
That supportive mindset transcends the company’s orbit. In 2022, Buist supported 223 nonprofits and provided $350,000 in direct support to needy families through its community foundation. In addition, the Buist Community Assistance Center, a food and clothing pantry, provides for about 150 families each week.
“Buist Electric lives by our values and mission statement. Our company was and continues to be built on faith, service to others, strong work ethic, integrity and continuous improvement,” says Alexis Gortsema, sales and marketing coordinator at Buist. “Our mission statement is to honor God in all we do, consider our employees’ well-being as essential, provide customers with superior service and to share our resources with those in need.”