What’s the difference between a general contractor and a skilled worker in carpentry, electrical, plumbing or one of the other construction trades? One answer is “a contractor’s license.”
Another answer is that a general contractor is a tradesman who at some point asked him or herself the question, “Why am I giving a big portion of my salary to the general contractor when I could BE the general contractor?” They get their license and bingo, a general contractor is born.
Well, there’s probably more to it than that, but the fact is that many GCs did begin as tradesmen and tradeswomen and at some point decided they wanted to run their own business.
In a big construction company, there is a “project manager” that deals with the day to day details of one or more projects. A project manager may or may not be a tradesman but usually does have business management skills. A big company must run several jobs at a time to meet its expenses.
A general contractor who came up as a tradesman probably only has one or two jobs going at any given time.
What do these differences mean to you as a homeowner, you may be wondering.
Depending on your preferences, the size and scope of your home improvement project and your budget, the difference between hiring a small company (essentially a licensed tradesman who is also a general contractor) and a larger construction company can be great.
Each type of company has its advantages and disadvantages.
As a rule, larger companies have greater capacity. They probably have tradesman in all of the various fields on salary. As a result, when it’s time for a particular phase of your construction or home improvement project to begin, that phase is more likely to begin and finish on or closer to schedule.
On the other hand, smaller companies with a reputation for doing good work often have salaried staff as well, or at least, an available pool of skilled tradesman at the ready to come to work on relatively short notice.
Are smaller companies with their smaller overhead more likely to give the lower price?
Although larger companies do sometimes have more leverage on materials pricing and labor costs, in general, it’s probably more likely that a contractor/tradesman will be more inclined to bid lower, especially in tough economic times.
Larger companies have staff, departments and department heads. Bigger organizations, if they are run well, usually lead to a more efficient process. But often, efficiency can be in place of the personal touch.
Contractor/tradesmen, on the other hand, are used to dealing with homeowners. They may be more patient, amenable and even economical with regard to changes you may have over the course of your construction or home improvement. But are they effective managers of time and resources or just good tradesmen? Maybe yes, maybe no.
The bottom line is that when you’re planning a construction or home improvement project, and you begin your search for a general contractor, meet both large and small companies.
Think about your needs, interview a number of prospective companies, large and small, and get a feel for what’s right for you.