Small business spotlight: Renier Construction's philosophy shown in continuity of its design-build model

Kitty McConnell

Business is personal between Renier Construction and clients.

Bill Heifner's father taught him how to run a business. Working as a clerk and stock boy in his dad's small paint and sporting goods shop in Newcomerstown, Heifner learned the value of customer service. He learned to operate on a conservative budget. He learned how to turn a single sale into a lasting personal relationship.

Those values have made Renier Construction the successful design-build construction company it is today. When Heifner reflects back on the 35 years his company has been in business, he thinks his father would be proud.

"If he looked at Renier today, he would think there's a lot of the same thing I'm doing that he did in his day," says Heifner. "I'm proud of that. My father was a great mentor and certainly one that had a lot of common sense."

Common sense manifests itself in Renier's design-build model. The company's organizational structure is designed to provide clients with a single touch-point for every need that arises in the course of a building project. It eliminates the need for multiple contracts. In short: The buck stops with Renier.

Heifner believes the design-build model-as opposed to the design-bid-build process, which involves separate contracts with architects and construction contractors-provides the best value for clients. It also provides more continuity in Renier's client relationships.

Renier handles design-build projects valued as low as $5,000 and as high as $25 million. The majority of the company's work is for central Ohio-based clients. About 40 percent of their work takes place outside of the region.

Renier grew from a pre-fab metal building broker with one employee in the early 1980s to a full-service design-builder by 1999. As the company grew, Heifner structured Renier to accommodate any on-demand construction needs for clients, as well as large-scale new builds.

Heifner's philosophy is simple: "Anytime any of our clients have a need, no matter how large or how small it is, automatically we want them to call us."

Being a one-stop, dependable shop is a differentiator for Renier. Over 60 percent of the company's work in 2015 was from repeat clients; the other 40 percent came from referrals.

"I've always felt you have to live up to your clients' expectations," says Heifner. "If you make a mistake, you admit it, you correct that mistake you move on and don't look back."

Testimonials reflect Renier's success building long-term relationships.

"I have found them to genuinely care about the job as if it were their own," reads an endorsement from Bobby Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, posted on Renier's website.

"Renier really does have 'integrity' as the basis of all that it does," reads a testimonial from the former president of the Columbus College of Art and Design, the late Denny Griffith. Griffith believed the Loann Crane Center for Design, designed and built by Renier, had a "transformative and aesthetic impact" on campus life.

Heifner is a former CCAD trustee; he and his wife, Sandy, donated trees, walkways and a sitting wall to the college's greenspace addition in 2006. In addition to supporting CCAD, Renier contributes to a number of community nonprofits, including the Homeless Families Foundation, the Central Ohio Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, the YWCA Family Center and others that are supported by or directly related to their clients. Heifner has a deep appreciation for the fertile business ground in central Ohio, mainly because it allows his employees-the "Renier families"-to prosper.

Save for some furloughs during the Great Recession, Renier has weathered ups and downs of the cyclical construction business by maintaining a stable and diverse client base. "We see some of our clients building even when the economy slows down because they're taking advantage of better pricing," says Heifner.

The recession prompted Renier to become an even more conservative, efficient operation, not a new concept to Heifner. "I've always been one that, whether the economy's doing good or doing bad, we're always looking in the mirror."

Renier's most promising target markets in central Ohio in 2016 and beyond are light manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and healthcare companies.

Business is strong, but there are challenges. The shortage of skilled labor and trade contractors is a concern for Heifner and his management team. On the plus side, Columbus is a banking center with a strong business community based on Midwestern values, which work in Renier's favor.

"Columbus is really a big little town. It's very friendly to business, and it's also easy to make contacts and acquaintances here," says Heifner.

Succession planning is in the early stages at Renier, but the 68-year-old Heifner has no immediate plans to retire. Like the erstwhile Newcomerstown shopkeeper, handing over the keys isn't on his to-do list. Not when there's work to be done and friendships to build.

"I look forward to going to work in the morning," says Heifner. "I work with a great group of people at Renier, and we serve some incredible clients. It's a win-win."

Renier Construction

2164 Citygate Dr.

Columbus 43219

(614) 866-4580

Business: Designs and builds owner-occupied facilities for business clients in a variety of industries throughout the Midwest, including automotive, office, industrial, warehouse, transportation, health services, and retail.

Founded: 1980

Founder & president: Bill Heifner

Employees: 45

2015 revenue: Approximately $70 million