For cannabis firms entering a new market, finding a trusted commercial general contractor to partner with on the construction of facilities for growing, storing and selling product is an important step. There are a lot of elements to consider when vetting different firms – from their relevant experience to their geographic reach. Here are three important questions to ask as part of your search for the right commercial construction team:
Do they have the right experience?
While a commercial general contractor (GC) doesn’t have to have previous experience in the cannabis space in order to successfully build a dispensary or cultivation facility, it certainly paves the way for a smoother construction process start to finish. In such a highly regulated industry, a contractor with firsthand knowledge of the nuances involved in every aspect of the project – from municipality permitting and approvals to design requirements around access, storage and security – is a real asset that can help the project team anticipate and plan for potential issues before they arise.
Beyond specific cannabis work, it’s also important to find a construction firm that has a proven track record successfully running projects of a similar scope, size and finish level to what you are planning. For example, if a GC has only managed interior renovations and build-outs, they probably aren’t a great fit for a ground-up new-construction facility. Also look for experience in other commercial real estate sectors that translate well to the cannabis space. A contractor that has worked in a variety of retail environments should be well equipped for a dispensary build-out, while a strong portfolio of industrial and warehouse projects relates well for grow facilities.
Do they operate locally or nationally?
Depending on your construction needs, weigh if it will be most beneficial to work with a general contractor that specializes only in the local market, or one that operates on a national basis with the capacity and resources to complete projects in any market across the country.
A national firm is a great choice for a cannabis operator that anticipates growth and expansion into new markets, and needs a construction partner that can service their program beyond one project. Working with one GC on multiple project locations streamlines the construction process and also builds a level of trust among the construction team that leads to a more positive and collaborative experience for all involved. Yet another benefit of a national approach is the general contractor learns the client’s brand standards and the ins and outs of their facility designs, contributing to a more efficient experience when rolling out in different markets.
On the other hand, for one-off projects in markets with a difficult landscape – whether due to expected permitting hurdles or construction labor challenges – a local GC with insider knowledge could be a smart choice. We’ve also had a number of scenarios where a client first tapped our firm for a local project in our hometown of Chicago, and then based on that experience expanded the relationship to take advantage of our national capabilities and utilize us for projects in other regions.
Do they have access to the best qualified subcontractors?
There’s a pretty significant labor shortage in the commercial construction industry right now. As a result, in many markets subcontractors have more work than they can handle – and therefore can be choosy about their projects. That means general contractors without strong subcontractor relationships could have difficulty lining up subs to bid and complete projects. Ultimately, that can lead to higher construction costs and even project delays.
In this labor environment, it’s imperative to have a conversation with any potential GC about their subcontractor network to ensure they not only have contacts to cover all the trades, but also that they pre-qualify subs to ensure they are only working with trusted, reputable companies. That’s where a national general contractor might have a leg up on a local GC. For example, as a national firm Englewood Construction has a network of more than 20,000 qualified subs across the country. We can pull from our arsenal to find the best and closest trades for any given project – and, if labor conditions in a particular market are particularly challenging, we can pull from our contacts in neighboring cities to ensure the job is covered.
More than just a vendor, a commercial construction firm can – and should – be a valuable resource in addressing your facility needs and an ally in navigating the challenges that come with planning and executing any commercial construction project. By mapping out your requirements and growth strategy ahead of time, and thinking critically about what a potential construction partner brings to the table, you’re sure to find the right firm for a relationship that will be efficient, collaborative and fruitful.