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Spotlight - Oxford Builders Inc.

image William Sanchez, President

HOUSTON - William Sanchez takes an employee-first approach with his company, Oxford Builders. Oxford specializes in doing jobs contractor do not think about until the time comes, and that niche has led to the company celebrating 20 years in business.

    Safety and being able to complete difficult jobs is the cornerstone for Oxford Builders. Sanchez has seen it all after working his way up through the ranks since he was 20 years old.

What is your background and where did you grow up?
    I grew up in the Heights in Houston. I went to Reagan High School. I first got into construction at about 20. I joined the carpenters union and went through an apprenticeship program and worked my way up to a foreman, superintendent, project manager and a construction manager.

When did you start Oxford Builders?
    In fact, this is our 20th anniversary that we’re going through right now. I started in 1996.

What’s the first 20 year been like for you?
    Very, very difficult. It’s hard because I understood the work but I didn’t understand the business part of it. I think I finally have a grasp on it.

What is the biggest hurdle on the business side?
    Collecting money.

Just as far as getting payment on stuff?
    Yes. I do public work, and public work pays kind of slowly. So 100 days in not unreasonable. Surviving for 100 days without a payment was quite a task. I’ve always had my own employees, so every week, I pay payroll, payroll taxes and worker’s comp.

What has been the biggest change in the industry since you began to right now?
    The biggest change has been that the labor prices are going up. Labor cost is going up. It didn’t change for about 15 years, and finally, in the last five years, there was all this pressure to pay more to the craftsman. That’s been a big, big difference.

What is that like for you, someone who started off as a craftsman and now you are writing the paychecks because you can see both sides?
    I do. My employees are the most important things in the company. They are the company, as far as I am concerned.

Where did you get the name of your company from?
    Well, I was running out of time and I really wanted to incorporate. I finally came up with Oxford. It’s known around the world, it is easy to say, you can say it in almost any language, it starts with an O, has an X and an F. I wanted it to be Oxford Construction but someone else already had that name and they didn’t want to trade with me. They were builders, if you could imagine that.

What is the main service that you offer right now? You offer a lot of things, but what is your go-to?
    We are carpenters. We work with wood. Our niche is very, very small. We’re the least that our customers think about until it is our time. Whether that is doing roof blocking–we are the first ones on the building as soon as the deck gets tacked down. There’s no safety up there. We are all in harnesses and have lifelines. We put 2x materials on the steel angles around the tops of buildings. This is for the roofers to fasten to. We also do the same thing around windows, and that is also for the glazer to fasten to. In my niche, when I first started, no one was hanging doors. The reason I started this is because I was a project manager for a general contractor. At the end of my projects, I couldn’t find anyone to hang my doors. So, I said, “I can do that.” From there, I started my company. Little did I realize that no one knew how to hang a door. We’ve been training craftsmen ever since. We train at Oxford Builders.

What does that training process look like? Is it mostly out in the field?
    There’s a lot of that, but we also have in-house training and seminars. We teach blueprint reading in house, We teach construction math in house. Of course, we do safety. Most of my guys are 10 hours, at least. All of the foremen are have 30 hours of OSHA training. We also have a program in the field that takes four years to become a journeyman. You start off as an apprentice but we don’t officially call them that because of the federal government, but we call them alphas and you make a certain amount of money. Then you go on to beta, gamma then delta. That takes four years. Every six months, you are getting raises until you reach journeymen’s pay.

    How big of a thing is safety for you guys? When did you decide to go big into safety?
    Almost from the beginning, but I did have a couple of foremen talk to me and realized how important it is. Now, safety at Oxford Builders is very, very important. The worst thing you can tell me is that someone got hurt. We take safety very seriously.
    We have had one full day of safety seminars, where I pay for the space, the instructor and the whole company to be there. We have had one full day and one half day this year on safety. Safety is very important to me. We have weekly safety meeting where we go over safety. It’s not just a lecture; it’s a discussion. We go over topics and not only do we read the topic, we have antidotes about when similar things happened to us. Let’s say a holding a stake for someone while they use a sledgehammer. Stuff like that.

Do the guys embrace it?
    Yes, they do. I feel really lucky in that. I feel like we’re someone of safest guys on the job.

How many employees do you have working for you?
    Right now, about 60.

What else is unique about Oxford Builders?
    We do unusual projects. If a general contractor comes across something that is unusual, they give me a call. We have built treehouses and we’ve built a fort–a real fort with logs and that kind of thing. We’ve built towers and we’ve have built birdhouses. Anything that that is unusually, they give me call. We are also known for using a wood called Ipe. We build decks between office buildings on campuses. We do lots of that.

When did you discover you had this niche?
    It just happened because we train the carpenters and we train the workers so when a superintendent says, “Can you do that?” or “Can you build these stairs?” our answer is yes. That is how we started getting our reputation.

Where do you see yourself going in the future?
    I want to get my company in the best shape ever in the next two years and sell it to my employees so they keep it going. That’s very important to me that I accomplish that. It will give them something to work for.

You seem to very employee-friendly. Is that something from your background?
    Yes, I would say so. It is from my background and my personal feelings about other human beings.

Are you married, and do you have kids?
    I’ve been married for 46 years and I have a son that is an attorney.

Do they all live in Houston?
    Yes. He has his own law firm.
A lot of kids want to grow up and be lawyers and doctors. What is like to have one?
    I give the blame, or whatever you want to call it, to my wife. When my son was 11, he told her that he didn’t want to work like me because I worked all the time and brought work home and was always at work. He didn’t want to work like me. He wanted a nice car and a nice house. She said, “Oh, you need to be lawyer.” And it stuck.

I have been married for about three weeks. Do you have any advice for me?
    Compromise. Everything is a compromise. If you can’t compromise, you won’t stay married.

Do you have a project that you’re really proud of that you just finished?
    I just finished one before the Super Bowl. It’s called the Houston Marquis Marriot Hotel–the new convention center hotel. We installed 4,000 doors on that hotel and we got a lot of pats on the back from our customers.
   
What was the process like for you guys with it being such a big project and there being a pretty important deadline?
    There was a hard deadline, and it held most of our company there. There was like 25 people there to be able to do the job and get it done on time.

Oxford Builders Inc. was founded in 1996 and is specialty contractor in the construction industry.–cs


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Chris Schoonover chris@constructionnews.net