Contractor of the Year: John W. Danforth Co.

TONAWANDA, N.Y.—Being in business for 137 years, John W. Danforth Company is no stranger to dealing with change. Like many other companies, the past 10 months have provided Danforth historical challenges related to health and safety, communication and working under unprecedented conditions.

“Our first priority was protecting the health and safety of our employees, partners and customers. We have followed the recommendation and requirements of state and CDC guidelines for the safety of our employees. We have also taken the necessary precautions company-wide to provide a healthy and safe work environment, provided additional training and access to all necessary PPE gear, education on COVID protocols and strictly enforced adherence to all protocols by our office and field staff,” says Patrick W. McParlane, president and COO, John W. Danforth Company.

The labor/management relationship has always been paramount at Danforth and the company has worked closely with its union partners to ensure a safe work environment while still meeting the needs of our business and clients. “Operationally, we embraced the importance of providing communication and guidance to every area of our company. In order to navigate these challenges, we needed to adapt to the greater use of technologies. Virtual communication is becoming the norm for our employees in the office and out in the field. Remote work and meetings have become more relevant in our daily operations,” says McParlane.

Stainless steel piping ready to ship to the work site.John W. Danforth Co.

These include, but are not limited to team updates, client meetings, project kickoffs, bid meetings and project de-scoping. Having the right tools in place has made the transition to remote work for office personnel very productive.

Yet, as we flip the calendar to 2021, Danforth is optimistic for the journey that lies ahead. These past 10 months have provided Danforth many lessons, and the company is taking that knowledge and being proactive as it sets the course for the future. “Several markets we serve actually accelerated their needs during the onset of the pandemic, both in construction and service. This is allowing us to start 2021 with strong backlog of work. Many of the other vertical markets we serve that needed to pause during 2020 are now showing signs of coming back. 

“We have noticed in many cases our clients have adjusted to the new normal with a clearer understanding of their financial situation and business needs. We believe there is a lot of pent-up demand for construction and service due to the pause that was taken and we will all start to see the results of this in the 2nd quarter of 2021,” says McParlane.

Virtual Design & Construction Services Accentuated

Danforth is always looking for continuous improvement and its Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Services was no different with the COVID pandemic. “The current situation has strengthened our resolve knowing that the more we utilize our VDC services, the more we can increase utilization of our shop fabrication production,” says McParlane. “This allows our workforce to be more productive and at the same time perform in a safer and controlled environment.”

Danforth’s VDC process has evolved over the last 30 years with the continuous improvements in software and technology. Over that time, workflows and processes have changed, and newer technology gives the contractor the ability to create fully coordinated 3D models in a much more efficient manner than in years past. “We utilize software which allows us to very quickly check for clashes with other trades or architectural and structural elements. Once we have a coordinated model, we can focus on the VDC deliverables. Upon the completion and sign off of the coordination documents, we fully implement our preconstruction procedures to maximize shop pre-fabrication and field installation,” says McParlane.

Danforth utilizes state-of-the-art software programs that give them the ability to streamline processes and workflows. This is managed through its VDC and shop departments, and allows them to get material to the field in an expedited manner. “We all know project schedules have become much tighter over the years. Our process gives us the added advantage of getting on the jobsite sooner and claiming our space for pipe and duct installation prior to the disruption of other trades,” says McParlane.

Work done by the John W. Danforth Co. at the University of Rochester Sloan Performing Arts Center.Work done by the John W. Danforth Co. at the University of Rochester Sloan Performing Arts Center.John W. Danforth Co.

Commitment to the Trade

One thing is clear at Danforth: the company’s commitment to the trades is unwavering. The importance of getting youth involved with understanding and learning about trades can be seen through the important growth of STEM and STEAM curriculums throughout many school districts. Danforth has long been an advocate of educating youth about the trades and showing firsthand what a career in mechanical contracting could look like. “It is also important to showcase the path of going to college is not the only option for the youth of this nation. Our union halls are looking for the next generation of talent to come into the business and we are proud to support this mission,” says McParlane.

Danforth also is committed to and understands the importance of having a diverse work force and ensuring it is ingrained into its culture. “We have taken particular strides to engage women in the skilled trades. Our team has a number of women colleagues in office, field and in leadership positions. We encourage the women of Danforth to be involved in groups and organizations that will provide opportunities to learn, grow, network, develop and advance their careers in the mechanical contracting industry,” says McParlane.

Dedicated to Community

We view the community as two distinct subsets,” says McParlane. “One is the construction community and the second is the communities in which we live and work.”

For the construction community, Danforth encourages active participation by its employees in the various organizations that support the industry. “We sit on many of the boards for the various unions that we work with. We are active various trade groups such as MCAA, ASHRAE, AEE, NAWIC, MBE/WBE mentorships, MCAA Women in the Mechanical Industry (WiMi), all the school associations, ASHE, BOMA, SMACNA and PMCA, and others,” says McParlane.

Another example of support, Danforth created the Reilly Memorial Scholarship fund. “Each year at the MCAA annual conference, we present a scholarship to aspiring student studying in the area and discipline of mechanical contracting,” says McParlane.

The Buffalo Salvation Army Toy Drive.The Buffalo Salvation Army Toy Drive.John W. Danforth Co.

And the second part of that community involvement, Danforth is a proud supporter of the communities in which its employees live and work. “Community engagement is more than a business strategy; it is foundational to who we are as a company and as individuals. Strong communities create strong businesses and vice versa. We support numerous charitable organizations in all of our six geographic office locations and invest in the communities we serve through various charitable and civic activities,” says McParlane.

In the end, it’s the employees that steer the ship. A 100% employee-owned company, and an Employee Stock Ownership Plan organization, “we all have skin in the game,” says McParlane This has helped create a culture of extreme ownership, collaboration, resiliency and adaptability, and one of Danforth’s key business strategies is to “hire, train, reward, and retain the best in the industry.” Danforth’s employees strive daily to build meaningful relationships with each other, their customers and their community. “Processes and procedures are irrelevant without the proper team to execute. Our people are Danforth’s greatest asset and the reason for our success,” says McParlane.

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