How do you sum up a company that does just about everything under the sun?
That’s the problem executives at Multi-Craft Contractors in Springdale have been trying to solve for a while. It’s just a question of branding because, otherwise, things are going great at MCC.
“We’ve been saying for a year or two that we need to define that with some sort of video or flash drive or something,” Rick Barrows, president and majority owner, said about MCC’s portfolio of services. “When we tell people what all we do, when I get to about the sixth one I’m thinking people are thinking, ‘C’mon man, you don’t do all of that; maybe you do a little bit of that.’ We actually do quite a bit.”
Those services include installation and service for HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems and fabrication and millwork for industrial clients such as Tyson Foods, powerhouse builders like CDI Contractors and Nabholz Construction Corp. and area hospitals and school districts. In recent years, MCC has created and expanded its robotics division to adapt to the growing influence of automation in industrial design and operations.
The flexibility and diversity of its work portfolio have served MCC well: It reported revenue of $120 million in 2016, a more than 27 percent increase from the $94 million it generated in 2015.
Multi-Craft Contractors has a workforce of more than 700 technicians and office personnel, with a majority of the employees working out of the Springdale headquarters. MCC employs approximately 200 at its Springfield, Missouri, location.
“We’ve hired more people, and business in the northwest Arkansas region has just exploded,” said COO Scott Barrows, Rick’s oldest son. “I think it’s a benefit of being in the right place at the right time and having great people.”
Rick Barrows said one of the keys to MCC’s growth is taking advantage of opportunities that one job typically provides. For example, providing good plumbing installation at a major work site leads to MCC getting offers to do crane work or HVAC installation on another. The strength and depth of companies in northwest Arkansas is another advantage for MCC, because its roster of clients includes some powerful economic drivers that use MCC for Arkansas projects as well as nationally.
“Most of our work that is out of the area is generated by companies in the area,” Scott Barrows said.
MCC has even done projects outside the United States, in Brazil and Brunei.
“Each opportunity creates another opportunity,” Rick Barrows said. “We’re trying to be a little more strategic with the way we deploy our resources. Sometimes that is hard to do because one opportunity does bring another. We have more opportunities than we can pursue, so we try to pick the ones that fit our skill set the best.”
That was how MCC began to increase its work in robotics. MCC was already heavily involved in designing, testing and installing the machinery for companies’ manufacturing processes; adding the extra level of automation was a logical extension of what MCC was already doing.
Now MCC has a staff of about 12 engineers in its automation and robotics division.
“In a changing world, robotics and automation is a prime example of how we take what we were already doing in the way of setting equipment and facilitating equipment use,” Rick Barrows said. “If an industry is putting in a bunch of equipment, you have to have devices to connect the equipment. There is a great deal of fabrication that is very creative work. There is a lot of art involved in visualizing and building something that will make the machinery operate seamlessly.”
Barrows didn’t want to share specific details for print but one recent MCC project entailed a heavy reliance on robotics to complete an intricate manufacturing process. MCC engineers designed the process, built the components, tested the process and then installed the system at the client’s facility.
“We can take a project that one of our clients has and conceptualize it, 3D-model it and then build all the components that are required,” Rick Barrows said.
Scott Barrows recently visited Chicago for a robotics conference.
“There’s always going to be a need for infrastructure work, plumbing work, electrical work, mechanical work,” Scott Barrows said. “There seems to be a trend toward robotics and automation, and that is an avenue where we have a lot of people in place to capture the market. You are always trying to stay on top of the industry and look at what is coming down the pipe to make the quality of work better, safer, more efficient.”
Past, Present and Future
Rick Barrows, 68, joined MCC in 1968, when it was called ABC Plumbing. He had just one year of college but knew how to work hard and how to learn, so his bosses put him through an apprenticeship to learn plumbing and pipe fitting.
After earning his journeyman license — “Nobody can ever take that away,” Barrows said — he soon realized he had a knack for the business side of the job as well. In 1983 he bought into the company and became majority owner in 1989.
Barrows believed in simple fundamentals of life: work hard, treat people well and be honest. It has paid off beyond his wildest expectations.
“Did I have this vision? No, not at all,” Barrows said. “I’m still a little bit amazed by it. I remember in 1986, I flew to Connecticut to talk to Union Carbide about installing some equipment in their Rogers facility. I was amazed that I would ever fly to see a customer. I’m still somewhat amazed.”
Scott doesn’t believe his father will ever truly retire, even though Rick Barrows is a golf fanatic. There is a transition in place for Rick to scale back on his duties and ownership share in favor of Scott, 49, and CFO Hex Bisbee.
Rick Barrows joked that he didn’t want to commit to any kind of retirement plan for fear his wife might read it and hold him to it.
Scott Barrows has worked at MCC for more than 30 years, and Bisbee has been CFO for more than a decade.
“I have an appreciation for what we do and our people,” Scott Barrows said. “We try to treat people correctly and treat them like family and, in return, they do the same. All the ownership consider the people we work with every day our family. It’s very important to me. At this point, it’s who I am.”