In February 2020, Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) celebrates its fifth anniversary as a practice. Like many small businesses, RJDCE emerged from very humble beginnings. In its short history, it has seen slow and mostly steady growth, evolving from a niche practice in a major metropolitan area to more of a general practice with specialty capabilities offered in several states. However, this evolution has taken some twists and turns, requiring the practice to be flexible to the needs of its clients and the markets it serves, to maintain a breadth and depth of capabilities and constantly learn and adjust.
After over a decade of professional experience Richard J. Driscoll, PE was looking to make a change. Having obtained, two interdisciplinary graduate degrees, working on the Central Artery/Tunnel program and transit projects in Boston, spending several years with a legacy foundation engineering firm in New York City and a couple of years with a national multi-discipline firm in Washington, DC, he found himself with a broad skill set, but a specialist in below-ground construction in the urban environment. Since few firms had room for such an unusual specialty, this was feeling like a dead end.
By early 2015 Richard was seriously considering starting a niche practice focusing on structural and foundation engineering for urban construction projects, as well as forensic and risk management services. Discussions with architecture/engineer/construction (A/E/C) industry contacts and a few project leads turned this into an exploratory process. In mid-February, the opportunity arose to become involved in the repair phase of a demolition-related claim, that had stalled for a couple of years, involving a 19th-century mercantile building in Manhattan. This resulted in Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer formally beginning operations and issuing its first proposal the next month.
It would take a while for that stalled project to start. In the meantime, RJDCE was asked to join a team pursuing a portion of New York City’s program to restore residential buildings damaged during Superstorm Sandy. This became RJDCE’s first revenue-generating project. Had this proceeded as originally imaged, it would have been a massive, multi-year project, requiring a fast scaling of capabilities. Fortunately, the nascent practice avoided committing resources to the project before they were necessary and survived when the expected volume of work failed to develop. The project did, however, leave RJDCE with residential structural design capabilities that would be useful later.
Notwithstanding the early New York City projects, RJDCE was headquartered in Washington and offering services in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, New York and New Hampshire. Early business development efforts focused on local contacts and networking at industry and professional society events in the DC metro area. By the end of the year, Richard’s home in New Hampshire became a satellite location. Richard’s website was converted from a resume page to a professional website. Richard started blogging on LinkedIn Pulse. By the end of the year, RJDCE had a Facebook page and produced occasional newsletters.
In 2016, as inquiries began to come in from new prospective clients, RJDCE continued to work to develop business, working with the local small business development center and SCORE chapter. This led to some early efforts at strategic planning in March and April and the creation of practice’s LinkedIn and Twitter accounts in April and May, respectively. This was followed by the creation of marketing collateral, beginning with a capabilities statement in July, which supported an outreach initiative to the Washington, DC and New York City construction communities. In addition, RJDCE became licensed to offer services in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Throughout the year RJDCE’s work was dominated by ongoing projects from 2015. New projects were started in the spring and fall, including a rock anchor delegated design, consulting for an underground sewage vault, a differing site claim for a transportation project and a residential alteration. RJDCE’s client base included owners, design professionals and contractors. While the practice secured its first DC-area and New England clients, all but one of its projects were still in New York.
2017 began largely as a continuation of 2016, but it proved to be a disruptive year to both positive and negative ends. In June, Richard Driscoll moved home to New Hampshire. This resulted in RJDCE’s Lebanon, NH satellite location becoming its headquarters and the opening of a short-lived Washington, DC satellite location. Unsurprisingly, inquiries, requests for proposals and networking opportunities slowed after the move. New business development strategies were needed and RJDCE began to work with the New Hampshire small business development center. This prompted an expansion of RJDCE’s website. The expansion included over twenty new pages describing the practice’s services and making them easier to find for prospective clients. In addition, the website began to host a blog. RJDCE’s newsletter also evolved and began to take on its current form.
The relocation and the completion of projects from prior years resulted in 2017 being less successful than 2016. However, contractor services remained a strong sector. In addition, RJDCE was engaged through a research firm to assist with market research projects for construction product manufacturers. While 2017 was a disappointment, the market research and marketing efforts that were undertaken that year set the stage for better times ahead.
One conclusion from the 2017 market research was the need to better serve the local A/E/C community in New Hampshire and Vermont. However, RJDCE’s urban construction and foundation/geostructural specialty services were less applicable to the smaller cities and generally favorable subsurface conditions in the region. This issue was especially conspicuous in the Upper Valley where the portfolios of many local firms are dominated by residential and small commercial projects. In January, RJDCE began to roll out a rebranding and marketing campaign for residential services. This effort included the development of a website and social media profiles for the residential practice, now called RJD Residential.
The greater emphasis on residential services allowed RJDCE to offer something to local firms who might rarely need its specialty services. This strengthened the practice’s value proposition when it came time to reach out to local architects, engineers and contractors. In addition to direct outreach efforts, in the fall, RJDCE prioritized attendance of professional society events in New Hampshire and Vermont and established Instagram accounts for RJDCE and RJD Residential.
With months, of formally launching RJD Residential, RJDCE had met with several local architects and booked both residential and small non-residential structural design projects. This led to the practice’s most successful year to date. The new projects in 2018 were also the most diverse yet, including abutter services, custom homes, rock anchor installations, excavation support, underpinning, a pre-purchase assessment and structural design for an architectural system.
RJDCE followed a record year in 2018 with another record year in 2019. The number of new projects more than doubled compared to prior year, resulting in healthy growth in billing and revenue. Most of this growth occurred in RJDCE’s forensic engineering practice area and included residential and non-residential condition assessments and distress investigations, construction damage claims and the practice’s first expert witness engagements. Even a couple of the design projects started in 2019 either precipitated from forensic investigations or required incidental forensic services.
In 2018, RJDCE coined the term “Site-Structural Engineering” to describe many of its core engineering and risk management services for construction in the urban environment. To help improve the state of urban construction practice, in April, RJDCE published an online industry outreach project to inform project stakeholders about the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where” and “why” of Site-Structural Engineering.
In July, RJDCE launched a modernized website, featuring a new look and improved navigation. In addition, the content of the website was reorganized and expanded with several new pages reflecting RJDCE’s current capabilities, services, clients and projects. This was the first major upgrade to the website since it was first launched and built out.
2020 and Into the Future
This year is off to a strong start already, suggesting that 2020 could be another record-setting year. RJDCE hopes to continue to serve the needs of design professionals, contractors and other stakeholders in New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic with specialty foundation, geostructural and construction engineering, forensic services and risk management for construction in the urban environment, as well as small-project structural engineering.
RJDCE thanks its clients, collaborators and friends for their support over the last five years and is looking forward to its next five years in business.