Editorial: 06.17.2020

Rich Mueller Has Mastered the Art and Science of Estimating

rich mueller with quote about providing solutions to clients in civil construction

As the chief estimator and a licensed master drainlayer at Castle, Rich Mueller leads a specialized four-person team. Beyond building detailed cost estimates and comprehensive proposals, the group focuses on partnering with clients to bring forth the best building approaches to maximize project success.

Earthwork and site utility projects have been Mueller’s focus for more than two decades, but construction wasn’t even on his radar until a Saint Louis University classmate tipped him off on a job opening at a new construction company his dad and brother were starting.

“It was just going to be a bridge opportunity until I found a marketing job in another field — and 22 plus years later, I'm still in construction,” he says.

During his decade-long tenure at J. W. Bommarito Construction, Mueller served as a project manager, estimator, secretary/treasurer and minority owner of the firm.

Seeking to expand his skill set and opportunities, Mueller signed on with Castle as an estimator and project manager in 2007. At the time, the company didn’t have a separate estimating group, so the same individuals who bid projects also ran them. “It was an ‘eat-what-you-kill’ model until 2015 when we separated estimating and operations as a way to normalize our workflow and stabilize revenue, which then allowed us to focus on growing the business,” he says.

This shift also helped Castle keep pace with the accelerating pace of projects. “Twenty years ago, you may have had four weeks to turn around an estimate, but nowadays we're seeing some bids turn around in a week,” Mueller says. “Everything is operating at hyperspeed.”

On a typical week, Castle’s estimating team takes on about three new project estimates and reworks a couple of previous estimates to factor in additional pricing, qualifications or scoping. “I like to call it the boomerang effect — we send estimates out into the world and then they come back around because of revisions and other factors,” he says.

Castle’s hands-on expertise and track record often give the company a competitive edge, according to Mueller. “Our team not only has estimating knowledge, but we also have the field knowledge to understand constructability, and that's key in identifying problems upfront,” he says. “If you understand how the work is built, you can quickly identify potential design issues. And if you can provide clients with alternate solutions before the project gets down the road, you're delivering real value to them.”

Mueller’s colleagues consult with him on everything from strategies for pursuing specific projects to asking for practical advice on how to build a job. “My schedule looks like a Christmas tree of colors, and there's not a lot of downtime between meetings,” he says.

Since transitioning to a work-from-home schedule during the COVID-19 crisis, Mueller and his estimating colleagues have been busier than ever. “Fifteen minutes from the time I wake up, I'm on the computer,” he says. “I go down into my basement — where it’s bright and 71 degrees every day — and before I know it, it’s 5:30 or six o'clock.”

Though he’s enjoying the productivity gains that have resulted from eliminating his daily commute and travel to in-person meetings, he misses the camaraderie of working alongside his teammates. “We've been a group for some time now and everybody gets along really well,” he says. “It’s just a good group of folks who give 150 percent to what they're doing.”

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