How SG Blocks Set Out to Disrupt the Construction Industry

SG Blocks was founded in 2007, but the concept for the company was evolving from years earlier. Inspiration and opportunity can present itself at any point in your career and it is important to embrace it.

For over 25 years, I was the Executive Director and Co-Founder of a nonprofit that focused on public health, housing and child survival. A major obstacle in bringing housing and services to the poor is the slow and expensive rate of traditional site-built construction. It was a goal to identify and locate alternative building systems that would eliminate the waste and excessive delays caused by existing construction methods. Too often, projects revolve around the needs of a general contractor, which is not in its best interest. It is also a well-known fact that traditional stick-built construction is environmentally unacceptable to many and that alternative solutions are required if we are going to be serious about climate change.

David Cross and Stevan Armstrong provided me the proof of concept that I needed to get involved, which was an architecturally appropriate single-family house constructed out of shipping containers in Charleston, SC.

The significance of the solution was not lost on any of us and we quickly moved to start the journey to create the leading innovator and designer of container-based structures.

We founded the company during a very difficult economic time for our country. The market crashed in 2008 leading to a lot of financial issues and volatility. During this time, there was not much credit available – capital markets were very tight and our clients could not access the capital that they needed, which was an impediment to growing our business.

We survived our early years through perseverance, belief in our product and ourselves. From the start, we knew we had to rely on one another and remain dedicated until our product was successfully integrated into the economy. We sought and received advice from architects, engineers, planners, developers, lenders, investors and other stakeholders in the development process. This helped us immensely to tailor our product and messaging.

As SG Blocks started to gradually grow, we experienced some resistance to our building system in the marketplace. Traditional builders and architects became very protective of their usual processes. We were basically asking them to look at construction and their businesses completely differently. At the beginning, not everybody had the imagination to understand or explore this method of building. Just because we were sold on our building system, we came to realize it was not as easy to convince the marketplace. This is where our team had to focus on educating people to the benefits of a container-based system. We created presentations, brochures and client testimonials. Soon, we realized that the more value we were able to deliver for our clients and have them become our advocates, the more others were interested in our method of construction.

As an entrepreneur, you need to offer something of significance to your end-consumer that distinguishes you from the others in the industry. This solution may be less expensive, faster to market, more durable, more sustainable or economically advantageous. The SG Blocks building system offers many of the above to our clients. Our product reduces construction risk, is very sustainable and empowers people, companies and entrepreneurs to pursue their goals in a very efficient and responsible way.

Over the years, as we assessed client needs, we have developed four product lines – QSR/retail, multi-story mixed-use, military and equipment enclosure modules – which all start with GreenSteel, the structural core and shell of an SG Blocks building. Our clients have become substantial and are among the most recognized names in the country. We have worked with Lacoste, Puma, Mini Cooper, Aman, Taco Bell, Marriott, Starbucks, Equinox and several branches of the military, among other organizations and corporations.

As we hit challenges along the way, we were able to overcome because of our mutual commitment to one another and a shared will to succeed. There is nothing more exciting and dangerous than being an entrepreneur where success and failure is quite public. On our best days, we feel like captains of the industry, but for the majority of days, we struggle to find a path for success. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is the only way to succeed. Having humility to learn the lessons encountered along the way is as important.