Franchise Spotlight: Criterium-Dotson Engineers

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NEW: Introducing our series of articles where we spotlight one of our franchisees

After a career in the architectural and engineering (A&E) field,
David Dotson, P.E., R.S., C.B.I.E., in June 2000 he began his engineering business with Criterium Engineers based in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex region. A year later, his wife Sara left her career as a travel agent and joined him to run the operational side of the business. David joked that many people are wary of working alongside their spouses in a business, but noted in their case, “We work great as a team—and that is largely a credit to Sara!” Since that time, they’ve brought on additional team members. Last year, the Criterium-Dotson Engineers team was named 2022 Office of the Year at last year’s Criterium conference for all franchises (see photo).

How did you integrate your own engineering expertise into your business?

Early on in my career I did the design and specifications on the A&E sides of the business. Because of my background, our office does more design than some of the other Criterium offices. It could be a foundation for a new building, structural design for new building, or in some cases we do turnkey architectural and structural drawings.

Share something unique about your office…

My degree and background are in architectural engineering, specializing in structural engineering. As I noted, before joining Criterium, I worked in the A&E field, where I produced construction documents and specifications. Today, my business works with homeowner and community associations to do reserve studies. But because of the relationships we’ve built with association property managers, we also provide many other services for them: structural work, forensics, repair plans, and different types of evaluations. Much of the work is performing repair plans and specifications—for everything from very specific situations to entire property rehab projects. We’re drawing everything from street drainage to building facades to retaining walls and much more.

We do have a unique niche that has grown in the past few years: perimeter screen wall assessments and repair plans. The screen walls are basically a brick fence. They are popular in this region, but often cheaply built. They don’t last long-term and are a large asset that homeowner associations often need to address. We literally assess them one panel at a time.

How does the Criterium headquarters support your franchise?

In the early stages, headquarters provided a lot of support in helping me develop various markets, that otherwise I would have had no idea about. For example, most of us—before joining Criterium—never heard of a reserve study, unless you happen to sit on the board of a homeowner association (HOA) where you might live.

Also early on, like many of the other franchises, I performed home inspections and relocation work to get our cash flow going. Over the years, our business evolved, and now we focus on the HOA work and commercial building inspections, which I really enjoy doing.

Today, we benefit from the tools and technology support that Criterium Engineers headquarters has invested in and developed. I was involved in testing software applications for them. The tools and tech have been very beneficial for us.

It’s very helpful to have someone to turn to when a potential risk management situation comes up. For example, headquarters is there to support you if you want to have a contract that needs reviewed. Criterium also has a risk management and insurance program that helps us secure errors and omissions (E&O) insurance coverage, which is essential to operating and protecting your business in this industry.

One other key reason we benefit from being in a franchise is the collaboration among the offices who have already been through the pains of getting started. The more collaboration you can have, the better. There’s such a broad range of expertise, and the engineers have many different backgrounds and experiences that you can draw upon.

What’s the next aspiration you have for your business?

For one, I’m looking towards the tail end of my career and starting to look at succession planning options, how we might go about that, what it might look like. In the next 5 years, I see myself in more of a part time role as I transition to make the business less dependent on me.

We’ll continue to work with the community association market and with structural warranty companies. We’re developing work performing forensic evaluations for years 3-10 post-build, a requirement specific to Texas.

In the future, we plan to develop the Property Condition Assessment and Environmental Site Assessment markets. We have not marketed to these markets locally, and I want to focus on this opportunity to grow the business.

Fun question: Where was your last vacation?

Our last vacation was both work and play in Barcelona, Spain in February. I serve on the board of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and our conference was held there. Sara and I went ahead of time and spent six days touring the area. Barcelona is a beautiful city, and there is a lot to do and see there. I have to say, it was not on my “list,” but now that I’ve been there, I highly recommend it!