Shelley Armato is the first to admit she’s a bold woman. As a wife, mother, entrepreneur and the CEO of MySmartPlans — a construction software service that is challenging the status-quo and changing the way construction sites are managed — it’s to be expected.
The project dashboard service allows everyone involved with a construction project instant access to the most current information, and shares construction documents with the team digitally. The company’s manifesto is simply to “get out of construction management hell.”
Armato’s company was recently named the Kansas Women-Owned Business of the Year in the construction firm category by the Kansas Department of Commerce, Office of Minority and Women Business Development.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 9.1 percent of the construction industry’s workforce. “Minority and women-owned businesses make a significant contribution to the Kansas economy,” said Nick Jordan, interim secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce. “Seven percent of women and 5 percent of minorities describe themselves as self-employed, which, when taken together, equals a substantial portion of our local-owned businesses and employers.”
In 2016, WalletHub ranked Kansas City No. 7 for best US metropolitan area for women to own a business.
Founded in 2006 with $15,000, MySmartPlans now manages over $10 billion in project assets in 39 states. Armato credits her company’s growth to offering a necessary service, the team’s marketing efforts and experience in the construction industry. Before starting the company, Armato worked in real estate and owned a mortgage company and a mortgage school. Her husband Dominick Armato, vice president, worked in construction as a commercial paint contractor for almost 40 years.
Armato likes to tell the story of how she and her husband would enjoy a breakfast at a restaurant near one of Dominick’s job sites every Saturday morning. After the meal, they’d swing by the job trailer to check on the project. Every week she’d see the same thing: women cutting and pasting changes into updated project documents. “So my question was ‘How does everyone know that they have the same documents if they’re just bringing them to you?’ He said, ‘That’s just the way it’s always been.’ ”
That wasn’t enough of a reason for Armato. In 2006 she opened a reprographics blueprint company, Marathon Digital Services, with $15,000 and ran it out of her garage. Armato says it didn’t take long to realize that the chain of communication was broken on many construction projects, and building plans could be managed in a smarter way.
Together, she and Dominick started putting the puzzle pieces together and asking themselves how the process could be streamlined, and documents simplified to make communications more efficient. The answer came while working on the company’s first project, at Liberty Hospital in Kansas City. The architect mentioned how the hospital consolidates patient information and wondered why the construction industry didn’t do the same. Within the next year, Armato hired two software designers and MySmartPlans was created.
‘A Man’s Market’
Some of the projects the company has worked on include Catholic Health Initiatives St. Mary’s Community Hospital in Nebraska City, the Kansas City Police Department’s East Patrol Campus and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s National Security Campus in Kansas City, Missouri.
Armato says the company is only just scratching the surface of what it can do in the construction world. While there are other companies who offer similar services, Armato says she’s confident her company’s approach to working with clients will result in more opportunities and growth. She says being a woman in construction, a traditionally male-led industry, has “refined” how she leads her company and interacts with other businesses.
“I was thrust into a man’s market,” Armato says. “I mean, very few women are in the construction space. The refining that’s happened to me in going into this world and saying, ‘I kind of know you guys don’t do it right,’— they don’t want a woman to come in and tell them they’re not right. So, I’ve had to redefine myself and not go quite so boldly.”
Armato has amassed a significant collection of honors over the last several years, including a KC Magazine Influential Woman Award in 2015 and a 2014 Rule Breaker Award, among others. She’s also built a community of other bold women in Kansas City called the Courage Coalition.
“There are a lot of uncomfortable decisions you have to make as a business owner, but you have to make them boldly. You just keep stepping and growing,” Armato says.