DW: The first job I had was with my ex-father-in-law. I was about 16, and we did a little bit of everything. Then I moved and started doing commercial work through the union. Because interest rates were so high at that time, the work was unsteady. No one wanted to invest in big construction. I always had done side work and in 1989 decided to branch out on my own. I started out with a pickup, a 20-pound maul, a large railroad tie, a pick, a few 2x4s, and a couple of old shovels.
DW: I've never borrowed any money. I bought what I could afford and initially did a lot of the work by hand. People can still do this work without borrowing money. They often don't because there's so much physical labor involved. But if you borrow, then you have to do so much more work just to pay the interest. Now we own two dump trucks, four flatbeds with boxes and ladder racks, two pickups, two skid-steer loaders, four power buggies, two air compressors, five trailers, 10 concrete saws, three trowel machines, and a 2600-square-foot shop. It may not be much, but everything we have is paid for.
JW: I think one thing that sets us apart is the combination of Dave and me working together. I schedule and do the estimating, bookwork, and customer service. Dave works on every job, runs the crews, and maintains all of the equipment. It's a unique combination. I work about 65 hours a week, and Dave works about 100 hours a week, 40 weeks a year. We think it's good for people to know they can do this the way we have.
DW: Trying to find and keep good help has always been a challenge. We currently have one employee who had some experience, and we've trained the rest. There is so much work in our area now that if someone knows a little bit about construction and has a driver's license, it's easy to get a job. I've found that if people have any experience and they're not working, there's usually something wrong— they may not show up or may have bad habits or can't pass a drug test.
JW: We keep our workers by paying good wages and by providing health insurance and a retirement program. We match 3% of our employee's contributions to their retirement plan.
DW: I've worked in concrete for more than 40 years. During that time I've acquired a sense about when to walk away. I had one lady who thought if we sloped the concrete uphill, the water would run that way. Jobs like that I just won't take.
JW: At the beginning of the year we have a safety meeting and ask our workers to be sensible.
DW: I'm on every job. Most contractors hire foremen who may never actually see the job. That's where people can get into trouble. When I leave a job, I want to be as proud of it as if it were my own home.
DW: Occasionally we have trouble collecting money. It's a small portion though. We do about 400 jobs a year and maybe five don't want to pay. We most often have trouble collecting from the general contractor. Homeowners are usually fantastic about paying their bills.
JW: Three customers have taken us to court over a job. We've won the judgment every time. We prepare for these situations by giving people a letter with instructions about caring for the concrete, about the mix we use, how we pour, and a general outline of how we do our work. We also tell them verbally.
DW: There are so many people doing a little bit of everything. A lot of them see how well others are doing and think they can, too. Then they get out there and don't really know how to do the job. Book knowledge and practical experience are two different things. Anyone getting into this business should be prepared for a heck of a lot of work!