The most important thing is our people. We don't believe in all the yelling and the big stick. We believe in teamwork. It's amazing what can happen when you give people a little bit of training and some responsibility and treat them with respect. We treat our employees better than our customers because if they are happy, they will treat the customer right.
My father was a heavy equipment operator in Albuquerque who got laid off 17 years ago. With his life savings he bought a dump truck and a backhoe. He ended up laying all of the utilities for new subdivisions until we basically cornered the market. There was nowhere left to expand the business. We looked around and saw a void in residential and light commercial concrete so we started a concrete company 2½ years ago. We started with the concrete work for one subdivision and are rapidly winning all the subdivision work in Albuquerque.
The first year we did $1.8 million; last year we did about $3.3 million; this year we expect to be at about $7.5 million. This kind of growth is tough to control, but we pride ourselves on keeping in control of the details.
Finding good people hasn't been too hard because we put out of business quite a few of the people who think “this is the way I've done it for 20 years.” The litigation that is coming our way from California and Arizona makes the builders know that they don't want a foundation that settles or cracks. And because of that, a lot of these small guys are calling it quits. That lets us cherry-pick the good workers.
I was a military pilot and ended up flying for Northwest Airlines out of Minneapolis. Then, my father and brother wooed me back home to start this concrete business. It wasn't hard, though, I love being home.
Quality and customer service are the two main reasons for our growth and success. We have an inspector who reports directly to me; he's separate from the operations director. He's like my policeman. Before the pour, he checks to make sure the foundation is square and plumb, and that the options are correct. With concrete, you get one chance. When I started here, our callback rate was one in five houses; now it's one in 21 houses.
We are changing the paradigm here. Most of the homebuilders' superintendents have dealt with nothing but poor contractors, and the only way they could get what they needed was the big stick. We feel the pain from that. It has been a battle and a half to convince them that we really care about what we do.
We've been educating our customers to use faxes and e-mails—to communicate in writing rather than on the phone. That helps us track things better. When we get a fax or e-mail, it goes to our customer service rep, and his job is to log them into the Tasks section of Outlook. We all share Outlook, so if the task turns red, if it is past the 72-hour limit, we all know it.
In three years we want to be at $10 million and at $20 million in five years. I think we'll beat that. Our mix is planned to be 75% residential and 25% light commercial. We want to get into tilt up and structural work, but we have to walk before we run. We rest our laurels on our quality and customer service, so if we bite off more than we can chew, our reputation is at stake.
From my background as a pilot, I believe in checklists. We have what we call our checklist for success. For every decision we make, and this goes down even to the crew leaders in the field, we think about five things. No. 1 is people—that's our employees. No. 2 is quality. No. 3 is customer service. No. 4 is safety. No. 5 is innovation. It sounds kind of corny, but I think it works. Those are our cornerstone.
Marty Chavez (Kevin's father): If people ask how we can afford to produce this kind of quality, I say we can't afford not to. What we've been able to do is to relieve customers of 30% of their headaches. And all that comes from being ethical and having integrity in the way we work with our customers and our employees.