We work mainly on retail big box stores—all commercial concrete, slabs, and tilt-up throughout all the northwestern states. We bring in all our help and seldom hire local people.
I got into this business sort of by luck. I was a framer in eastern Idaho and my wife got a nursing job in Boise. The first guy I asked for a job was a concrete contractor. I started as a laborer; and did that for about five years, then became a foreman. My partner and I—we are 50% partners in the company—were both foremen for that company and we broke away to start our own business in 1990. We had $5000 and a 1967 GMC flatbed.
My partner, Ernie Corrigan, and I work really well together. Some say partnerships don't work, but this one has worked very well for 17 years. We trust each other with our lives and our families, and neither have ever tried to breach that trust. We balance each other. I work more on the business side and with customer relations; Ernie's amazing in the field in what he can achieve and how he can visualize how to make things work.
We just finished one of the largest high schools in Idaho. It has some tilt-up and some big cast-in-place walls—a lot of architectural concrete; over $3.5 million just in the concrete. The only problem with tilt-up at a school is that there are so many partition walls and penetrations that you don't have any clean slabs, so you have to place casting slabs, which raises the cost.
The big box customers are very demanding but they work with Structural Services Inc. (SSI), which is a very contractor-oriented consultant. Each job seems like the customer wants to take 10 days or 2 weeks off the schedule, but we can't build it in zero days. With SSI's help, we've been able to convince them that it simply takes a certain amount of time to do the job right.
Mostly we get Hispanic workers. Thank God they're here. It's a hard problem to identify, but most of those guys have new cars and nice homes, so they are putting money back into the American economy.
All of our foremen have been with us for eight years or more. We do many things to keep them happy. We went out a couple of weeks ago and bought a couple of beef cattle at the 4H auction at the fair and split it up between a few of the guys. I tried to tell them that now they didn't need to go hunting—but they didn't buy that.
We slow down in the winter but haven't ever completely stopped. It's more work when we have to bring in temporary heat and light but we tell our customers that we won't mark it up so much to where they can't afford to do the job because we have to keep our guys busy.
I have an 18-year-old son in college and two younger boys. My partner has two teenage boys. In the last couple of years, they've shown some interest in the business. I suspect that of the five boys, three of them will be interested in coming into the company so we're beginning to think about how to do that.
Our revenue will probably go up about 15% this year, but I think that's almost getting too big. I'd like to stay in the $13 million to $14 million range. There's only so much my partner and I can do ourselves, and right now we're struggling to keep our quality up. We want to get more productive and efficient, and develop our guys' management skills, and then we might be able to grow.
One thing I need now is someone in management who can speak Spanish. The biggest problem is safety. When we tell them something, we get the head nod but they don't really understand what we're telling them. We've had some little accidents—nothing real serious—but I don't think we're always getting the message across.
To succeed in this business, you have to be patient and not grow too fast. Be good to your guys and don't take a lot of money home. Keep your guys happy and that will pay off. Don't be afraid of debt but don't start out in debt.