I got into this business in 1979 when I went to work for a contractor and I ran his pumping business for about five years. I decided to start my own company with my brother and we built it from there. My brother has retired but I have two sons who are working in the business now and many other professionals who have been around for a long time. So it's like a big family and it's great to be able to share our success with the people who are really responsible.
One of our mottos is to “exceed the expected”—not just meet what the GC or owner expected but exceed their expectations and go a step further to differentiate ourselves. That typically costs a little more money and takes more skill, which we like to think we have. We've spent a very small amount of money on marketing through the years—significantly less than our competitors—simply because folks come back to us because of the extra effort we put into our work. So we consider that our business development piece.
We've been pretty stubborn about not taking a job without the materials. Some have questioned that strategy at times when the economy was slow, but this way we can take full responsibility for the work. If something goes wrong, we have control of the product and we don't have to work through a third party to address a delivery or quality problem.
One of the legacy programs that we have in the company is our project management training program that we started about 15 years ago for civil engineering or building construction management graduates. We bring them in and expose them to two and a half years of rigorous field work, including trades work, putting on a belt, and going to work to learn how its done for the first year. It tests their mettle to see if they are willing to invest the time. After two and a half years, they are pretty well prepared to go out and start managing projects. It builds a lot of commitment in them and before they get promoted to the project manager level, we usually find out whether the candidate is well suited to the job.
What make s a contractor successful? Aside from understanding the business side, cash flow and working capital, I believe a lot of it is the commitment that the business owner has to his key employees who make the business prosper or not. Giving them more than just the credit but giving them the support they need to grow and be able to continue to achieve their own goals.
We embarked on strategic planning in a less formal way about six years ago and got more formal about it a little over two years ago. We have spelled out four major priorities. First, is performance excellence, working on quality and productivity so that we can remain cost competitive while still deliver the “exceeding expectations” quality. Second is personnel; we have to enhance our craftsman skills and attract and retain a good employee base. Third, is the organizational structure, trying to grow beyond the small family owned organization we've been to a more appropriate business structure for a company the size we are optimistic we will become. And fourth is the business development piece; developing a more reliable and supportive stream of work that fits within our guidelines. This is all intended to help us grow somewhere around 12% to 15% year over year.
We struggle with safety at times and have a good director who's making some headway. Overall our safety record is about average and that isn't exceeding our expectations or those of our employees and we've got to do better.
I encourage other contractors to pursue an in-house training program like we've done. It allows us to flex our classes for the given situation. For example if there is bad weather expected we can ramp up or we can send an instructor to a jobsite if there's trouble. You can't get that kind of flexibility from any instructional institution. But at the same time it's still very structured, we're a certified apprentice site with the North Carolina Department of Labor. We deliver certified apprentices and have graduated 32 journeyman and six master craftsmen. It took a lot of work to develop the programs and even more to deliver it but it's critical to our success.