My partner is my cousin, PJ. He and I started in this business about 1984—I was 12 years old. My father had a commercial concrete company, and we worked for him throughout high school and college on vacations and breaks. We learned the hard way but the right way. In the early 1990s my father decided to downsize, since his business was slow. That was about the same time PJ and I were coming home from college. So we made the decision in 1994 to start our own concrete construction company.
At first, we were in the residential market. We'd never done residential work, but we didn't have enough money to start a commercial company, and we didn't really want to borrow—my dad always told me never to ask anybody for anything you can't give back to them at the end of the day. We did residential work until we had enough capital and confidence to break back into the commercial/industrial market. We are now the biggest nonunion concrete contractor in New England.
Contrary to popular belief, I say, “Don't specialize—diversify. Be excellent in as many different areas as you can.” I think people specialize themselves out of work. You need to be able to move into other areas—into midrise or into paving or into foundations—as the opportunity arises.
Things have gone pretty well with our business, so we were looking for something new, something that was an easy fit, and for us that was walls. I always say you don't have to be the smartest guy in the room; you just have to hire the smartest guy. We didn't know anything about walls so we went out and hired someone who did. He is helping us build that part of our business.
We started a company called Cutting Edge Concrete Equipment, which is a Soff-Cut dealer, and we also sell hand tools and power tools. We started this company when we convinced some other contractors to buy Soff-Cut saws. They ended up coming to us when they needed blades, and we would sell them some from our own stock. I mentioned this to the Soff-Cut guys at the World of Concrete one year and they decided to made us into a dealer.
We bought our first pump in 1996 and since then we've bought five more. We made the decision to buy when the rental slips became more than the payment on a new pump. It's not so difficult—just common sense. But common sense is not so common sometimes. I always say that business is basic stuff. If you convolute it, you just confuse yourself.
Because we are growing, I concentrate on maintaining the same level of excellence in our work and our reputation. When there were only 20 guys, PJ and I had our fingers on the pulse, but now it's much harder. We want to make sure our people are representing us well—and they have so far. But we don't want to hear that Lampasona was good when it was smaller, but now that it's grown it is missing the details.
In March, we are hosting a seminar on designing cost-effective slabs on ground. Jerry Holland is going to be the featured speaker. We are always trying to help people do things the right way. Sometimes it might benefit our competitors, but I don't worry about that. I want those guys to be better contractors, which benefits us in the end. A contractor who is cutting corners runs the price down, and he may go out of business, but in the meantime he has run the number down and then it takes three years to get the number back up.
One of my biggest concerns is that craftsmanship seems to be dying. There are finishers who don't even know how to pull a straightedge, who've never even operated a walk-behind trowel. All they know how to do is ride a riding trowel or operate a vibrating screed. In 20 years, where will this industry be if we don't pass down finishing skills?
I love concrete—I think about it all the time. One of my competitors said to me, “When I'm out driving around on the weekend, I've got the top down and I'm with my wife and I'm thinking about the weekend. But you're out driving around with your wife, and she looks at you, and you look at her and smile, but what you're really thinking about is laser screeds and trowel machines. That's what makes you guys dangerous.”