My Story – Only God Knows
I’m 41 years old. I opened my first construction company when I was 18. I started out with a little red Chevy S-10 pickup with an in-line 6-cylinder engine. Boy, this truck wouldn’t quit. As soon as I pulled into the circle where I grew up, my father (who has a heart bigger than anyone) said “Here son, take my credit card and go buy yourself a couple of ladders on me.” Off I went! I took a tool box and some ladders into a world that will chew you up unless you have determination and a positive, don’t take no for an answer attitude.
These were some of the best times of my life. I answered to no one, or so I thought. You learn rather quickly that you always have to answer to someone, someday. I answered to my customers. You think your boss is tough? Try dealing with different people every day who owe you thousands of dollars and will withhold that from you because you broke their bush. As any business owner knows, you have to size up your customer quickly and determine how you can best approach this sale with minimum risk. My father always said “It’s not how much you make; it’s what you foolishly throw away.” Everybody has had someone in their life who has made a statement, a gesture, or a vote of confidence that sticks in the back of your mind forever, and we use that to get us over life’s hurdles. I have been fortunate to have many such mentoring moments in my life.
Are you still with me? It’s about to get juicy. I ran that business from the time I was 18 until I turned 36, so from 1991 until 2007 I operated my own business. Yes, I beat the staggering statistics of business failure. Nine out of ten new businesses fail in the first 2 years. The ten percent that do make it, well, fifty percent of those don’t reach five years. My hat is off to anyone who has the guts to risk it all. For sixteen years, my business operated my way. I controlled the marketing, tracked the finances, sold the jobs, provided the customer support, installed the jobs, managed the crews, purchased supplies, and everything else that builds a completed sales cycle. Sure, I had hired hands, and I am grateful for the people in my life but without constant direction, it’s over. Quick! Plain and simple. You need to be up early and you cannot go to bed until you have the next plan of attack scheduled.
I developed a routine of providing high quality work with exceptional customer follow-up. This is a technique that seems rather obvious but I learned fast that my competition wouldn’t returns calls, show up on time, finish the jobs, or provide service after the sale. If I did that then I had it made. It worked. The majority of my business was from repeat and referral. If somebody was thinking of a home remodeling project in Bensalem, they were either using me or thinking of using me. Early in 2007, I was approached by a lifelong friend who was also a contractor. He knew I was a workhorse and for years he asked me to join forces with him. I was always reluctant because I wasn’t sure if I could wake up and honestly answer one question: Is this person going to work just as hard as me? I knew the answer was no. But early in 2007, he approached me with an enticing offer. I took it. I wish things would have worked out but it took only 18 months before I had to buy him out. This joint venture cost me close to five hundred thousand dollars. Here’s why.
We all know what happened in 2007: the economy fell off a cliff and everyone tightened their wallets. The construction business usually picked up in September. Well, by middle of October, I knew something was wrong and this was far worse than anything I ever remembered. I recall opening the office door one morning, around 4:45a.m. and saying to myself, “I have to close up shop and do something completely different.” I wanted to open a business that was Internet based. I needed something that would generate a constant revenue stream twenty-four hours a day. At this time, I was still with my partner and the buyout didn’t occur. “I got it,” I said to myself. I can open an online fun sports betting site that is free to play but gives you the chance to win real money. “How do I do that”? Well, the Internet is huge on advertising so I thought if I offered people a free 10 cents to start placing wagers while giving them the opportunity to increase their risk by watching ads, then I could legally allow them to bet without creating risk. So for three months I worked on the site while continuing to assist my struggling construction company.
Here’s what I did. During the day, I would deliver flyers on a Honda scooter offering low-cost gutter cleanings and at night I would work on the site. The gutter cleanings gave me a chance to meet new homeowners and hopefully opportunities to land bigger jobs. Oh, it did. One day delivering flyers, I saw roofing and siding company with over 50 job-site signs on residential property lawns. I thought I was dreaming. “How in this economy could a contractor be doing this many projects”? I poked around a little and found that a hailstorm touched down six months prior and they were repairing all of the damage and being paid by insurance money. Wow! I was amazed. Immediately I thought, “I need to do this.” And I did, bigger and better than anyone else.
In 2008, I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I learned real quickly how they were doing it and I was determined to get my piece of the pie. Within three months, I sold over 50 jobs right in my own back yard. Every local contractor was angry because they didn’t understand what was going on. All of sudden, every home in every neighborhood was being remodeled by two companies. I had an edge. I was local and people like using local contractors.
That was when it all started. That was the year I took my company from gutter to glory. In March, 2009 a severe hailstorm hit the Lehigh Valley. This report was on the news. At this time, I didn’t have all of the sophisticated resources I eventually acquired. However, I was able to take a latitude and longitude posting from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA’s) website. I knew exactly where the damage was located. It was 8:30p.m. 30 minutes after the storm hit, and I cold-called people who lived in that area. I told them I was a weather investigator and asked if they could provide me with a summary of what happened. What I heard was music to my ears. People were saying, “It sounded like my windows were going to break, my car is dented, I thought my house was under machine gun fire.” I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep.
The very next day, I drove to the center of the storm and immediately noticed hail damage on roofing and siding everywhere I looked. I thought this opportunity was perfect. I had just gotten on my feet learning the ins and outs in my hometown, and now this storm was only an hour away, so I could easily manage this opportunity. I put out an all-points bulletin to everyone I knew who could help. I remember standing on a homeowner’s roof and saying to myself, “I am going to do every roof in this town.” We didn’t do every house but we did thousands of them. We went from a one-million-dollar a year company to a six-million-dollar a year company in less than 10 months.
It gets even better. The following year, after we had already branded the company, another storm hit 5 miles from where we were already working. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited and thought this was too good to be true. We had hundreds of people working bringing in fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars per day. The next year we reported close to fourteen million dollars in home repair damage. My one-year personal tax return was double what I used to make in one year. You know what? It wasn’t worth it.
Here’s why. I took control and put God aside. It’s that simple. I am the one to blame. Sure, I can go on and on about how people took advantage of me or how the government came in and fined me and the list goes on and on. But the truth is, the only reality is, it wasn’t God’s plan. I spent the next two years cleaning up a mess. If it wasn’t for my family and a few loyal people, I would be in the hospital dealing with anxiety issues. I have always had Christ in my life. My wife and I have always raised our children with an understanding of placing God first and everything else will follow so I was a very confused as to why this was happening to me.
It is extremely hard to see the end of the road when trouble hits. Your mind gets filled with fear. It consumes you. I wasn’t used to this magnitude of fear and I knew it was wrong. I started on a new journey that was not work-related. I started soul searching, asking a lot of questions and trying to find the answers in the Bible. It didn’t take long to understand why all of this is happening. God was giving me a reality check. He was basically saying, “I gave it all to you and I can take it all if you are not ready” so I trusted He would get me through those hard times. It wasn’t easy and I am not out of the woods yet, but I am well on my way and it feels good going at it a second time around with God right by my side.