GIG HARBOR, Wash. – Ben Warfield’s business, Warfield Masonry in Gig Harbor, is an anomaly in the construction industry. In the past three years, commercial construction has declined more than 25 percent and residential construction has dropped a whopping 60 percent, but Warfield’s sales have nearly doubled. Profits have increased each year as well.
 
When other contractors saw their business declining, Warfield says, “I went forward.” He isn’t working any harder, he says, because he has always worked hard. The difference is, he’s working smarter.
 
And that, he says, is a credit to John Rodenberg, the certified business advisor he met at the Washington Small Business Development Center in Tacoma. Washington State University is a partner in the WSBDC.
 
“It’s like having someone else on your team,” Warfield says. “John’s definitely an expert. I’m learning to use him more and more.”
The biggest change from 2007, when Warfield took over the family business, is that Warfield branched out from residential work to commercial buildings.
 
Just recently he completed a job with a major national bank that has plans to open more than 20 new branches in the Seattle area.
 
“His sales doubled by adding commercial clients and bigger jobs,” Rodenberg says.
But, there are risks. From legal issues and liability to building codes and material costs, commercial work is a lot more complicated, Rodenberg says: “You have the opportunity to make more, or lose more if you don’t do it right.”
 
It’s not enough to be an expert mason when you take on big jobs, Rodenberg says. You need business expertise as well. But few people go into masonry work because they enjoy crunching numbers and completing business plans.
 
“I got into it because of the artistry,” Warfield says. “And carrying on the family tradition.”
 
Warfield grew up around bricks and stone. His father, Jon, opened his own masonry business in 1977 and soon began bringing along his son on jobs. It was a different world then, Warfield says: “Back then things were done with a handshake.”
 
Now, as often as not, he and his client have to work through a 20-page contract before anything gets done.
One thing hasn’t changed: “Most people don’t want to work as hard as you have to work,” Warfield says.
Warfield likes to work hard, so that wasn’t a problem. The problem was, he wasn’t getting ahead; he was getting swamped. He was responsible for every decision and every detail, and juggling it all was becoming increasingly difficult.
 
Discussions with Rodenberg convinced him that hiring an office administrator would free up time that could be better spent on the various phases of project management, from bidding to scheduling to cost control. Together they tackled cash flow issues, securing lines of credit and staffing issues.
 
Warfield now has a system in place that allows him to predict reasonably well how many employees he needs at any one time, how long he will need them and when he will need them again.
 
By being efficient and nimble, he says, he is creating a more streamlined operation that can be sustained over time. When Warfield started out in 2007, he employed one other person. Now he has four full-time employees and adds two or three more during busy periods.
 
Warfield began consulting with Rodenberg in 2008 and the two continue to check in from time to time. Just last week, Warfield says, Rodenberg gave him detailed feedback on how to make his new website more effective. Like all SBDC advisors, Rodenberg meets one-on-one with clients free of charge.
 
Without the SBDC, Warfield says, he’d still be in business, but he’d be struggling. When you’re focused on survival, it’s hard to plan for the future. But, he says, masons like to build things that last, and the SBDC is helping him do that.
 
Warfield Masonry “is not going to get blown away in the wind,” Warfield says. “It’s going to be here a lifetime.”
 
For more information about Warfield Masonry, go to http://warfieldmasonry.com.
 
For information about the WSBDC or to find a certified business advisor in your area, go to http://www.wsbdc.org/.