By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
TACOMA, Wash. – Ben Warfield knew how to operate a masonry business as a mostly one-man shop – he had watched his father do it for more than 20 years. When Warfield opened his own business in 2008, he figured that’s mostly what he would do, too.
But then the recession hit and residential work – the bread and butter of small shops – vanished overnight. He needed a plan B, fast.
Five years later Warfield Masonry (http://www.warfieldmasonry.com/) is going strong, even as the post-recession construction industry continues to sputter.
Rather than continue to chase residential projects, Warfield said, he has successfully transformed the business into a sought-after subcontractor for commercial jobs. That’s trickier than it sounds.
Working on his business
An experienced mason, Warfield had virtually no background in bidding or managing large projects – projects that require expertise in scheduling, estimating and managing cash flow to cover high material and labor costs.
Rather than working in the business, actually laying stone as his father did, Warfield is creating a different kind of company where his primary role is to work on the business.
His initial goal was to get at least one $25,000 job each quarter. This year, more than 90 percent of revenues have been from projects costing $50,000-$100,000.
“It’s very surreal,” he said. “I’m dealing with a lot of money now. It’s somewhat overwhelming.”
Advisor a good fit for growth
But, he said, he’s learning to trust his business systems – systems that he has put in place with the help of John Rodenberg, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC). With more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing, both in corporate management and in small business, Rodenberg was a good fit for helping Warfield Masonry grow.
The SBDC (http://www.wsbdc.org/) provides one-on-one, confidential, no-cost business advising to small business owners who want to start, grow or transition their business and receives key financial support from Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration. One of more than 20 offices statewide, the SBDC in Tacoma is located at Bates Technical College.
Rodenberg began working with Warfield in 2010 when he was struggling to stay afloat. Together they have tackled a variety of issues, from cash flow management to scheduling to staffing to deconstructing the kinds of legal contracts that have become a routine part of his business.
Learning to delegate
In the beginning, Warfield said, the transition was stressful. Even though revenues were higher, so were expenditures.
“It was completely nerve wracking,” he said. “Money was going everywhere.”
He and Rodenberg met regularly to go over financial statements, look at ratios and make sure the money was where it was supposed to be.
“It built a lot of confidence in me to have John say, ‘Hey, these numbers look really good,’ ” Warfield said.
For three years, he was wearing a lot of hats. But as his company has grown, so has his ability to delegate. He trusts his crew to manage job sites while he focuses on administration and project management, including long-range planning and goal setting.
Foundation for improvement
In late 2012, Warfield spied an automated scaffolding system in an equipment yard and wondered if he could afford it.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wonder for long because his financial records were in order. He made a contingent offer, which was accepted, and then lined up financing.
“When I’ve gone to them I’ve always been more than prepared because John helps me get my financials in order,” he said.
He got a meeting with the loan officer within a few days and walked out with a $30,000 equipment loan.
With the automated scaffolding, he said, a job that would have taken three guys 24 hours was finished by two guys in 10 hours. That’s a savings of more than 50 hours of labor and a lot less wear and tear on his crew.
Good organization key
New equipment, including a flatbed truck, will allow him to increase productivity, which is one of his ongoing goals. The other is delivering a consistently high-quality product. For that he credits his crew, which he works hard to keep busy, even during lean times.
Rodenberg, who visits Warfield’s job sites from time to time, said they are always well organized and carefully scheduled.
“It shows he’s spending time organizing the business, which results in more profit and less wasted time or resources,” Rodenberg said.
The last five years have been lean or the industry, but Warfield Masonry has managed to thrive, which makes its owner excited about the legacy his father started and he is adding to.
“He started this thing and it’s up to me to keep it going,” Warfield said.
Benjamin Warfield, firstname.lastname@example.org, 253-606-2234
John Rodenberg, Washintgon SBDC, email@example.com, 253-680-7768