Getting Started: Working On, Not In, Your Construction Business


When you’re a 22-year-old VP in a family contracting business, you don’t expect to be taking over that business at age 26. But this is exactly the situation Randy Blount faced.

Everything he’s learned — from having to do some serious adulting at an early age, to knowing when to turn over a profitable business to another owner —contributes to his wanting to share what he’s learned with other members of the Dirt World who may be facing similar challenges.

“I’m so grateful for all the people I’ve read," said Blount. “All the people who’ve shared lessons with me, who mentored me, and I’m excited to share everything I’ve learned — including the mistakes and how it is you can avoid them.”

While you’re growing a business, life doesn’t stop.

Blount shared the personal challenges he faced in his mid-twenties, both at work and in his immediate family. After four years of running the business as VP while his father was battling cancer, Blount found himself in charge at age 26 after his father’s death.

He felt the pressures of wanting to take care of everyone: to be sure his growing family was okay, that his mother and siblings were okay, that the people in his business were okay. Moving into the role of president years sooner than expected, he “was infamous for being in the office at five, and leaving at eight every day. Because I just needed to do it right.”

Back in 2011, he had an estimator who was doing a highway project, using — as many do when they’re just starting out — Excel spreadsheets. It was a complicated freeway interchange project, with ramps on both sides requiring traffic switchovers: “just a tough project.” With such rudimentary job costing processes, mistakes were made that weren’t caught.

After the first season of the project, they thought they were doing well, only to realize later that they were on track to lose about a half million dollars. “Which was a big deal,” said Blount. “Like pay cuts, potential layoffs, a lot.” This caused the executive team to sit back and ask, 'What are we doing? What can we do better?'

For Blount, this event was a catalyst to rethink the business. "We were still doing probably only, I don’t know, $10 to $12 million a year at the time," he said. "So it hadn’t really taken off. But we realized quickly if we didn’t figure out some systems and we didn’t get things right as we grew, we weren’t going to make any more money. We could potentially lose a lot of money.”

Stepping back, in order to step forward.

Blount’s executive team made the decision to take a pause. “We say, hey, we’re not going to grow our business any more,” Blount said. “No revenue growth. We’re going to fix our business. We’re going to work on the business.” And they did: For three years, they had no growth, staying within one to two million of their previous revenue, “and just figured things out. It was a tough time,” said Blount.

Not growing is just about the opposite of why people are attracted to construction. As Blount noted, “I think most of us are in construction because we like to build stuff.” And, for that two- to three-year period, he wasn’t building anything. He wasn’t out in the field. He was learning and analyzing and figuring out what systems to implement.

By 2015, they were able to make the decision to grow. And they were able to do so successfully, going from a $12 to $14 million business in 2015 to $40 million in 2020. “We went from making little-to-no money to making margins, gross profit margins, north of 25%,” said Blount. And outperforming our peers on a regular basis.”

Takeaways.

As his business continued to grow, Blount became involved in some peer groups and realized that he wanted to share what he’d learned. “I want other people to have this success,” Blount said. “I want people to understand construction doesn’t have to be this low margin industry. Like we can do it well, and we can make money for doing it well.”

Thus, Blount decided to sit down and share what he’s learned with BuildWitt for our Leaders series. Blount emphasizes that he’s still learning, and that he looks forward to sharing both his successes and his mistakes with the BuildWitt audience.

“I’m going to share things that I’ve learned,” Blount said. “But I still make mistakes every day. I’m still imperfect, I’m still learning. But I’m passionate about what I’ve learned. And I’m excited to share with you guys how all this learning happened.”