My story: only God knows
I have 41 years old. I started my first construction company when I was 18 years old. I started with a little red Chevy S-10 pickup with an in-line 6-cylinder engine. Wow, this truck wasn’t giving up. As soon as I got to the circle where I grew up, my father (who has a bigger heart than anyone) said, “Here son, take my credit card and buy yourself a couple of stairs.” I left! I carried a toolbox and some ladders into a world that will chew you up unless you have determination and a positive attitude not to take no for an answer.
They were some of the best moments of my life. I didn’t reply to anyone, or so I thought. You learn pretty quickly that you always have to answer someone, one day. I responded to my clients. Do you think your boss is tough? Try to deal with different people every day who owe you thousands of dollars and they will deny you because you broke their branches. As any business owner knows, you must assess your customer quickly and determine the best way to approach this sale with minimal risk. My father always said, “It’s not about how much you earn, it’s what you foolishly throw away.” Everyone has had someone in their life who has made a statement, gesture, or vote of confidence that stays in the back of their mind forever, and we use it to overcome life’s obstacles. 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 age of 18 until I turned 36, so from 1991 to 2007 I operated my own business. Yes, I beat the staggering business failure statistics. Nine out of ten startups fail in the first 2 years. The ten percent who make it, well, fifty percent of them don’t make it to five years old. Hats off to anyone with the guts to risk it all. For sixteen years, my business worked my way. Controlled marketing, tracked finances, sold jobs, provided customer support, installed jobs, managed crews, purchased supplies, and everything else that builds a complete sales cycle. Sure, I had hired labor and am grateful for the people in my life, but without consistent direction, it’s over. Fast! Plain and simple. You must get up early and cannot go to bed until the next plan of attack is scheduled.
I developed a routine to provide high-quality work with exceptional client follow-up. This is a technique that seems pretty obvious, but I quickly learned that my competition would not return calls, arrive on time, finish jobs, or provide after-sale service. If I did that, then I did it. It worked. Most of my business was repeat and referral. If someone was thinking of a home remodel project in Bensalem, they were either using me or thinking of using me. In early 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 I could wake up and honestly answer a question: Is this person going to work as hard as I am? He knew the answer was no. But in early 2007, he approached me with a tempting offer. I took it. I wish things had worked out, but it was only 18 months before I had to buy it. This joint venture cost me close to five hundred thousand dollars. This is why.
We all know what happened in 2007: the economy crashed and everyone squeezed their wallets. The construction business generally recovered in September. Well, in mid-October, I knew something was wrong and this was far worse than anything I could remember. I remember opening the office door one morning around 4:45 am and saying to myself, “I have to close the store and do something completely different.” I wanted to open an internet based business. I needed something that would generate a constant stream of income 24 hours a day. At the time, I was still with my partner and the purchase did not go through. “Got it,” I told myself. I can open a fun online sports betting site that is free to play but gives you a chance to win real money. “How can I do that”? Well, the internet is huge on advertising, so I thought if you were offering people 10 cents free to start gambling while giving them the opportunity to increase their risk by viewing ads, then it could legally allow them to gamble without creating risk. So for three months I worked on the site while still helping my struggling construction company.
This is what I did. During the day, he delivered flyers on a Honda scooter that offered low-cost gutter cleaning and at night he worked on-site. The sewer cleanings gave me the opportunity to meet new owners and hopefully opportunities for bigger jobs. Oh, it did. Handing out flyers one day, I saw a roofing and siding company with more than 50 construction signs on the lawns of residential properties. I thought I was dreaming. “How in this economy could a contractor do so many projects”? I poked around a bit and found out that a hail storm landed six months earlier and they were repairing all the damage and being paid for with the insurance money. Wow! I was impressed. I immediately thought, “I need to do this.” And I did, bigger and better than anyone.
In 2008, he wasn’t taking no for an answer. I learned very quickly how they were doing it and was determined to get my share of the pie. In three months, I sold over 50 jobs in my own backyard. All the local contractors were angry because they did not understand what was going on. Suddenly, two companies were remodeling every house in every neighborhood. He had an advantage. I was a local and people like to use local contractors.
That’s when it all started. That was the year I took my company from the gutter to glory. In March 2009, a severe hail storm hit the Lehigh Valley. This report was in the news. At the time, I didn’t have all the sophisticated resources that I finally acquired. However, I was able to grab a latitude and longitude post from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) website. He knew exactly where the damage was located. It was 8:30 pm 30 minutes after the storm hit, I cold-called the people who lived in that area. I told them I was a meteorological investigator and asked if they could give me a summary of what happened. What I heard was music to my ears. People said, “It looked like my windows were going to break, my car is dented, I thought my house was under machine gun fire.” He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep.
The next day, I drove to the center of the storm and immediately noticed hail damage to roofs and siding wherever I looked. I thought this opportunity was perfect. I had just gotten on my feet learning the ins and outs of my hometown, and now this storm was only an hour away, so I could easily handle this opportunity. I sent out an all points newsletter to everyone I knew who could help. I remember standing on a homeowner’s roof and saying to myself, “I’m going to do all the roofs in this city.” We didn’t do all the houses, but we did thousands of them. We went from a 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 flagged the company, another storm hit 5 miles from where we were already working. I could not believe it. I was so excited and thought this was too good to be true. We had hundreds of people working who contributed between fifty and seventy-five thousand dollars a day. The following year we reported nearly fourteen million dollars in home repair damage. My personal tax return for a year was twice what it used to make in a year. You know what? It wasn’t worth it.
This is why. I took control and put God aside. It’s that easy. I’m the guilty. 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 that the only reality is that it was not God’s plan. I spent the next two years cleaning up a mess. If it weren’t for my family and some 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 the understanding of putting God first and everything else will come after, so I was very confused as to why this was happening to me.
It is extremely difficult to see the end of the road when problems arise. Your mind fills with fear. It consumes you. He was not used to this magnitude of fear and knew it was wrong. I started a new journey that was not related to work. I began to search my soul, asking many questions and trying to find the answers in the Bible. It didn’t take long to understand why all this is happening. God was giving me a reality check. He was basically saying, “I gave you everything and I can take it all if you’re not ready,” so I was confident that He would help me get through those difficult times. It wasn’t easy and I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m on my way and it feels good to do it a second time with God by my side.
I am currently operating a business in the same industry with over 90% less overhead and labor, with a 10% increase in net profit margin going straight to bottom line. I am a public adjuster. I am very proud to be a public adjuster. I have written over 3,500 claims as a contractor and I can say with certainty that if something happens to your home, you’d better call a public appraiser. If not, it’s like asking the IRS to complete your tax return. Without a public adjuster, you will lose up to 80% of what is owed to you, leaving you seriously disappointed.
If you are going through something difficult right now, no matter what it is, you need to pick up the Bible and get your answers directly from the Creator. Otherwise, you will continue to live without comfort or hope.