Written by Hope Tinney
TACOMA, Wash.—Ben Warfield knew how to operate a masonry business as a one-man shop—he’d watched his father do it for more than 20 years. When he opened his own business in 2008 he figured that’s mostly what he’d do, too.
But then the recession hit and the bread and butter of small shops—residential work—vanished overnight. Warfield needed a plan B, fast.
Fast-forward five years and Warfield Masonry is going strong, even as the post-recession construction industry continues to sputter.
This year, with four full-time employees and several more when needed, Warfield Masonry will bring in about $600,000 in revenues, more than triple the revenues he earned in 2009.
Rather than continue to chase residential projects, he said, Warfield Masonry has successfully transformed itself into a sought-after subcontractor on commercial jobs. That’s trickier than it sounds.
An experienced mason, Warfield had virtually no experience in bidding or managing large projects, projects which, by definition, require expertise in scheduling, estimating and managing cash flow to cover high material and labor costs.
Rather than working in the business, primarily laying stone as his father did before him, Warfield is creating a different kind of company where his primary role is to work on the business.
Early on his 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 between $50,000 and $100,000.
“For me it’s very surreal,” said Warfield. “I’m dealing with a lot of money now. It’s somewhat overwhelming.
But, he said, he’s learning to trust his business systems, systems that he’s put in place with the help of John Rodenberg, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center.
Warfield began working with Rodenberg in 2010 when he was struggling to stay afloat. Together they have worked on a variety of issues, from cash flow management to scheduling to staffing to deconstructing the kinds of legal contracts that are now a routine part of his business.
In the beginning, Warfield said, the transition was stressful. Even though the revenues were higher, so were the expenditures. “It was completely nerve wracking,” Warfield 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.”
For three years, Warfield said, he was wearing a lot of hats. But, as his company has grown, so has his ability to delegate. He now has a trusted crew to manage the job sites while he focuses on administration and project management, including long-range planning and goal setting.
In late 2012 Warfield saw an automated scaffolding system sitting 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 he called Sound Credit Union to line 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 met 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 to set up 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.
The new equipment, including a flatbed truck, will allow him to increase productivity, which is one of his on-going goals. The other is delivering a consistently high-quality product by building and protecting a talented crew.
In the scheme of things, the last five years have been lean times for the industry, but Warfield construction has managed to thrive, which makes Warfield excited about the legacy his father started and he is adding to.