Yes, it’s possible for construction start-ups to do it. Here’s how the founder and owner of Ballmann Earthworks achieved his goals, following a path he began carving out when he wrote a fifth grade paper about what he wanted to do when he grew up. Among the tips Jon Ballman shares with others? Focus on great employees and customer satisfaction.
Slow and Steady
Ballman Earthworks founder, Jon Ballman has taken a step by step approach to get from being hired on as a general laborer to owning a company with annual revenues in the $5-8 million range. According to Ballman, it was being around the equipment as a kid that drew him in: “I was around equipment and figured if I could make this idea a reality, it is what I wanted to do. The equipment suckered me in.” Although Ballman’s parents were not in construction, the family used some old equipment to maintain a rental property and an uncle worked for a basement-digging contractor. By fifth grade, Ballmann responded to a fifth grade assignment saying he wanted “to be a grading and excavation contractor, a licensed surveyor, a civil engineer and make $40,000 per year when I graduated college….”
For Construction Pros share that Ballman started working as a laborer the summer after high school and learned to use a skid steer before heading to college to study engineering. While completing his studies, he bought a used skid steer and started doing odd jobs. Equipment purchases continued to mark Ballman’s progress as he graduated and grew his company over the past 22 years: “One goal was to have one of every kind of machine. We got there, and now we have more than one of the bread-and-butter machines…Now that we have seven dozers, I don’t really have a desire for 14, so the push isn’t as strong. If we grow 5%-10% over the next five years, I’m completely happy. And if we have good guys, we’ll try to push forward just as we are.”
Although obtaining equipment was an early measure of success for Ballman, he now thinks much more about how keeping his people “happy and productive” is critical to the success of the business. For Construction Pros reports: “His control of growth is largely about maintaining the quality of work for his …customer base. And he believes that hinges on the quality of his employees…’If you grow too fast, you can load up on employees, but they’re not quality employees. We could lose a customer as fast as we gain one. If we lose a $1-million customer, that could be a crucial piece of our business gone in a split second.’”
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Fun To Know: Diggerland USA?
Let’s face it: construction equipment can be thrilling—and giving more kids the chance to experience it can’t hurt the labor market of the future. Though Diggerland USA, a construction-themed amusement park in New Jersey, was started by Moldovan American brothers, Ilya and Yan Girlya, to give kids the excitement of operating real construction machinery, you never know how many budding careers could get launched there. As The New York Times reports, the equipment at Diggerland is pretty close to the real deal:
At Diggerland, the owners have worked with construction equipment manufacturers…to modify dozens of models for safe use by children starting at 36 inches tall…The engines have an auto shut-off, the cabs have rollover protection, the machines’ tracks are fixed in place, and the turn adjustment on the diggers is limited, so the pint-size operators can’t drive off or go rogue. It is a playground of yellow and black where dumper trucks, tractors, backhoes, rollers and, of course, diggers crawl around set courses or paw through their designated spot in the ground. By design, the park looks half-finished, a 21-acre arena of concrete bollards, storm fencing and site offices selling neon pink, yellow or orange safety vests, matching construction helmets and hot dogs…At the rear of the park, the Water Main offers a wave pool and various slides and splash pads in homage to plumbing infrastructure.
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Founded in 1930, Colonial Surety Company is a leading direct seller and writer of surety bonds and insurance products across the USA. Colonial is rated “A Excellent” by A.M. Best Company and U.S. Treasury listed.