I recently had the opportunity to speak with some Estimate Rocket users about their businesses. It was a wonderful chance to get to know our customers and learn about how they got to where they are today. In this series, we’ll share stories about what they did before, how they got started, and their experiences along the way.
This time, I had the privilege of speaking with Dave Freeburg, owner of 1-866-Slabjack.
What were you doing before you started your business?
I went to school for construction management and was working with general and specialty contractors, mostly in a commercial capacity.
What made you decide to start a business?
My father had been handling sales for someone who had basically brought the slabjacking service to the NorthWest back in the early 90s. My dad was given the opportunity to buy the assets and continue doing slabjacking with his own company, but he really wanted to stay focused on the sales aspect. Given my background and education, it worked out and I partnered up with him.
What are the most difficult parts of running your own business?
In the beginning, we had a consultant come in and help because neither of us had ever been in business for ourselves before. We wanted to make sure we weren’t overlooking any vital factors and that we had a promising future ahead of us. One thing he pointed out as a major concern was that about 90% of our revenue is generated by residential construction, which means we’re dealing with the consumer day in and day out. Most consumers have very little knowledge as far as construction is concerned and our service isn't always black and white - it can be almost like a language barrier.
The other difficult part is staffing. It doesn't matter what industry you’re in, if the economy is down it can be difficult to generate enough business to help you retain the employees you've spent all of that time and effort training and developing relationships with. When the economy is strong like it is now you have to adjust your model to remain competitive enough that you're also able to retain those employees.
What are the most rewarding parts?
We’ve figured out what our culture and mentality is as a company over the last several years and have really tried to make it a place where the employees empower themselves and we don't need to micromanage. Everybody holds themselves accountable and we've created some pretty fun incentive programs that allow for that to take place.
The other rewarding elements are the intangibles. I work from home - I've got a virtual office and it allows me a little more flexibility in my work schedule. For example, sometimes I’ll take the kids to school and have the opportunity to participate if a field trip comes up.
What advice would you give to someone starting a similar business today?
I’ve got a few points on this one; first and foremost, make sure you’re not just doing this for money. If that's the focus, you’ll get lost along the way. Focus on doing something that you love enough that you'll be able to work tirelessly in the process of seeing it succeed. My second point is in line with my first; you should see the intangibles of that opportunity continue.
The third one is something our consultant said to my dad in the beginning: partnerships don't work. You see it over and over again - a business will limp along for a while but often partnerships can cause the business to ultimately fail because you've got too many users involved. Especially if you've got someone who's already established but they need to bring somebody else in for financial reasons or whatever, it could be very challenging because everybody wants to feel validated. I was very fortunate that my dad's an individual who has a tremendous amount of patience and puts a lot of faith in the people he trusts. As long as I presented the idea in the right way he was usually on board.
You should also consider barriers to entry when looking at businesses. Even though there may be significant upfront costs that could cause you to have to jump through some hoops, remember it minimizes your competition long term. If you can get into something where there's a higher barrier to entry and minimal competition to begin with, and then establish and maintain your brand, it’s going to be very difficult for anybody to come into the market. There are a few exceptions, like where you have existing demand (electrical or plumbing on the residential end). If you can figure out how to market yourself or capture some of the existing demand that's fine, but you’d also better figure out what it is that that separates yourself and start generating word-of-mouth business.
Where do you see yourself and 1-866-Slabjack in the next 10 years?
In the beginning when we worked with the consultant, the focus was growth and “how are we going to make this bigger and better?”. We spent the first few years doing that but realized it wasn't doing anything for our profitability and that there were more opportunities to look within and fine tune the business. We were digging to make sure we were operating as efficiently as possible and also looking for places to have cost savings. That mentality has proven extremely successful for us. As opposed to making ourselves bigger we focused on streamlining our processes and minimizing the costs, and it’s really made our business scalable. Once you've gotten to the point where you feel you have everything as streamlined as possible, you can look for opportunities to grow. Ultimately, you know if you want to sell your business one day, and if you do, you want to make sure you've got everything streamlined and profitable.
Thanks so much, Dave, for taking the time to talk with me about 1-866-Slabjack!