Contractor of the Year Finalist
| February 02, 2011 |
Brad and Tim Goodson
Candler, North Carolina
Stubborness pays off for two brothers who want nothing more than a career in construction.
By Amy Materson
Year started: 1978
Annual volume: $14-15 million
Markets served: Highway, utility and site work
Passing down a construction company from father to son is a time-honored tradition and a path many successful firms follow. But it’s a path that Mark Goodson, the retired founder of Tennoca Construction in Candler, North Carolina, didn’t encourage, wanting his sons to explore other opportunities. “Although we grew up in the business, our father discouraged us from running Tennoca,” says Brad Goodson of the firm he now runs with his older brother, Tim. “But we were truly interested in it.”
Mark adamantly told the brothers their joining the firm could not affect the family in a negative way. He needn’t have worried. After gradually assuming control of Tennoca, Brad and Tim have settled into an easy distribution of labor that works well with their personalities – both Brad and Tim handle estimating and daily operations, Brad focuses on office management and controller duties and Tim handles equipment maintenance and safety. They work together on equipment purchases. Both have engineering training and backgrounds, so they each serve as project managers; Brad works mainly on private projects and Tim primarily handles public work.
It’s a work distribution that has enabled them to expand their scope of work, and extend their cooperative attitude to the jobs they perform. Will Buie, a project engineer with civil engineering firm William G. Lapsley and Associates, says the Goodsons are solution oriented. “They treat the project in a collaborative manner,” he says. “They call you with options to problems. They are always looking for ways to improve the project and to save the owner dollars.” As an example, Buie cites a golf course project on which the two recommended a revised road routing that eliminated the need for retaining walls, while positively affected storm drainage.
Spreading their wings
Mark Goodson started Tennoca by exchanging a tract of land for a track loader, and he ran it from the family basement for years. He performed 100-percent municipal work, primarily on highways. Although the business had long since moved out of the basement and into an office, Tim and Brad wanted to broaden the company’s range of projects, and began to pursue private work. “Dad wanted the bid work,” Brad says. “Tim and I pursued the work on the private side, and at one point it was about 50/50.” The rationale for extending their reach was to give the company some balance. The brothers knew that although public bid work was more secure, the profit margin would be larger with private work. “A good mix boosts our volume,” he says. “But being careful and cautious helps our business remain strong.”
More work allowed them to grow the business from 20 employees to 50 in 2000, and they have close to 70 today. Tim says their employee roster remains stable. “We’re working on a $23 million highway project. We couldn’t do the jobs we’re doing with a transient work force.”
The growth has meant changes to the structure of the company, particularly regarding safety. Tim says the company has hired an outside consultant to do some of the work, but that he, along with a dozen of their supervisors, work to instill safety awareness in their crews each day. Of course, since Brad and Tim grew up in the business, many of the older employees have known them since they were young. “The consultant’s presence as a third party takes the personality out of it,” Brad says.
The company’s growth has also meant changes for their fleet. With more than five dozen machines on hand, a streamlined shop is an essential. Tim admits he has little patience for downtime. “If a piece of equipment starts breaking down regularly, we’re going to get rid of it,” he says.
While Tennoca has a mechanic on hand, it relies on their dealer for major repairs, warranty work and oil analysis. The brothers buy a mix of new and used equipment from their longtime dealer, but avoid purchasing equipment at auction. They only use rental when they need additional machines for a specific project, and rarely for more than a month. They buy equipment when it’s needed, but only if they know they can continue to use it. “We used to be notorious for buying a piece of equipment a year after we needed it,” Brad says. “We only buy machines that we know we can keep busy.”
Tennoca’s employees handled the transition from one generation to the next well. They’re pleased with their jobs and take pride in their work, says David Gillespie, real estate project manager with Brights Creek, a golf course development company. “Their employees don’t grumble about things,” he says. “You can tell by the way they act that they’re happy.”
The Goodsons say the loyalty extends both ways. They stand behind their employees and form close interpersonal relationships with them, taking them on occasional hunting and fishing trips.
Although Candler is a small community, it is part of the Asheville metropolitan area and the company works throughout the region that includes western North Carolina and parts of east Tennessee. Thanks to their father’s hard work, the company had an excellent reputation in the community. The Goodsons intend to maintain that reputation, and set to work setting themselves apart from the competition. “We want people to say ‘I’d rather work with Tennoca,’” Brad says.
With that end in mind, Brad is careful with bidding and estimating. He does extensive budgeting beforehand, and sees Tennoca as more of a project partner than as a sub. Chris Smith, a project manager at general contractor Beverly-Grant, says he appreciates the approach. “It’s one of the best things about them,” he says. “When they give you a price, it’s solid. They don’t try to make up anything they left on the bid table later with change orders.” Smith says Tennoca is excellent at providing accurate budgets based on conceptual drawings without a lot of details.
When assessing Tennoca’s relationships, Brad and Tim discovered something they found to be unusual. Although their father had developed a pristine reputation among those with whom he worked, Tennoca did not have a lot of name recognition outside that circle. The brothers decided to change that. They became active within the community, joining associations and serving on committees. They also launched a website specifically designed to give the companies they work with a method of reviewing their projects and services available.
They’ve carefully assessed their competition, and are cautious about what projects they accept. Once the recession hit the area, they were sometimes forced to say no to clients they consider more than just clients or acquaintances. “You have to know how to distinguish between good customers with good financing and good friends,” says Brad. “You have to say no to even good friends if they’re out of money.”
They’re content to be in a position to be able to turn down work, and Brad says they’re satisfied with Tennoca’s current size. “It’s important for to be able to make a good living and not kill yourselves,” he says. “We’re doing all we can manage in our current roles, and we’re happy where we are.” EW