Contractor of the year finalist
| March 25, 2009 |
In the 1970s, Larry and Lori Pittenger were living with their two children, Chad and Lisa, on their 40-acre farm in Ohio. Larry supported his family by driving a truck, but was away from home a lot. Then, in 1978, an event occurred that would change their lives – the family endured the worst winter storm in Ohio’s history. After the blizzard, they packed up their belongings, sold their farm and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. There were no blizzards in Phoenix, but they had no jobs and no place to live. Larry eventually found a job pouring concrete for a company in Sun City, but he was ready for other opportunities. Just six months after relocating to Arizona, a coworker offered to sell Larry a backhoe. He accepted, and despite Lori’s fears, the Pittengers were in business.
Although they were tackling the unenviable task of relocating and starting a new business from the ground up at the same time, the Pittengers’ most difficult tests were yet to come. Just a few months after forming L.P.’s Excavating, a 100-year flood hit Phoenix. They didn’t work for three months. “We couldn’t even make our first house payment,” Lori says. “We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.” They managed to save their home, though, and began building a successful business.
L.P.’s Excavating hit troubled times again in 1998. A large resort project the company was involved in fell through. Although Larry followed a gut feeling and got out of the project a year before some other contractors, they weren’t paid. In addition to the Pittengers, a number of local contractors were affected and construction in Phoenix took a downturn. Instead of declaring bankruptcy, Larry and Lori rolled up their sleeves and got to work. “Lori drove a six-wheel dump truck and Larry ran the backhoe,” says their insurance agent, Don Dent of Farm Bureau Insurance. “They literally pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and started all over again.”
Since finding work in the valley proved to be difficult, the Pittengers decided to move again. They chose to relocate to Williams, a small community 40 miles west of Flagstaff that serves as the gateway to the Grand Canyon. They were familiar with the town and had friends in the area. The move was a challenge – Larry relocated to Williams first to establish the business, with Lori, Chad and Lisa remaining in Phoenix. They weren’t able to join Larry for three years.
On solid ground
After moving to Williams, the Pittengers began to reap the rewards of their years of hard work. They were able to move their business from their home, first to a construction trailer and then to a 3,500-square-foot building. Today, L.P.’s Excavating sits on six acres – room enough for their office, 16,000 square feet of shop area and the more than 100 pieces of construction equipment the company now owns. They have more than 60 employees and handle a variety of both residential and commercial projects around the state, including site prep, utility, paving and concrete work. Lori has long since given up driving a dump truck; she now serves as the company’s secretary-treasurer. While Larry’s future plans include adding some highway work, many of the projects he is working on now are long term. His clients trust him, and return to him time and again, knowing he is invested in the community. “Some owners will really let you improve upon what they are doing,” he says. “All my guys know we do it 100 percent – we don’t have to go back and do it over.”
The entire family credits two life-changing decisions of Larry’s for the company’s success: in 1992, he gave up alcohol and then became a born-again Christian the following year. Lori doesn’t see it as a coincidence. “Soon after, our business began to explode in growth,” she says.
L.P.’s continues growing through striving for excellence in all their projects. “We have clean jobsites, nice equipment and an excellent quality of work,” says Jamie Mace, a project manager and the Pittengers’ son-in-law. “The work is done right the first time.” Reaching this standard often requires retraining new employees. L.P.’s has little trouble attracting employees – they pay well, shoulder 100 percent of health costs for employees plus half the cost for their families, give a week’s paid vacation between Christmas and New Year’s and provide opportunities for overtime. They also provide opportunities for advancement, says Chad.
With respect to their equipment, L.P.’s rarely rents, preferring to buy equipment as needed. While the Pittengers use Empire Cat in Flagstaff for major equipment servicing, most of their equipment is serviced at their own shop. The shop is supervised by Jimmy Briggs, who handles servicing and oil analysis, as well as ensuring the operators perform preventive maintenance. “He almost didn’t come to work here,” Jamie laughs. “He thought we worked too hard.”
As a community, Williams has embraced them, providing jobs from day one. L.P.’s has worked on everything from subdivisions to airport construction. “They are a success story for our city,” says Joe Duffy with the City of Williams. “The bottom line is that our city looks to foster companies that are here – help them grow even bigger and better.”
As much as Williams loves the Pittengers, the Pittengers love Williams. They consider it a duty to give back at least 10 percent of their profit to the community. They do much of their giving anonymously or without fanfare, and are always available when the city needs help. After receiving a grant to build an indoor aquatic center, Williams was unable to proceed because they had no money to dig the pool. L.P.’s donated the equipment and labor, and dug the swimming pool for free.
“They always help out as a corporate citizen within the community,” Joe Duffy says. “They donate to Relay for Life, Rotary Club scholarships, donate equipment to schools, repair track and football fields and have installed playground equipment. They do more than you would expect from a company that size.”
Don Dent says his insurance agency is involved with the American Cancer Society, and the Pittengers offered to do a fundraiser when they built their shop. “They had a community fish fry and gathered up auction items,” he says. “They raised $25,000 before they even put a truck in the shop.”
A family affair
Both Larry and Lori give a great deal of credit to their children, who have always been involved with the company. At an early age, Chad helped them lay pipe and served as a laborer. Jamie joined the company in 1991 and quickly became a superintendent.
The Pittengers’ plans for the future of the company are clear. Both Chad and Jamie are now project managers, and Lisa serves as the company’s office manager. Jamie and Lisa have a 14-year-old son, Dylan, who can run every piece of equipment the company owns, and was involved in his first equipment purchase – a Cat skid steer – at the tender age of 13.
Lori sees her family’s involvement as critical to the future of the business, noting it’s difficult to leave work at the office. Even with the ups and downs, both she and Larry say they wouldn’t have changed anything. “Although it hasn’t all been a bed of roses, it’s been the roller coaster ride of our lives,” she says.