Contractor of the Year: Lou Jr. and Dee Manzie (Lou Manzie Inc.)

In the dictionary under the term “hardworking,” there ought to be a picture of Lou Manzie Jr. Fifteen-hour days are the norm. He’s typically up before sunrise, loading his machines or driving to the jobsite so he can grab the first bucket of dirt just as the light breaks.

And when darkness forces him to retreat from the field, he’ll head back to the yard, often to do his own maintenance, greasing, oil changes and sometimes welding. As a result, his machines are always ready to work and as for resale value, people jump at a chance to buy a used Manzie-owned machine.

But for Manzie and his wife Dee, who keeps the books and runs the office side of the business, it’s the life they love. A good reputation for doing things well matters to the Manzies, whether it’s earthmoving, taking care of the equipment or the picture-perfect house they built recently on a hill overlooking the Pocono mountains.

Growing up with equipment
“My dad was a homebuilder all his life and you knew if you had a Manzie house you had a good house,” Manzie says. His father owned and used a few pieces of equipment in his homebuilding business and let Manzie sit in the seat next to him sometimes. He even rigged the pedals so the young boy could reach them.

The son readily absorbed the hard-work/high-quality philosophy of his father, but found earthmoving and heavy equipment more appealing than homebuilding. “Running the equipment just interested me more,” Manzie says. “With equipment you’re always doing something different.”

Manzie took this interest and started his own company right out of high school. He quickly earned a reputation as a tireless worker who paid meticulous attention to detail. As a result he and Dee have grown the company from $75,000 in sales in 1978 to almost a million dollars today. “I’ve been doing this for so many years, I can look at a piece of property and envision what it will look like when I’m done,” Manzie says. The majority of what he does is residential site work and utility installation, and most of that he’s been doing for one customer, the area’s premium homebuilder.

Mixing business and marriage
Manzie runs his business with a bare minimum of employees. Finding good operators is always tough and keeping up with the hours Manzie puts in is likewise a challenge. He has one operator working for him now, but there are times when he and Dee are the company’s only employees. Dee left her job to help out as soon as they married. She keeps the books and does the scheduling, and if Manzie needs an extra laborer, she pitches in. “I’m not an equipment operator, but from time to time I will lay pipe, rake stones or run the small dump truck with the mulcher on it,” Dee says.

“My wife does whatever she has to do,” says Manzie with evident pride. “It’s a 50/50 thing with a lot of give and take, and it takes a special person.”

With a homegrown business as successful as the Manzie’s, taking time out for family is important, Dee says. “It’s hard to separate the business from your regular home life, but you have to set time aside, especially if you have children,” she says. “Otherwise the work will consume every minute.”

Their son L.J. has helped with the business some, but daughter Lauren is looking for a career in the medical field. “L.J. might be interested a little,” Manzie says. “On Sundays he comes with me to the shop to clean up the machines and lately he’s been helping out in other ways because we’re so busy. But I don’t push it on my kids.”

The Manzies also set aside some time in their round-the-clock schedule to give back to the community. They have sponsored a softball team and to date Manzie has volunteered his work and equipment, digging foundations and putting in septic systems on four United Way projects. These projects, called The House that Caring Built, are constructed using labor and materials donated from area subcontractors and are then auctioned off, with the proceeds given to the United Way.

Keeping clean machines
Manzie is well known in the area for the care he lavishes on his equipment. He steam cleans it regularly and waxes it too. “Some people beat the hell out of their equipment,” Manzie says. “That makes me sick.” Manzie’s equipment inventory is considerable and includes three excavators, four dozers, two screening plants, a skid steer, three trucks and a scattering of additional equipment.

Steve Heckman, a salesman for Cleveland Brothers Equipment, says before delivering a machine to Manzie, he’ll give it the white-glove treatment because he knows once it gets there, Manzie will go over it again. But such attention to detail is not just for show. “Other contractors want to know how Manzie is doing things because they know it’s the best way,” Heckman says.

“When I get ready to sell a machine it’s usually sold before I trade it in,” Manzie says. “You pay a lot of money for this stuff – as much as you’d pay for a house in some cases – so it only makes sense to take care of it. You take care of your equipment and it will take care of you.”

With roughly $1 million in annual sales, Manzie says he’s satisfied with the size of the company. “That’s pretty good for a one-man band,” he says. “I pride myself on really good work, and if you get a lot of employees, sometimes the quality will go down the tubes. I don’t want to get any bigger; I just want to get more machines.”