Contractor of the Year Finalist: Bryan Malouff of RMS Utilities

Most kids look forward to spending summers by the pool or hanging out with their friends, but Bryan Malouff had other plans. He wanted to work for his father’s asphalt crew. Under his dad’s instruction, Malouff learned how to drive a dump truck and repair roads. Then, when he was 19, his father asked him if he wanted his own backhoe. He gladly took it and within a year, he bought a septic tank service truck and knew it was time to start his own business.

In 1985, with the backhoe, service truck and his father’s blessings, Malouff got his wish. He established Rocky Mountain Septic and Excavating, and went around knocking on people’s doors to see if they needed any trench or septic work done. “I used to get calls for excavating jobs and I’d say, ‘we’ll be there’,” Malouff says, laughing. “My wife would say, ‘who is we?'”

Since then, RMS Utilities (as the company is now called) has grown to 26 employees and from having one machine to 16. The business brings in annual revenues of almost $3 million doing primarily commercial water and sewer projects, compared to its humble beginnings of about $10,000 a year. “We still do some asphalt work, but that usually takes place in the spring, not the winter, and now we use concrete for some of the roads,” Malouff says.

And he hasn’t forgotten how his father acted as his best mentor. While his father has since retired and sold his business to another contractor, Malouff only has to drive a few blocks to see his dad’s old office, and realize he’s carrying on what his father started many years ago. “I look up to him,” Malouff says. “I know he’s proud of how far I’ve come.” It helps, too, that Malouff was able to pay him back for the backhoe.

An adaptable entity
Through the years, RMS experienced several name changes, designed to incorporate additional services – which now include site development and road construction and maintenance. The company also just added horizontal directional drilling, and Malouff expects this to widen their water and sewer work possibilities. “When you’re in a market serving 40,000 people you have to be willing to adapt,” he explains. “If we were in a big city we could be more specialized, but we choose to do different types of work to suit the seasons.”

In the winter, RMS clears and maintains roads in several communities in the San Luis Valley, including Alamosa and Forbes Park.

One of the company’s on-going projects is located 50 miles from Alamosa in Crestone, Colorado, where they act as a subcontractor for Vaniwaarden Builders doing site preparation for Shumei International’s Buddhist retreat. So far, RMS has finished site prep for five of the Japanese religious group’s buildings, which include dormitories for monks, and has also helped Vaniwaarden complete a Hindu group’s Zen center in Crestone.

Charity first
It’s not uncommon for RMS to provide immediate service to those in need – whether it’s a late night service call, or if there’s a problem after a warranty has run out.

“Once we had customers call about a leach field not working that had been built about nine years ago,” says James Romo, service manager, RMS. “We went out and fixed it for free. It ended up being like a nine-year guarantee, instead of the standard warranty. Sometimes we also do things like that for senior citizens or churches. You go home feeling good about what you did.”

RMS also makes sure their equipment is in prime working order before they head out to a jobsite. Manuel Garcia, RMS’ equipment manager, maintains the equipment 80 percent of the time, and the equipment operators handle the daily maintenance tasks.

“Every day, we bring a willingness to do the hard jobs,” Malouff says. “Most of the guys with the company are really hard workers. Those who aren’t hard workers won’t be able to keep up with the ones we already have.”

Family man
While he doesn’t outwardly admit it, it’s easy to see Malouff has taken a family-oriented approach to his business because he’s so involved with his own. He and his wife Brenda have been married for 19 years and have four children, Neff and Kaitlyn, 12-year-old twins, Sage, 10, and Noah, 3 years old. “You always want more for your kids than yourself – or at least I believe that,” Malouff says. “And if they want to inherit my business one day, good. If not, then that’s OK.”

In his spare time, Malouff is a volunteer football coach, Little League coach and serves on his church’s building committee. Mike Milyard, compact construction equipment sales, Wagner Rents, and a friend of Malouff’s for 30 years, admits Malouff chooses to be selfless. “He’s probably the most giving person I know, and he’s calm – he rarely loses his temper.”

While Malouff may not focus on himself, he heavily depends on the cohesiveness of his employees. His down-to-earth mentality carries over into day-to-day tasks at RMS, and helps his staff see him as someone they can relate to. As Lenny Atencio, RMS job supervisor notes, “Whenever there’s a problem, I can talk to Bryan and he’ll fix it.”

Malouff prides himself on remaining as much a friend to his employees as he is their boss. “I try to see the bigger picture, and a lot of times, you have to let little things go,” he explains. As a result, he’s seen very little turnover, and the majority of his workforce has been with the company for several years.

Another major reason behind his employee retention: “I try to keep them feeling like they are at home as much as possible,” Malouff says. This includes giving employees three-day weekends so they can be with their families after they’ve worked four days on out-of-town projects.

Encouraging full-time staff to take part in the company’s profit sharing plan has also helped Malouff deal with potential problems. “It’s sort of saying, ‘this is your grade’,” he says. “Everything is open and employees can see what the company’s done and what needs to be done.”

Malouff and Brenda host an end-of-the-year theme party for the staff and their families as a way to relax and reflect on all they’ve accomplished. This past year, the company had a “MASH” theme, with everyone dressed up as characters from the television show.

“One year, instead of a theme, we had a dunking machine and had to pay for balls to throw at the target,” says Theresa Garcia, RMS’ office manager. “After the staff had their fun dunking each other, Bryan donated all the profits to a homeless shelter.”

RMS’ employees operate much like a big family, smiling and joking, while ensuring that communication and the company’s reputation remains key. “If somebody is behind in their work, someone else will come in and help get the job done,” Romo says. “We back each other up here.”