After Vern Larman returned to the Dallas area from a two-year stint as a missionary in Bolivia, he found he had a passion and expertise for excavation. During his five years working for a pool excavation contractor he learned to master the excavator to become the company’s most profitable crew member. As his experience grew, clients were impressed and encouraged him to start his own business. The journey began in March 1984, when Vern purchased his first excavator and truck, and put together his crew.
Today, Vern—along with his wife Karen and brother Lorin—own and operate a 24 employee company that provides a diversity of services that include new pool excavation, basement excavation, hardscape development, pool demolition, grading and numerous commercial excavation projects throughout the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. He’s viewed as an innovator in his field, says Chris Polito of Pool Environments. “We’ve been in business since 1990 and Vern has dug every pool we’ve ever built,” he says. “He’s at the top of the food chain – everybody else copies what he does.”
Attention to detail, focus on quality work and maintaining excellent relationships with clients, vendors and employees alike are the reasons the company remains at the top. Vern and Lorin—who have worked together for the better part of three decades—have merged their skills to create a firm that delivers top-notch work in a professional, friendly manner.
Mastering growth management
Although Larman Construction is busier than they’ve ever been, Vern says he’s happy with the company’s current size, and hesitates to add another layer of management, as everyone enjoys the friendly family environment. He treats his employees as friends, and says that Lorin, who runs the crews, has a gentle nature with the staff. Primarily composed of long-term employees who rarely have to be given specific instructions, his staff is fiercely loyal. Lorin, who works out all the crew assignments, conducts the morning review for the four crews, as well as running one crew himself.
Having superior workers with a healthy work ethic helped Larman handle a growth period that started at the end of 2012. Warren Johnson of Fall Creek Gardens, a design-build firm that specializes in large-scale site and planting design, says that Larman and his workers go above and beyond. “I’ve been doing business with him for 20 years, and he has consistently grown,” he says. “He’s always been a super honest, polite guy, and you can depend on what he says. It seems to be the whole way down the line in his organization. I know there have been times on my jobs where he’s done things for me that he wasn’t specifically asked to do, but that have certainly made my work easier.”
Going above and beyond ensures Larman maintains excellent relationships with his clients. He says while it’s easy to get caught up in problems on the jobsite, you have to look at the big picture. “I remember a piece of advice a mentor gave me many years ago – ‘get on it and get off it.’ He impressed upon me that it was important to make a decision and move on,” he says. “I take the attitude that if anything has gone wrong, it was probably us. It makes things easier. However, our guys are really careful. It’s a testament to them that we receive almost no complaints.”
The vast majority of the feedback on the guys in the field is highly complimentary, says Windy Boren, Larman’s office manager since 2007. “Clients call me frequently to report on the great work our guys do for them,” she says. “It’s because they’re so good at what they do, and most of them have been here forever.”
Boren handles accounting, scheduling, and reception duties. Karen, Vern’s wife, handles payroll, pool demolition contacts, human resources, insurance and worker’s comp. Although Karen, a psychology major, was immersed in a fulfilling career as a program director for Court Appointed Special Advocates, Vern asked her to work with the company on a full-time basis. “I had always helped out, but didn’t have an active role in the day-to-day operation of the company,” she says. “I really do love human resources, though, because I love working with our employees.”
Karen says the position allows her to still be involved with CASA on occasion, a group of community volunteers appointed by local judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children. Her passion for the organization has affected her husband as well, who has also volunteered with CASA as a child advocate.
Their caring attitude has enabled the Larmans to craft a company culture that keeps valuable employees around for the long term. “I’ve stayed with Larman Construction so long because of this guy right here,” says Fred Barhydt, pointing a finger at Larman. Barhydt, the first Larman employee hired 30 years ago, was just one of the employees expressing this sentiment. The company is successful because of the people who work here, Larman says. “I wouldn’t say they’re loyal to me; I’d say I’m loyal to them,” he says. “Life happens and I stick with them.” He feels a responsibility not only to the workers, but to their families, as well. In addition to giving them the usual vacation time and health insurance, Larman guarantees his people a 40-hour work week, even when times were slow in the past. “They remember stuff like that.”
Since most of Larman Construction’s workforce has been with the company for many years, the staff has not only a sense of pride in their work, but also a certain level of ownership they’ve taken on themselves. Patricio Rangel, a construction veteran who runs one of Larman’s crews, is a perfect example, referring to the company’s clients as “his” clients. He also sees Larman as more than just an employer. “I like to do the best for our company and for our customers,” Rangel says. “And he shares from his own life; he’s not just the boss – he’s also a friend.”