Ever since he was a young adult, construction has played a big part in Randy Grabau’s life.
After graduating from high school, Grabau worked in commercial roofing and eventually took a job at Home Depot where he built up his construction knowledge base even more. Armed with the skills he developed in those two positions, he was hired to work for a townhome builder. He didn’t stay in that role for long, but it was for a very good reason!
“They promoted me to supervisor so I was running the construction of townhomes that cost anywhere from $250,000 to half a million dollars,” Grabau said.
He continued to work for the same builder for several years before having a revelation.
“I decided ‘to heck with it – I can probably do this on my own,’” he recalled. “So I went and got my contractor’s license and started Whitetail Builders.”
Now, more than 20 years after launching his Andover-based construction company, Grabau is proud to provide quality service to homeowners throughout the Twin Cities metro area. Whether they’re interested in something as simple as having a new front door installed or as complex as building a brand-new home from the ground up, Grabau is committed to his mission of helping people construct their dreams.
Although Whitetail Builders has grown considerably since its founding in 2002, a few things remain the same. Grabau still runs the company on his own with some behind-the-scenes help from his wife. And though he subcontracts out most of the labor and “doesn’t wear a tool belt” nearly as much these days, he remains highly involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. He wouldn’t have it any other way!
If you’re thinking about starting your own company and you’re looking for the same type of long-term success that Grabau has found, here are a few of his tips:
- Communication is key: You might be the absolute best at what you do, but if you don’t answer the phone or return people’s calls in a timely manner, your company isn’t likely to survive for very long. “I set myself apart from probably 70 percent of other contractors just by calling someone back within a day or two and showing up on time,” Grabau said. “I have a great referral network now, but I used to have to go into every job really having to sell the heck out of myself because of all the negative opinions people have about contractors.” By simply making yourself available to connect with prospective clients and showing them that you respect them and their time, you’re taking a huge step toward being successful in your new endeavor
- Be honest: If you tell a client that you’re going to complete a task, make sure that you stick to your word and if something unexpected comes up, be transparent. “If we’re running behind, I don’t just not tell the homeowner,” Grabau said. “Even if it’s something obvious like bad weather that’s holding up the job, the client still deserves a phone call to let them know what’s going on along with an update on when they can expect work to resume.”
- Don’t be afraid to say no: When you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to want to take every job that comes your way. After all, if you’re not working, you’re not making money, right? However, Grabau says that it’s OK to turn some jobs down. “For a long time, I was doing jobs that I wasn’t making a lot of money on but I was too afraid to say ‘no’ to them,” he recalled. “Now, if something doesn’t meet my criteria for whatever reason, I choose to be up front and not take the job. If I’d learned to say ‘no’ earlier in my career, it would have been helpful, but it’s something I figured out over time.”
- Delegate when you can: New business owners often feel like they need to do everything themselves in order to save money. However, that strategy can backfire, especially when you start to take on tasks that are outside your area of expertise. For example, looking back, Grabau wished he’d hired a CPA who had experience in his line of work. “I spent a lot of extra money because for years I didn’t have an accountant who understood the construction world,” he said. “Finding a CPA who knows your business and understands the nuances related to tax laws will save you a ton of headaches.”
- Get to know other business owners: Grabau has joined a number of networking groups over the years and the connections he’s made have provided him with a steady stream of referrals. That said, simply attending a few meetings and handing out your business card isn’t enough. If you want to make the most of networking groups, you have to put in the time and effort to build real and meaningful relationships. That means talking with other attendees and getting to know them on a more personal level. Ask them about their family. Find out what their hobbies and interests are. Then once you’ve established a solid foundation, you can move into talking about business. “You really have to get to know someone for a little bit before they’ll refer you. Then once they do and they stand up in front of 100 people and say ‘hey, Randy did this kitchen remodel and my parents love it,’ it speaks volumes,” Grabau said. “But it takes time to earn the trust of the people in your group. It won’t happen overnight, but when it does, the benefits can really pay off.”
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