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Just as Allyn Harth founded Harth Builders in 1996, his son Greg graduated from college with a degree in civil engineering. Greg went west on a road trip but ran out of gas in Denver, where he worked for a large contractor designing roads and bridges. Every year when Greg came home for Christmas, Allyn would ask him something about business management, estimating or personnel.

Greg would give him an Excel worksheet to burden costs or calculate estimates, for instance, and inevitably Allyn would suggest Greg move back and join the business. In 2003, Greg finally took him up on his offer and put another desk in a room above the garage where Allyn and a part-time office manager ran the company. Eventually they expanded into a bedroom adjacent to the space.

“The way things kept growing, I’d be down in the master suite at some point in my mom’s room, so we elected to move down to the lower-level walkout,” says Greg, who oversaw production for Harth Builders while Allyn handled sales and estimating. “I think that was one of the best things we did because we weren’t working on top of each other; we were working alongside each other. He allowed me to be responsible for production. [I wasn’t] doing the same things he was doing.”

The company embraced a design/build business structure shortly after relocating downstairs, and Greg drew on his experience of developing and completing heavy civil projects. “We applied the same principles to this [organization],” he continues. “How do we tighten the schedule? How do we value engineer the design? And how do we help the clients with all the [material] selections?”

They brought in a designer and, ultimately, a new production manager when Greg shifted over to supervise estimating. Harth Builders also transitioned a couple of its subcontractor crews to field employees once the business started earning more than $1 million each year. Allyn and Greg had signed a 10-year buy-sell agreement that targeted 15 percent growth with transitioning over time.

“A lot of the foundation that he laid was really good—all I did was document it,” says Greg, who would write down the phrases Allyn used most often in addition to his processes and methods for carrying out certain tasks. “He clearly was doing something successful. I said, ‘Dad, how do you take a lead? When someone calls in, what are the things that you do to convert them into a sale?’”

The characteristics that made Allyn successful became the guide for a mission statement as well as eight core values for the company. Teachings include returning phone calls promptly, always being accessible and helping clients make informed decisions by educating them about cost and schedule in advance of the work, says Greg, who took over as owner and president in 2013.

“Even though nothing was in writing initially, there was a process,” he explains. “Early on, we just wrote down what he did, so that I could do it. These processes we wrote down, we revisit it every couple of years—sometimes every couple of months. The only constant we’ve ever had in this business is change. Every year we’re working on our business—how do we make it better?”

Harth Builders quickly implemented a website to establish an online presence and generate leads for the company. Greg previously had used Excel for estimating but soon adopted ImproveBuild RBS, a business management system for remodelers that provides a combination of cloud-based and desktop solutions. Smartsheet software pushes all project schedules up to the cloud, he adds.

“Our business is scalable, and we’ve built the business to take advantage of the market [once] it came back. And clearly the market is back right now,” says Greg, who hired 12 new employees this last year. “One of the things I learned from my dad is every time we take a step forward, what’s the step back that you might have to take. You don’t have to do it; you just have to identify it.”

A late winter in Philadelphia this year delayed many jobs until the second quarter, causing every trade partner to get backed up, he explains. The most challenging aspect of being a design/build company, however, proves to be the ongoing training for field employees. Harth Builders started its own training program, Harth University, in January to educate workers, especially production.

The organization utilizes Prezi presentation software to onboard new staff and engage them with its company history and culture. “It’s easy for us to update it in one source, and we’re updating it for everyone,” Greg says. “Dad’s system of walking the person down the hall and explaining the story of who Harth is doesn’t happen anymore. Now that you have more employees coming on, nobody has the time to do that. But it was a really powerful thing, so we created this onboarding passport that any new employee [can use] to basically meet and greet [us all] and walk the halls.”

Greg often cultivates his social and professional networks to find personnel who could be a good fit for the business. Recently he bought paint for his own house at a Sherwin-Williams store, and a painter there asked him if he needed a mason. Greg had been looking for a one-man shop to do some repointing and other remodeling projects, as opposed to the bigger, production type of jobs.

“Sure enough, that’s exactly what his son does,” Greg adds. “We task everybody in the company with that responsibility [of identifying potential employees]. Although, ultimately, I think it falls back to my dad and I most of the time, or the sales guys as they’re out and about; we’re pressing the flesh and asking people. Oftentimes, I will just stop and introduce myself to a trade partner.”

Harth Builders billed more than $12 million in 2017, when new construction accounted for over half of its revenue, compared with about $7 million in 2016. The company has banked around $1 million in new construction for 2018 but hopes to reach $3.5 million by the end of the year, Greg notes. Remodeling sales should increase from nearly $6 million in 2017 to $6.5 million this year.

“The overhead structure of our company is still built around remodeling. For us, a lot of that new construction just fell right to the bottom line, which was nice,” he says. “[But] we find that first-floor renovations with a very small addition or some structural work are really the niche for us. Those projects that run $200,000-$300,000 on the first floor are absolutely what we’re built for.” | QR

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