Ep. 112: Successfully Running a Family-Owned Construction Company with Stacey Tompkins of Tompkins Excavating

Stacey Tompkins, Tompkins ExcavatingUnder Stacey Tompkins’ leadership, Tompkins Excavating out of Putnam County, New York has grown from a lawn mowing service provider to a woman-owned and family-operated, full-service commercial and residential excavation and landscape construction company. When she’s not dealing with dirt, she’s an active volunteer and mentor in her community and has been honored with numerous business and leadership awards. 

Stacey and host Missy Scherber discuss:

  • Investing in machine control technology
  • Developing a strong corporate culture
  • Increasing revenue 8x in six years
  • Balancing family and business  

Stacey will be participating in an influencer panel discussion and meetup taking place on Wednesday, March 11, as well as an executive leadership panel taking place on Friday, March 13 at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020.

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Show Transcript:

Intro:                      

Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio, highlighting the latest construction technology and trends to drive your business forward. Coming up in March of 2020, CONEXPO-CON/AGG is North America's largest construction trade show. We bring you expert advice from your favorite brands, startups and industry peers. And for even more news, sign up for our weekly 365 eNewsletter at conexpoconagg.com/subscribe. We've got another great guest on the show today, so let's dig in.

Missy Scherber:              

Hi everyone. Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. I'm your host Missy Scherber and I'm thrilled to introduce a new segment on the podcast called Contractor Conversations. Every month I'll be talking to your favorite contractors around the country about their projects, workforce development, technology, and of course equipment. I hope these conversations give you the expertise and support that you need to thrive in the daily work that you do. For those of you that don't know me, I'm a contractor based in Minnesota and I own a demolition and excavating company alongside my husband, Trevor. I'm passionate about our industry and I want to recognize all the hard work that you do every day to build our world. I truly believe that CONEXPO-CON/AGG is the event where the construction community can come together and belong. And I sure hope you'll join me and my guests at the show in Las Vegas in March of 2020. Now, please stay connected with me on Instagram where you can join the conversation and stay up to date on all the exciting things that are happening at the show that you won't want to miss. Now let's get started with today's episode.

Missy Scherber:              

Under Stacey Tompkins leadership, Tompkins Excavating out of Putnam County, New York has grown from a lawn mowing service provider to a woman owned and family operated full service, commercial and residential excavation and landscape construction company. When she's not dealing with dirt, she's an active volunteer and mentor in her community and has been honored with numerous business and leadership awards. Stacey will be participating in an influencer panel discussion and meet and greet taking place on Wednesday, March 11th as well as an executive leadership panel taking place on Friday, March 13th at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020.

Missy Scherber:              

Well, Stacey welcome to the show. It's so good to have you here.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, Missy, thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be here and anybody else that had anything to do with this. Happy to be involved.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. Well thank you again for taking time. We know you have a very busy schedule with all the things that you're leading, but tell us a little bit first about yourself. Our listeners may not know you or who you are, about your business. Tell us about you, your business, and how you got started in construction.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, I did not start my career in construction and I'll start off with this, and I've said this to many people. I did not wake up one day and I would say that I wanted to own an operator excavation or a construction company. My background is in the food service business. I started in food service my entire career right from college. Even before college I was always working in restaurants and I studied food and business and have a bachelor of science in that career path. And I went to a work in food service. I had a terrific job right out of college that I was probably under-qualified for, but the person saw something in me and hired me over the person that should have been promoted.

Stacey Tompkins:           

And here I was right out of college and I was leading and managing 10 people in food service. So right at 21 years old, that was somebody just, Harold saw something in me and put me right into this job. And I did very well there. And it's really just about leading and managing people, not so much specifics of what the service is. Of course, you have to be knowledgeable in that, but it's really managing and leading people. And then I was promoted and eventually left there and was food service director for Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs with another company.

Missy Scherber:              

Wow. So you were really deep in hospitality, the food service industry.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Correct. Yes.

Missy Scherber:              

Okay, awesome.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Correct. So then I met Mark, he was running a excavation landscape construction, I would say more so what it was back in 1990. Cut a very long story short, I was very miserable with my job and he had lost his office manager. And we got engaged and we just thought it was a right fit for me to maybe leave what I was doing and help with the business in some capacity. Little did I know really what I would wind up with. That was 27 years, 29 years ago and three children later. And it's been a wonderful way to balance having children, make your own schedules, create your own path so to speak.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. So tell me when you first because I know that you just gave me a flashback to when Trevor and I first met, I walked into his office for the first time and there were stacks of mail and bills and surveys everywhere and I'm like, "Oh my Lord, you need some help." Tell me about those first few weeks, months, year in the office. When you took over that office administrator position, what did you focus on? Because I know a lot of small business owners are like, "Help."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yes, it was very hard. I'm trying to remember back where he had to move his office from a certain spot so we had to move it. It was his dad's house and his dad was selling the house. So we had to move the office to a very small house where we were living and it was just really trying to just figure out what this person was doing. Accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll. I was familiar with that because being in food service and a food service director, I was for that admin part payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable. So I just had to figure out how it was done in this business. So I did have a little bit of an understanding of that part of it. But when it was for yourself, it became a whole different picture.

Missy Scherber:              

It's so different.

Stacey Tompkins:           

When you weren't working for somebody else. Correct.

Missy Scherber:              

So you really had that administrative background and you just, you didn't change. Did you not change much? You just kind of adopted it into the excavation business.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yeah, I had to first really learn QuickBooks. I mean that was one of the first things I remember learning that I needed to take outside of what I already knew. I only knew somewhat not, I was certainly not a trained bookkeeper. I had no full understanding of accounting. I had people that did that for me in the other positions for now again, it was mine. We had to figure out how to do this. So I remember taking a QuickBooks class and that was-

Missy Scherber:              

Huge.

Stacey Tompkins:           

... 25 years ago. It's the one first thing I did, to take a QuickBooks class.

Missy Scherber:              

And from what I understand, you've always kind of been there as administrative support. There was a time period where you were focused on raising the family. You have three sons, correct?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yes. I have three wonderful sons, 24, 21 and 17 so in the beginning it was an ease in, it was, I'm taking care of three children, but I always was working and had a babysitter. I had to bring the kids to the babysitter every day. At first, it was one day a week, two days a week, three days a week. It increased as my responsibilities became greater with the business. So it's probably 25 hours a week, I would say when it was or to 30 that she was watching them for me. And they were six years between six and a half, between oldest and youngest. So we had a little bit of one went to school and so we had a little bit with that. And then when I was always very involved with the schools and as soon as my youngest was five, I said, okay, now I need to concentrate 100% on our business. And that's what I started doing.

Missy Scherber:              

And what did that look like to make that role from just administrative support or not just because administrative support is so important and especially in the earth moving business. But tell me about the transition from you going from that role into, from what I understand, I mean you're full blown president of the company operations all of that. Tell me about that project management. That was another one you brought up I'm like, wow-

Stacey Tompkins:           

Project management.

Missy Scherber:              

Let's talk about that.

Stacey Tompkins:           

No training on that one.

Missy Scherber:              

Tell us about the transition.

Stacey Tompkins:           

It didn't really happen overnight. Honestly, it really was a transition and it went slow to a certain extent once I would say 2011 I've said this story to people. It really was a pivoting role with us. In 2011 really, it was very difficult times all around with the economy, with employees, with how to handle it, how to manage it. And we wound up getting some help to have somebody to help us with the business. And that's I think about 2011 was the time when we all made a pivotal turn around and said, "We have to figure out a way how to do this."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Because it was tough, employees and it's still tough. Nothing's really has changed, I think just our mindset and our goals have changed and what we want to do. The basic work ethic and how we work has not, and never will, but with children that have grown up in our business, which I mean everybody knows that my oldest son and all my children are involved with our business. And we really made, we want to do this for ourselves but for them too. Now even so more for them. So it's easier.

Missy Scherber:              

What were some of those big pivots or do any of the pivots come to mind from 2011? Several of the people that we've interviewed here on the podcast talk about the economy and when it changed and what they had to change as a business to adjust to that. Any come to mind from that role reversal in 2011 when things were changing?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, we really just had to make decisions with employees, clean house. So that was tough. I always said, I don't know how we managed to keep a few people in business. We only had maybe three to five people at the time and these huge companies were going out of business and going bankrupt. And I'd say, "How did I manage to do." And I still really not sure to be honest with you because we weren't that organized with our budgets and our marketing and we were just really like most small businesses just going by the seat of their pants. And said, "Oh, I have $5 in my bank account. Okay. The lights can stay on." That's what we did. So I think once we hired a business consultant and a coach and made some hard decisions and decided to take advice, because I always say the same thing as raising kids and you'll find out there's no handbook, there's no handbook with them.

Missy Scherber:              

No handbook on running an earth moving company.

Stacey Tompkins:           

No.

Missy Scherber:              

Not that at least.

Stacey Tompkins:           

We evolved that too. We change from landscaping at the same time of all of this. And I think now that you say that bringing that up, I think that was... Thank you for reminding me. That was probably a pivotal role, a pivotal spot as well. We needed to define ourselves and who we were. And our name was called Tompkins Landscaping Corp. That's our full name, our legal name and it's still is. But we weren't doing landscaping. And in the old days people didn't care. They called you up for any work. Now with the internet and all these other things, you had to market yourself. And that's when we changed in 2011 to Tompkins Excavating, around that time.

Missy Scherber:              

And you kind of made that pivot to focus on who are we, what services are we going to provide? Did you kind of narrow down and get rid of some of the services that you were providing?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yes. Yes.

Missy Scherber:              

You did.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Absolutely. Yes and even now we even more so keep doing that. We still were doing back then landscape construction, a lot of hardscape and not that we don't do it anymore, but we really have weeded that down to a lot less of that. So you do drill down and focus in and we still offer a lot of services but just for different clients.

Missy Scherber:              

And you've really narrowed it down. And the article that I read about you in Westchester Magazine, which is really the way I was introduced to you years ago. Talked about how you really took on a strong leadership role in 2013 that really affected the company in record growth. Talk to me about that 2013 to 2017 season and any advice you'd give to those who are kind of in that phase of I'm stepping into leadership, what does that look like?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well again, it's not something you just wake up one day and say, "Okay. Today's the day." Right? It's sort of an evolution and things and it was when in 2013 when I decided to really put myself out there, be involved in the community, which I always had been just innately. But now was a little bit more focused and structured and joining organizations that would be helpful to my business and not even necessarily just my business, but the community. It was just, I think leadership can be taught to a certain extent, but some people can never learn it and you're just born with it a little bit. It's just natural, but it's taking risks, it's taking chances, it's being truthful, authentic. I just did an entire year leadership class and we spent a lot of time on what your core values are and what your mission and vision are in 10 months, it's not easy. So-

Missy Scherber:              

It's a lot of development.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right, and your employees, your community, your clients, and they all have to know that because people only really want to do business today with people they know and trust. Right. And that's really very common not just for any, they really want to know that you're deep.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. So tell me, 2013 you really decided to put yourself out there and I love that you said that because I do think any man or woman in the industry, it sometimes can be hard to find the confidence to really put yourself out there and say, "This is who I am, this is what we're doing." What advice would you give to those that are maybe in that season of life of what gave you the confidence to put yourself out there as a woman in the earth moving industry is really my bottom line question.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, I went to a conference and that's the other thing is just going to things and I won't say what she said on air because it was, but you know who Barbara Corcoran is, from Shark Tank?

Missy Scherber:              

Yes, yes.

Stacey Tompkins:           

And she was local here where I live and she was a guest speaker at this grow conference. That's actually this week. It's little conference for small businesses. And this was probably around that time, maybe a year or so after. And she said something that really just stuck with me. It was very crude and she just, because she was in a man's world and she just said, "I'm just going to do it, I'm just going to walk in." And she said some nasty words, which I won't repeat, but she's like, "I got this." And it was a little bit of self-talk just as you walk into the room and you say, "I got this. I got this."

Missy Scherber:              

I got this.

Stacey Tompkins:           

And you might not have it. And that's okay. And I don't mean just saying to be phony, but it's the appearance of that, you have it. Because I don't know the answers to every question that are presented to me that have to do with even our work. I always say, I am not the technical person. I understand what we do. I know what we do. I certainly can sell what we do and market what we do now better than I could back then. I've had to learn this trade, and I've always said this to Mark. I don't know all these things. I haven't been doing it since I'm 12 years old.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah, but you've owned that.

Stacey Tompkins:           

And you're in that same situation.

Missy Scherber:              

And I love that you've owned that and just said, "Here's what I do know. Here's what I don't know." And I think that's great advice for anyone, both women and men who are really trying to put their self out there in this industry is just walk in there knowing you got this.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right. And another thing is that I think is a little piece of advice too, and maybe that would be at the end, but it's okay to hear no. It's okay to hear, no.

Missy Scherber:              

Don't be afraid of the nos. I love that.

Stacey Tompkins:           

And I think that's also-

Missy Scherber:              

Well, let's pivot here and talk a little bit about business and industry outlook. And this is, I'm really excited to ask you this question, but just because you've seen the industry change so much in the last 10, 20 years, what are the biggest challenges you're facing right now and how have those changed from 10 years ago?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, I think the biggest challenges is human resources today is getting good people. 10 years ago they would be lining up at the door, right? I think everybody would agree with that 10 years ago and then it was a little harder to find the work, right? So it's always such a balance. So right now the pivots up to me, it has changed where the human, the resource, the human resources, your people are harder to find and keep the good ones. And the work of course is hard to find, but I feel like that comes, and we're in a good spot with the economy right now. But I wish it could ever be in a spot where the work was perfectly flowing and I've got the right amount of staff to staff it. And the equipment to run it, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. Just the perfect balance of all three would be fantastic.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Wouldn't that be? I don't know. We're not there. We're certainly not there.

Missy Scherber:              

No, that's a common thing we're hearing as well as the human resources. And I'm excited for a lot of the community to come together at CONEXPO and keep putting our heads together on how do we address this human resource problem so that we can continue to grow?

Stacey Tompkins:           

It is a big problem and that is one of my passions and that is one of the things that I wanted, that I took out of my leadership class was what can I do with my spare time? Not that I have spare time, but what's my passion and talking about and are our skilled labor shortage that's going on. And I'm trying to go into schools and meet with politicians and whatever. Whoever will listen to me and everybody knows in this area. I mean I can only speak for here. I know it's all over the country, but in where I am in the Northeast, it's huge problem and it's not even just in our industry. It's in every industry but worse than our industry.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah, absolutely. Now what do you see is the biggest growth opportunity for the construction industry in the coming years?

Stacey Tompkins:           

The growth, I actually asked Kevin that and I think the technology in our industry is the GPS guided machines, the base and rovers, is getting that technology and really for us under our belt so that you can be more efficient and not have to... We're always going to be people in our business. We can't automate it but to go to some level of automation, so to speak, where you don't maybe need to be as highly trained as an equipment operator, but you do need to be able to be more trained as a computer person. I don't know maybe.

Missy Scherber:              

Well that's a great lead in to talking about equipment and technology. Now you and your son, Kevin decided to buy your first machine control excavator in 2017, how has that investment... Was it 2016?

Stacey Tompkins:           

I think it's three years ago. Yeah. Already.

Missy Scherber:              

How is that investment paid off and have you since invested in other equipment with machine control technology?

Stacey Tompkins:           

So Kevin went to work for a huge construction company up in Boston when he was at school and he took six months on a coop and it was huge. He just was the one that brought it to the table and said, "This is it. This is where we need to be. This is cutting edge, this is what has to happen." So we bought one and it's very expensive and it's a very big learning curve, but we're finally getting to the point, we did buy another machine last year with another GPS intelligent machines. So we do have two now and in our area there's not too many people believe it or not in our area that do have them. And it is really when it's set up and used correctly and it is game changer. It is absolutely game changer.

Missy Scherber:              

Just with the efficiency or what about it does-

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well because it's, you set your grades, you set... Again like I'm not exactly I don't operate the machine.

Missy Scherber:              

Me neither.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I'll tell you when I don't know the answer.

Missy Scherber:              

Me neither.

Stacey Tompkins:           

But no, it prevents you from over digging. It sets your grades. You don't need to be getting in and out of the machine. You don't need the guy with the stick. It saves a tremendous amount of time which obviously equates to money and it is also a marketing tool saying that we have this equipment. So it does reduce the amount of surveying need on a job. We are not getting rid of surveyors or eliminating them at all in any way, shape or form. We're trying to find a way to work together with them. Because we're not certified surveyors, we're not licensed, but it does take, we can do a lot of our own layout, which saves the client money.

Missy Scherber:              

Which saves the client money, which is huge, really important to them. Now, what advice would you have for other contractors? Because we all don't have a Kevin, when it comes to researching and investing in new equipment or technology?

Stacey Tompkins:           

How would you look at that? I guess you talk to people, the internet research, my husband too, he's old school, doesn't even have an email address for himself, but he will read magazines and read and read and doesn't like to read a book, but will read every trade magazine. Will plug away on the computer to research things. So you're talking that old school that's... I don't know. Honestly if we probably wouldn't have invested in one, honestly-

Missy Scherber:              

Had Kevin not come to you.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Probably not. I don't think so.

Missy Scherber:              

Which speaks really great to having young talent on your teams. If they're in the family, great. If not, making sure to have young talent around, which I think is great. So what do you think is going to be the biggest game changer in the next five years? Is it this technology that you're seeing?

Stacey Tompkins:           

I think that is part of it. I mean we're already there. We're already using it. I mean obviously the less people around here for us that have it, the better because it sets us apart.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Game changer for the next five years. I'm not really sure. I don't know if I have a great answer for that, but the technology is definitely a piece of it. But I don't know really what would be, I think that is that definitely for us is obtaining more of that and being more proficient in it and training more people in it. And we have some people trained and we do have the younger people that do want to learn it. Very Interesting to them. So it's training and getting everybody geared up to be proficient with this and if they go, yes, that would be game changer if I could have 10 machines or eight machines that are intelligent machines and that they all could be used properly.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. I love that you're connecting the technology to the training. It's like, "Hey, we can have all this technology, but the game changer is going to be with the training as well and getting people efficient with using the equipment."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Correct.

Missy Scherber:              

That's awesome. Now this is a question that I'm interested to hear your feedback on. How do dealer and manufacturer relationships play a role in your success?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, we're very loyal to, we live in like everybody else, I mean we live in a small area, we're not in the city, so we're in rural or we're not rural. We're an hour North of New York City, but we're suburbs of New York City, on every corner is not another supplier. But there is competition. There's no question about it. And we try to be very loyal to our vendors and people that we're buying our supplies from and that we feel that we're having a good relationship with them has been great. Because they will give us their best pricing. I mean there's a vendor that Mark has used for 25 years and we expect to get the best pricing and we will shop. We will always shop it, buy it out once we get the...

Stacey Tompkins:           

Sometimes you can't do that and so you get the job, you just kind of go to get pricing just so you can get your bid in. But I feel that being local in the community and some of our vendors know who we are, not all of them have the same values as we do.

Missy Scherber:              

That's so great. So you've really found loyalty and really shopping locally has helped with your dealer manufacturer relationships. And what kind of equipment do you guys like to run? Give me the quick school.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Mostly Komatsu and Kubota.

Missy Scherber:              

Okay. Awesome.

Stacey Tompkins:           

That's all we have. So we had a really good relationship with Pine Bush Equipment up here and giving them a plug. But they now are owned by Komatsu. Komatsu brought out a lot of the local, in fact we were featured in their first magazine at Komatsu did once they bought Pine Bush. But they were a family owned business and again, Mark had a relationship with them for years and many, many years. And those were our go-to for equipment as well. And we still buy our stuff from Pine Bush mostly when we can. But a lot of times we're also shopping used equipment because we can't afford all new equipment for every time we need something. So therefore we're just shopping it. And that might not be loyalty because you just find that deal or wherever and you get the machine shipped and you go look at it.

Missy Scherber:              

That's business owner cash flow.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right exactly.

Missy Scherber:              

Sometimes we got to think about that too even though Trevor would love a whole fleet of shiny new equipment.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Oh of course.

Missy Scherber:              

That would be great.

Stacey Tompkins:           

So would Kevin and Mark. [crosstalk 00:26:16].

Missy Scherber:              

So then the Komatsu and... I know. Stop it. So the Komatsu and Kubota have been really the best equipment for you guys to support the type of work that you do.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yes.

Missy Scherber:              

Awesome.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I would say those are the two main means, I mean Mark has always been very loyal with Komatsu. Hello, Komatsu.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes, we love you Komatsu. Trevor's a huge fan of their dozers and so we have the Komatsu dozer and that's his jam. He likes a different brand for every piece of equipment. I can't even keep up with it, but that's so great to hear. So now you mentioned workforce earlier and I love that you're becoming passionate about that. I feel like a lot of us in the industry that own our own businesses, we're having to become passionate about workforce development but we won't be in business. But you brought a lot of leadership and human resource skills from your previous careers when you joined the family business. How has your background helped shape the corporate culture that you've developed at Tompkins Excavating?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, I'm very honest with my employees. I don't hold back, but yet I'm very respectful and careful how I do speak to them. I'm very careful. I'm not perfect when we're hiring them, that's for sure. I make mistakes, plenty of them and I am still the human resource person that makes all the decisions on hiring. One day it would be nice to have somebody else. I do have help with that, but I've still I'm the ultimate decision maker with that. But I feel like my employees know it's safe to come talk to me even as we're growing I don't want to lose that relationship. No, I can't talk to them every single day anymore where sometimes if we had four or five guys or people, I could just go to one job and see everybody. I can't do that anymore with 20, 22 people, but I still want them to understand that just because we're growing, that they're not left out so to speak.

Stacey Tompkins:           

We try to do meetings. It's been a little bit harder with being spread out and keeping everybody together. We do a holiday party. I do a company picnic at my house every year for everybody, so we try to make it... I always tell my interviews, we're going to work hard, play hard. That's what we do. And the culture, people know that we want the job done correctly, safely. And I will tell you, I know it's working because I've had my current employees say they'll call me up and say, "This guy is not going to work out, no way. Or I didn't even want to refer somebody to you because I know they wouldn't fit into our culture." So when you hear that and it's taken a long time too, it takes a long time. And not everybody is there. Even with 22 people you have your strugglers.

Missy Scherber:              

So you've developed a culture that's really connected. They want to do the job correctly, safely. They're honest, respectful. I think those are great pillars to build a good company culture off of that.

Stacey Tompkins:           

We're not yellers. Mark is none of my... A lot of the times in our industry, I think it's a bad rap and the whole, it was construction guy, people yell. I don't know if that's accurate, but you hear that a lot. Because we don't yell and we don't want our foreman yelling. And training, training, training, training.

Missy Scherber:              

Training is a big part of your culture and you bring up the yelling. And that's funny. That's come up in my last few interviews. I think it is still out there in construction. I mean we just hired two guys just based on, their boss yelled at them all the time and I was like, what-

Stacey Tompkins:           

They couldn't stand it. Right?

Missy Scherber:              

... That exists? Well that's easy retention for great staff.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right. For you guys. Exactly.

Missy Scherber:              

Just don't yell at them, well obviously.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Exactly that's an easy thing. Yeah, I can deal with that.

Missy Scherber:              

To build into the culture, no yelling but then the training and so you guys are really focused on training as well as part of your retention in corporate culture retention.

Stacey Tompkins:           

We're trying. It's very difficult and learning that you can't train attitudes, good work ethic, loyalty, but you can train skills. But that's still hard in a small business to train skills to have the time, the energy, the patients, the opportunity to find a way to train them. And that's the challenge but we have recognized and we have all figured out with this issue with human resources is that training is really going to be the only way to do it.

Missy Scherber:              

It's sacrificing production is kind of what we've-

Stacey Tompkins:           

Absolutely.

Missy Scherber:              

... What we've learned is we just had a guy dig a basement and it took them eight hours instead of two and we had to say, that's okay, he's learning.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I know, I know, and it costs you a lot of money and we don't have a training facility. I just had a conversation with a person the other day and [inaudible 00:31:12], "You guys got to train." I'm like, "Yeah, but even if I had a training facility, an equipment operator can't train for two weeks, zap, I'm good. I'm done." No, it's on the job and it's months and months, a month and years.

Missy Scherber:              

Well, I greatly respect that you're even just looking at that and saying, "Hey, we have to figure out a way to continue production as a company, but train our people." Now, how would you describe your leadership style? I'm excited to hear your answer.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I'm to the point. I'm honest, I'm direct, but I don't think I'm abrasive. People know that they're going to get a straight answer out of me and I'm not going to pull back or hide it or sugarcoat it, I should say. But done in a way that's not abrasive like I just said, or it's not condescending or it's not... And that's the way I am with clients and also with employees and anybody else that is in my life, that's sort of who I am. I'm just direct. I'm honest and I'm to the point, and sorry if I hurt your feelings, but the truth has to be told sometimes. It is business and I've gotten better and thicker skinned with that. Because yes good people don't want to hurt other people's feelings, but it is what it is.

Missy Scherber:              

It is what it is. It's good to be to the point.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I have a business to run and have had many issues where it's... So I think that that comes across to my employees. I do believe that.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great. And it sounds like you're to the point, but you're also connected. I mean, you're staying connected. You're doing the barbecues, you're just saying, "Let's be connected, but then when we're on the job, let's get to the point here and get the job done."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right. Exactly. Exactly. They are your greatest asset to employees, right? They can be your worst and your greatest. They're the ones getting the work done. So you have to treat them with the utmost respect.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely. So now your revenue has more than doubled since you stepped into the role of president in 2013.

Stacey Tompkins:           

From 13 to now it has eight times.

Missy Scherber:              

Oh wow.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Eight times, maybe nine.

Missy Scherber:              

Your revenue has grown eight times. What it was in 2013, that's just, wow. What do you attribute-

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yeah, it's crazy.

Missy Scherber:              

... That success too?

Stacey Tompkins:           

A lot of that is Kevin, my son driving the train of being able to bid these larger jobs that Mark doesn't have the head for, the computer technology. You can't do this old school with pulling out the plans and doing takeoffs. You'd be two weeks doing a bid for a job that is $1 million job. I'd say. So I would think that his being able to bid these, we used to sub it out and pay money to have somebody do this and it became a very expensive. So then you were very choosy on your bids because it was saying, "Okay, I'm going to spend $1,500 to have somebody help us bid this job." And then not get it. It's a very expensive. So I would say that between those things, our confidence, getting some big jobs under our belts, being well known in the community, our reputation, our online presence, all of those things kind of coming together and it took years of it and we're still deciding where we want to go with it.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I don't know if we want to continue, we definitely don't want to continue the growth pattern we had this year. It was ridiculous. We doubled in one year. Doubled.

Missy Scherber:              

And with that comes a lot of growing pains, right?

Stacey Tompkins:           

A lot of growing pains, a lot of heartache. A lot of lost night's sleep.

Missy Scherber:              

No vacations.

Stacey Tompkins:           

A lot of mistakes that we've made that we know that we... And most of them are financial, it's money. Somebody told me you can always grow more money. You don't get more because you can't get your health, you can't buy that. So keep it all in check. It's hard because we're all very emotional my entire family and it was very hard on us, but we're out of that pain and into now trying to figure out and regroup and reorganize and restructure and figure out really how we want to go. Because we did grow. We did too much in one year too fast.

Missy Scherber:              

I agree. So now you're kind of saying that success, a huge part of that is confidence community. Kevin being able to use technology to estimate but then double the size came and then there was a few more things to work through.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right. Right. Exactly. Exactly. He's go to do them now. Right. Then it was buying the machines and the financial outlay and staffing. We didn't have enough people, it was crazy. And these jobs all started and ended at the same time, these large jobs for us, but now we know we walk into, talk to a client or someplace, we got like I could handle like we know what size job we would want to handle up to now or how many we would take on at the same time. And now we're filling in with some smaller things and catching up which is fine.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah. With adding all those people, what would you say because if you doubled in size, that's double the amount of staff. What do you look for in new team members? Like when you're in the hiring process because you're so involved in that, so we'd love to know what do you look for in that interview process with your team?

Stacey Tompkins:           

First thing is pep in their step, right? Do they have pep in their step when they're walking into the interview, how they're shaking your hands, how they're looking at you, making eye contact and we are a drug free smoke-free company. So you can't smoke on my jobs in my equipment on my anywhere. I can't tell people that they can't smoke because they can smoke because that's free country. But you can't smoke anywhere. So if you smoke and that's why it's also been hard for us because there's a lot of people in our industry that smoke. So I'm not saying that we don't try to have people that do smoke and say that they won't smoke and some are successful and some are not and then they can't work here.

Stacey Tompkins:           

So that's what we look for that's initially and it's asking the right questions. I love when people come in and they've looked at my website. Right. Or say, "I've seen you, seen you on Instagram, I've seen your posts. I really want to work here." I mean that goes to me. That's huge. I love when I hear that? That they did their homework. And we try to do some homework on them too before they come in. We try to check their social media to see what might be going on.

Missy Scherber:              

So you kind of look for pep in their step. You look for clean and that they've done their due diligence on the company. Anything else?

Stacey Tompkins:           

How they're answering questions, you can really just see what their temperament is or personality is. Questions are fine. Sometimes it's just their personality and sometimes it's just a gut. It's a gut all the way around that I can just say, "Oh nope, no way, no way."

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Or sometimes I'm on the fence it really depends on where we are with that. But there's lots of different things and I have somebody sit down and I try to have somebody sit with me now because sometimes there's so many, I can't keep track of it. Somebody take notes, help me answer questions and their work history, right? Where they've been and what they're doing and why are they looking for a job, and when people are telling me that their old boss didn't give them what they promised them. That is a red flag.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah. It's always like, "Okay, bye."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right, right. Exactly. "Okay, be careful what you're saying."

Missy Scherber:              

So now when you're in a similar situation as Trevor and I as spouses owning a business together, how do you and your husband balance family and business and what's your best advice for family owned businesses? And you have your sons in it too. So I'm really excited to get one, the spouse answer, how do you handle the balance as husband and wife owning a business and then two, the family business dynamics. So give us your best advice there.

Stacey Tompkins:           

We're trying to actually now be better at separating it and not talking about work at night anymore and trying to put some boundaries in. I'm not saying we're perfect with that and Mark and I have very different styles of how we lead and how we think of things. But yet our values obviously are the same because we're married and we run the same business together. But I don't have a magic answer to that. I know a lot of people just, it's balance. It's making sure that you're taking time off. And we did not for the last year and it really did hurt us. It really did. I'm not going to lie. It hurt our family. It hurt our ourselves and therefore it hurts the business.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right. When your employees do you see you distraught and upset? I mean, sometimes you can't hide things. Just they might be just walking in or whatever you're not outwardly, but it's really trying to have a united front at work for your employees and then discuss it later. It's just like with kids and Kevin's just coming into it. So we're kind of working all that out, but it is having roles and having boundaries and we are really just, we're just finally getting to the point where we're getting better at it.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Stacey Tompkins:           

But trying to go away, try to go out for dinner, try to go do things that are not work-related, is important

Missy Scherber:              

Yes, that's important. And you definitely see it take a toll when you're not taking that time away. And that advice seems so simple, but you almost have to shout it from the rooftops to business owners like, "Take a break."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, and that we're trying to do structured, in fact, after this phone call, we're trying to have a structured meeting with myself, Mark and Kevin weekly before our meeting with our foreman so that we can strategize and sit down for an hour or 90 minutes once a week so that we don't have to bleed all these conversations. I mean, there'll be small talk of things, but they don't have to bleed into 11 o'clock at night.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Stacey Tompkins:           

So we're trying to structure that [crosstalk 00:41:26]. And I'm getting better at it, by pulling myself out of it.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great advice.

Stacey Tompkins:           

[crosstalk 00:41:30] I'm not talking about it.

Missy Scherber:              

"It's past 10 I'm watching my show right now. Leave me alone."

Stacey Tompkins:           

Exactly.

Missy Scherber:              

That's so great.

Stacey Tompkins:           

That's exactly what I do.

Missy Scherber:              

And I know that advice seems so simple, but I'm even listening to it like, wow, we did not take time away and we're feeling that right now, this year because of the record growth and we need to do that weekly meeting. Trevor and I have just started talking about that. So the advice seems simple to all the listeners out there, but it really is important. Taking the break and having that weekly meeting where this is where we talk about business.

Stacey Tompkins:           

That might be helpful. And taking time for yourself. Me, I kind of speak for myself and yourself, you being a mom to be is making sure that if you like to get your nails done, you get your nails done or if you want to go to the gym or if you want to take a cooking class or... It doesn't necessarily have to be the things that you're doing together, right? With Trevor or your family. But it is just taking really the first step is to take care of yourself. Right? They would say put that oxygen mask on yourself first on the plane. And I do believe, and I do, do that. I do. I mean I've gotten better at it. I mean there's times when I haven't, but I will carve out that time to do the things that I need to do.

Missy Scherber:              

So you're saying our entire life should not be consumed with machines and excavations.

Stacey Tompkins:           

No. Correct. There's more to it than that.

Missy Scherber:              

Done. So last but not least, what advice would you give to women working in this industry? And you've been a woman in this industry through a lot of transitionary seasons of what it was like in the '90s, the 2000s. What it's like now. I'm sure you've seen quite-

Stacey Tompkins:           

You're dating me-

Missy Scherber:              

I'm sorry. You've watched the transition. So what advice would you have for women now who want to get into the industry?

Stacey Tompkins:           

It's again and I know it's women in the industry and I know we're a minority. I know we're very, I read the statistic on it, how minor we are in the construction industry and it is an important focal point that it's a woman in a man's industry. But I don't harp on that. I don't harp on that any... Maybe I did, but I've grown, I've matured at, I'm 54 so I've matured and I understand a younger person is going to... With part of that is just coming with age and growth and maturity and just in the natural progression of life. And that's just having confidence in yourself and not letting them bully you so to speak and not taking it personally. And it's business and it's okay to hear a no, but you need to keep persisting and you need to get up and you need to do it again.

Stacey Tompkins:           

And we all say, how many failures do you have before you have a success? There's those statistics on that, you're not succeeding unless you're failing. Like, look at all the things I just learned from the last year. Maybe they were, some of them were failures. Some of the things, and maybe it's because I have three boys and I only have men in my life immediately, so I'm not really sure, but I don't focus that much on the woman thing. But it is there. It certainly is. There's no question about it. I've gone into a room with all men in there and they turn around and look at you and say, "Hi, I'm here."

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah. Here I am. So you know you are a part of that minority, but you don't really lead with that is what you're saying. And you don't put a lot of focus on it, which I think is such great advice for all of us who, I think there's a push out there to be the woman in the industry and we're a woman in a man's world. But the more we're working together and everyone's feeling respected, the better we are.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Right, right. And look, we have feelings. We talked the other day and I would have my breakdowns. You just can't have them in front of them. That's it. Women unfortunately are earmarked as emotional. Or they're just too reactive or are they're... Part of that might be true, but it also, I also get things done that way.

Missy Scherber:              

That's true.

Stacey Tompkins:           

You push, you push, you push, you push. You have to be assertive too.

Missy Scherber:              

That's true.

Stacey Tompkins:           

You have to be aggressive without being pushy. I think people don't like that in men or women.

Missy Scherber:              

It's finding that balance. Now if there is a situation where women out there might feel like you said, bullied or uncomfortable or maybe they are not welcome or don't belong, what advice would you give to them? What they could think about or say to stay in the game and not kind of give up in those moments? Because that feeling is real.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, maybe find some people in your area that you could commiserate with. That's always helpful. Or if you're going to these networking or events or try to go with somebody, it's not saying go by yourself. Try to go with somebody if you can. And there's so many networking and women support organizations all over the place in any industry that would be helpful, I think helpful advice and it just really just being true to yourself and believe in yourself. And you have to have support because you can't do it alone. So if somebody's starting their own business in construction, I didn't start my own business in construction, so I don't even know what that, I know it'll be like to start a business but really depends on where they're coming from too.

Missy Scherber:              

Right. And I think you nailed it, having other women in the industry, building community with others is just a game... I mean that's been a game changer for me is just finding that community of support because you're not there alone. Which I'm very excited to pivot to CONEXPO-CON/AGG, they are really doing some great things for women this year. There's a panel, there's an executive panel. They're partnering with NAWIC and there's some cool stuff coming.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Oh I just met with them or talk to them. Oh interesting. Okay. Great.

Missy Scherber:              

They're awesome. So CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 you're going to be there. I'm going to be there. That's going to be a great place for women in the industry to connect. And now tell me, your family has been going for years, but 2020 is your first time attending.

Stacey Tompkins:           

My first time. I'm so excited. And it's all because of you Missy that I'm coming.

Missy Scherber:              

Well, I'm glad because it's my first time too.

Stacey Tompkins:           

They've been going for 21 years at least seven times. Maybe Mark went once before that every three years. Kevin's 20, at least for the last 20, 18 years or something like that, that they've been going. And I think Mark actually went before Kevin, so many, as long as I've been in the picture, Mark has been going.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah. And they've loved it. And what are you most excited about for your first year attending?

Stacey Tompkins:           

To see the vastness of it I hear is just so enormous and full of so much energy that you can't even get through it in five days, the whole thing. I'm so excited to meet women in our industry and bring New York from here over. I'm breaking out of my little area and my guest speaking and taking this show across the country is really exciting for me.

Missy Scherber:              

That's awesome. That's so exciting. And what have your sons and husband, what do they love the most about CONEXPO? I'm sure they've started prepping you on what it's going to be like. What do they get excited about?

Stacey Tompkins:           

The energy, the equipment, talk about game changers and what you're going to look like in five years. And I think it's by attending things like this where they see what's coming. And those are the people that are the buyers of these things. And of course you're not coming around, coming home, buying everything. But getting ideas or saying, well next year or next time I can... Next piece of equipment we're going to buy is going to look like this because we saw it at CONEXPO. And the fact that it's only every three years, it's just, it's such a nice buildup because it's so special because it's not every year.

Missy Scherber:              

So it's just something we can't miss.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Yeah.

Missy Scherber:              

You just got to be there.

Stacey Tompkins:           

In fact, all my entire family is going. My other two have never been. Only Kevin has. Nope. Maybe once. I don't remember. Maybe Michael went once, but all five of us are going.

Missy Scherber:              

We're so excited to see the family there and I'm excited to meet you and I know our listeners are really excited to hear from you at the panels and the influencer events. It's going to be really fun.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well very exciting and thank you for inviting me.

Missy Scherber:              

Of course. I'm glad you could feel welcome to such a vast show. And I really just invited myself. So I'm coming this year guys. So we've talked about so many great things. I love your background in hospitality and management, how you've brought that into excavation, doubled in size, grown the business as a family business. It's a woman on business. So thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. There's a lot of takeaways here, but now we have the really important rapid fire round.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Oh, that's right. I forgot about that. Okay.

Missy Scherber:              

Before I let you go, here's the important stuff. What was your first job?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Do you want me to answer that one?

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah. What was your first job?

Stacey Tompkins:           

First job was babysitting.

Missy Scherber:              

Oh, of course. Same, babysitters club. What was your first car?

Stacey Tompkins:           

The first car that I owned myself was a Mazda 323, it was blue.

Missy Scherber:              

Okay. And if you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Stacey Tompkins:           

I think I might be in politics. Not sure. I don't know what I would be doing exactly. I'm not really sure about that one. But maybe something in politics. Maybe a lawyer.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. I can see politics. The to the point politician. Now, what song gets you pumped up in the morning?

Stacey Tompkins:           

I like the '70s disco, so if I'm going to ride my bike or do something I like songs from the '70s disco kind of music. That's if I'm going to want to get pumped up of It's Raining Men from... I'm old school so I like your traditional, if I'm going to get pumped up and there's plenty of songs I like that are from now.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah, I think we might have to play that, It's Raining Men when you're walking up [inaudible 00:52:09].

Stacey Tompkins:           

Oh that's very appropriate, isn't it?

Missy Scherber:              

Very appropriate. Who was one person you wish you could have dinner with?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Probably my mom. Yeah, I'd go back to my mom. She passed away 15 years ago. She'd be awfully impressed to see what her grandchildren have done and her family, me and she already so proud. And I know a lot of my personality is from her. So I would definitely want to have dinner with her.

Missy Scherber:              

Awesome. And what is your favorite piece of equipment and why? And this is a funny question, right? Because we don't run the equipment.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Why. Let's see.

Missy Scherber:              

You got to have a favorite though.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I would probably say the intelligent machine, the PC210 that we have, I think that's just something that is setting us apart. It has and has really tried to put us to a different playing field.

Missy Scherber:              

Right. Now, here's one question I added because I feel like half of our life in construction industry is revolving around getting food and beverage at gas stations. So what is your favorite gas station food?

Stacey Tompkins:           

Well, if I'm just getting a snack, I like the crunchy Cheetos. It's funny because every time we travel I always get my crunchy. They're a mess and I'm orange. My fingers are orange. But I always get the crunchy Cheetos only when I'm... Oh, it's funny when you said them like, "I only get those when I stop at a convenience store."

Missy Scherber:              

See and your orange fingers will match your Kubota machine. So you totally fit in.

Stacey Tompkins:           

There you go. Exactly. My orange teeth and fingers. There we go.

Missy Scherber:              

Let's hop in that Kubota. Well, thank you so much again, Stacey. We know you're so busy, but we can't wait to meet you at CONEXPO and just for taking the time to give us advice as a leader in the industry. And I also thank you for all the work you're doing with workforce development. I mean, that's so important to all of us.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I'm trying.

Missy Scherber:              

We so appreciate it. So we will see you CONEXPO 2020.

Stacey Tompkins:           

Thank you so much. A pleasure to be here and thank you for inviting me.

Missy Scherber:              

Of course.

Stacey Tompkins:           

I'll see you soon. Great.

Outro:                      

And that's going to wrap up this edition of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. If you like the show and think other people should listen too, make sure to subscribe and maybe you leave a review on iTunes. We'll be back next time with another great guest. Until that time, be sure to visit conexpoconagg.com/subscribe to sign up for our weekly eNewsletter. More than 30,000 other construction industry pros are already receiving news and insights to move their business forward.

 




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