From working for his neighbors landscaping company, to starting his own business, to bankrupting that business, to starting a second business that is thriving, Caleb Auman has experienced all the pains and rewards of entrepreneurship firsthand. Founder and owner of Auman Landscaping LLC based in Southeast Ohio, his company specializes in landscape design construction and contracting services for a wide range of clients. Through 20 years in the industry, Caleb has put his knowledge and business skills to the ultimate test, creating an empire that will outlast his legacy for years to come. Join us as Jeremy and Eric sit down with Caleb to learn about his early career, bankruptcy, properly scaling, the key to long term business, and much more in this extremely informative episode of Bucket Talk.
Jeremy Perkins 0:00
This is Jeremy and Eric here with Bucket Talk powered by BRUNT. Today we're here with Caleb Auman of Auman Landscaping. But before we get into jumping off with him, Eric, what's been going on?
Eric Girouard 0:13
All right. All right. All right. So it's fall here, seasons picking up, people come back from their summer vacations right after September for me, you know, obviously all things BRUNT. The business is starting to pick up at a crazy pace, falls a big season through the end of the year. And not only are we selling a lot of product to a lot of incredible customers out there but the works intensifying with Black Friday coming a lot of stuff in so we are now in crazy hiring mode. So we're looking for a lot of smart folks out there that are interested in all things, BRUNT, and reinventing kind of the worker category in my free time and nights and weekends is searching LinkedIn and looking for hungry smart folks. Not the most fun these days. But you know,
Jeremy Perkins 0:53
yeah, I mean, you got to get through it. I mean, there's a lot of people out there that are looking for jobs. And you know, it's quite the task of finding the right person for the right job. I feel your pain. Yeah,
Eric Girouard 1:04
yeah. So what's going on in your life, dude.
Jeremy Perkins 1:07
So I'm gonna get a little graphic here. My goats are in what's called rut. And I guess rut for the boys is when they want to mate, like the time of year where they want to meet the most. And I had no idea about what the hell right man, I have two bucks that are essentially peeing on themselves. So goats have beards, and they pee on their beard and I guess the mosk the scent will attract the female goats during their mating season. So it is impossible to go out there and feed the goats and kind of let them out and kind of move them just cover them. piste. It has been the most eye opening experience for me in the fact that these goats are definitely a little nasty right now.
Eric Girouard 1:54
I was wondering what when you walk into the day, what was your beards looking a little light these days?
Jeremy Perkins 2:02
I show up smelling like go piss. That's great. Thanks. Yeah. All right. Let's get into it.
Eric Girouard 2:08
This is Bucket Talk weekly podcast where people who work in the trades and construction that aren't just trying to survive, but have the ambition and desire to thrive. The opportunity to trade and construction is absolutely ridiculous right now. So if you're hungry, it's time to eat. We discuss what it takes to rise from the bottom to the top with people who are well on their way and roll up their sleeves every single day.
Jeremy Perkins 2:35
Today, we're here with Caleb almond of Auman Landscaping. Caleb, how are you? Good fellows. How are you? Good, good, good. Good. So you run a landscaping hardscaping company?
Caleb Auman 2:48
Yeah, we're a landscape design build firm based in Southeast Ohio. We have a division of our company into stormwater management work which is dealing with retention ponds and the drains you see in parking lots and that kind of stuff. That's like half our company doing that. And then the other half of our company is doing Paver Patios retaining walls, general landscape construction, primarily residential on that side, tiny amount of commercial work, but the stormwater division is probably 90% commercial.
Jeremy Perkins 3:15
Awesome. So take us back to how you got into this, you know, as far back as you want to go kind of tell us where you're based out of how you got into it and go from there.
Caleb Auman 3:24
Sure, I started out like a lot of guys and kind of the gateway to the trades I consider it is Lawn Care. My neighbors started a lawn care business mowing grass, and he was my high school vocational agriculture teacher. And so after school, we'd go mow grass, and I was like 15 times so like so we can mow grass after school. So I turned 16 In the fall, I ran the route for them a little bit that fall and realized I wanted to run my own company. And that next season, I borrowed like 600 bucks for my grandma and 1900 bucks from the Farm Service Agency. I bought a mower and a trailer and I was in business. I was so happy. I was so excited to mow my first property that I got turned away from it was too early to say I stopped to mow a place like my one of my first properties ever got in like mid February and the guy's like, Man, I don't think we need cut. And I was just like such a kid, like so excited about my first play. So I've always been into the industry kind of after that I really wanted to get heavy into I realized I liked the idea of like environmental construction, you know, heavier landscape construction kind of work. I just kept venturing into landscape design build work. This is kind of pre internet really because it's like 1999 and bought a book from one of the big box stores like how to install landscaping, something like that. That's where I got my first specs for like a timber tie retaining wall and I built that thing and built then like little segmental retaining wall block wall, and I realized I really loved the construction aspect. And I use construction lightly in that regard because they're just little piddly little projects at 16 years old, right and then up to like 20 but I went to school at Columbia State and Landscape Design Build program. and just kept pursuing landscape construction. And now it's all we do. So it's been a lot of lessons learned how I crashed my first company 10 years in and restarted that with now my wife. And I've learned a lot the hard way. So that's kind of one of my driving factors in life in any way I can help others not have to learn the hard way, you know, they say, a full learns by experience, but a wise man learns from the experience of others or something like. So I was definitely full in every aspect of the word because I had to learn from experience from all of it. That's kind of the quick story. There's a whole lot of mess in between, but we'll go as deep or wherever you want.
Jeremy Perkins 5:38
Well, one of the things I like to ask, especially landscape hardscape, is I grew up in the 90s, as well. And one of the big things was you went and mowed your neighbor's lawn, and you got 20 bucks to do it. And then you went to the other neighbor's lawn and continued and continued, if that's the way it kind of worked in the beginning. How did you go legit from there? What made you actually start, you know, an LLC and do all that?
Caleb Auman 6:01
That's a great question on the transitional end of things, and that was actually one of my biggest undoing things that led to kind of the demise of my first company was, I was trying to grow too fast. And I was trying to be I refer to it as Joe big time contractor, then I thoroughly enjoyed college. So I was a nerd like that. And I really, it was Community College, right. But like, the classes were great, and instructors cared, and it was just one of those things, I just ate it up lecture and construction class and design classes and all I just was all about it. And it's constant going to other trainings and stuff like that they were adamant about, you know, being a professional and running a legitimate company and turning the image of the trade around and not being a bunch of shirtless guys out working in the yard, you know, doing some landscaping stuff and purposely trying to elevate the industry which will help you know, command better prices and more respect for the industry, which again, just turns around to pricing yourself and your work better. But that was a big drive for me. But I tried to do that quicker than I was maybe maturely ready for and you know, mentally or intelligence wise ready for it with my guys are working for me started doing payroll tax withholding, and sales tax and all that complicated crap. And I eventually got into a huge mess with that stuff. And getting behind on payroll taxes and sales tax, I made a hell of a mess, guys, it was awful. The first five years are good. The last five years are horrible, because I just I was getting myself into such a mess with tax issues. I wasn't in so much debt as I was just in terrible tax debt and terrible tax issues, and the bureaucracy and paperwork and stuff that comes with that. And long story short, just completely crashed the company and filed bankruptcy the whole bit and learn so much from that I had to learn from rock bottom kind of stuff, you know, to set my head straight, which is funny, because in the actual practitioner of the work, I absorbed that and listen to my instructors, my dad who I learned a ton of stuff from except I wouldn't listen to him when it came to finances. You know, for some reason, I was too smart to listen to that stuff. But I listened everything else he had to say, you know, for me everything I was very influenced by that. So I learned a lot of hard lessons there. But that set us up to be successful in the next 10 years. And actually have a company that's, that's profitable, and we pull a good salary out of it. And you know, we have decent equipment and good guys working for us and all that stuff. So that's how I had to learn was just kind of had to have my freakin head kicked in a couple of times to, you know, get me to figure out how to run a business better. And also I married a really smart chick. That's a big part, you know, having someone with you on that journey that they can kind of keep you on the rails. You know, that was a big, big thing for me too.
Eric Girouard 8:30
It sounds like you learned a ton from the first one that ended up in bankruptcy. If you were to sum up like the highest level the the one thing to take away, was it you were going too fast and in skipping over the details, like the taxes and all that stuff? Or was it just not paying attention that stuff nothing he was important and realizing it ended up being credit like what was like the fatal learning there, I guess that that you learned from that whole journey.
Caleb Auman 8:52
The number one thing there is you have to be a businessman. First you have to pay attention to numbers. And if you can't be a businessman, you have no business, you have no reason to be in business, you have to be a businessman first and foremost. And I was a technician. I love the work. I love building. I love the idea that was my company. I but I didn't delegate the business aspect of it to anyone. And I didn't do it myself. So it slipped through the cracks and ended up beating me alive. You know. So that's the number one thing your numbers. I mean, they just do them. They are their final, they do not lie and you're out of money, you're out of money. And that's just it's just that simple. So
Eric Girouard 9:28
it sounds like the lesson there is you either need to be a businessman or businesswoman or you need to delegate or hire the business man or the business woman to run that side if you love getting your hands dirty and doing the work because that's got
Caleb Auman 9:41
to get done. Yeah, absolutely. And I know people have engineered their businesses that way. I mean, what I relate a business to is a book, right? It's your book, but you get the right you know, backwards to front, right back to front. And so I want to end up here and how I get here is every subsequent chapter prior to that and so like The biggest thing is just learning, you know how to delegate that stuff out, as soon as you can afford to delegate out your weaknesses so that you can focus on what you're strong on and just go crazy on what you're good at. And that'll pay dividends big time.
Jeremy Perkins 10:14
It's wild, too, because we've talked about it in previous episodes how, when you become a master at your craft, then the next step is ownership in pretty much all the trades. And that's hard, because a lot of people don't have that business aspect, whether it's, you're the best mechanic in the world, and you're like, Hey, I'm gonna open up my shop, and then everything goes downhill from there. That's a big takeaway is that if you can't do it yourself, look elsewhere for help. And or marry somebody who's really good at business. Yeah.
Caleb Auman 10:43
You just can share that workload. I mean, that's the big thing. Yes. If you start a business, you know, within a couple years, you've got to have people that replace you. I mean, if that's the way you want to scale your business, right, but I mean, it's like, it is really hard to get to any sizable company, doing it all by yourself. It's really difficult. Business is so multifaceted. I mean, just so few people, including myself, are worthy of being in it, because it's so complicated, and it's so tough. But yeah, when you make it work, it's super rewarding. And it's the only way I like ever live aside from like farming or ranching, and that would have Be still my own place. So that's just how my brain works. Like I say, Let's stuff like I want to build. And we have built like a really good team of people that, you know, they don't necessarily want to be owners, but they want to kind of be intrapreneurs, let's say any kind of want to run their own division and run their own thing. Without all the headaches that I have, they have plenty of headaches in the company, don't get me wrong, but like, they don't have all the headaches I have. And that's not what they want. And I don't want what they have, you know what I mean? So it's, we build that team of people that are like minded. And that helps, you can go fast by yourself. But you can go far with a team as we were trying to go for trying to go for it. Yeah,
Jeremy Perkins 11:55
that's wild, too. In this day, you know, with the labor shortage, having that retention, having the team that is reaching a common goal versus just there for a paycheck is huge, you know, because companies are losing people by the day, and and if you can create that team that will stick with you for the long term. That's a huge plus in today's market.
Caleb Auman 12:15
Yeah, exactly. And it is tough, because so many guys that are worth their salt. So many guys are going and starting their own companies and doing their own thing. And I'm nearly thinking, like, it's almost one of the things where we've got to figure out how to conglomerate all these small companies, onto larger projects to get some things done, because all the big companies are dying for help. And even the little guys are dying for help. And that's also going to facilitate, you know, the adaptation of more machinery, robotics, you know, all that kind of stuff, we're buying every machine that we can afford, you know, at the moment and every tool that takes labor out of the equation, or reduces labor, or reduces fatigue even more so and you have to look at business that way, or you're going to get run over in the labor situation, because nothing shy of like a Great Depression is going to bring the labor pool back. And and even then there won't be anything to do. So we're in this really weird spot, you know, like, you've got to mechanize you're gonna get run over period. Yeah, it's
Jeremy Perkins 13:09
wild, we had this conversation with small shops, and, you know, as a mom and pop mechanic shop, it's really hard to have bargaining power when it comes to, you know, buying whether it comes to like tow trucks or, or what have you. And if there's some way that you guys could group up, or like you said, mechanized, it would be more powerful to have a group of small businesses that bargain together or negotiate together versus trying to do it as one individual
Caleb Auman 13:35
entity. Yeah, I think that's a great point. And I've thought about that a lot. There are some national organizations, be it whatever trade you're in that if you're a member of you can get fleet truck discounts. And there's nothing that lucrative that I've ever seen. But like, that concept, that Co Op concept is there. And the thing I think, and I'll put this out here, because I want somebody to do it, because I sure don't have the time or energy to do it. But like, I really think like, the Uber concept for the work pool, I think is pretty much like a non union labor haul, just with the access of Uber kind of concept of like an app where it's like, I need three guys tomorrow. It's the concept of those businesses. Was it those like, businesses that have temporary people or whatever, but like, but I would think like, hey, I need two operators, but it'd be a non unionized, like haul, essentially, right of like, just on digital, or it's like, I need three guys that have these qualifications and just be like how you rate an Uber driver or the driver rates, the passengers by the way, it's reciprocal, it goes both ways. But I think something like that is gotta be in the works because we got to figure out a way to like, hey, I need six guys this week, but I don't need them next week. And people maybe they just want to kind of bounce around that way. The whole like gig economy, people say Right,
Jeremy Perkins 14:44
I've seen it in the healthcare industry. They have you know, traveling nurses, essentially, these nurses can go travel the country and you know, work two months, three months at a hospital and then move on. And if there's some way we could do that, a that person who wants to see Due to country and do different things can kind of go where they're needed. And at the same time, as an employer, you're like, hey, I need, you know, a really good Mason for this, you know, massive job that I'm doing. But I really can't take somebody on full time for that long period. You know what I mean? 100%. I mean, maybe we should talk off off the podcast and try to figure this out. I
Caleb Auman 15:21
think there's something there, you know, just just the vetting process would have to be the most difficult thing. But I mean, Uber figured it out. So yeah, I don't know that that's just my thought there. But ultimately, in the meantime, we're still just mechanizing as fast as buying as customizable of trucks as we can get and the best, you know, hardscape handling tools, we can, you know, paver handling air tools and loaders, machines and gas powered wheelbarrows, you know, like the mud buggies and stuff like that, like, we're just trying to save our guys, our four guys have been with us to guide me on this for 10 years, the one guy that was with me for 20 now, and then my new guy said, he's gonna be with us forever. So we'll see how serious he is about that. We're trying to build a company that guys want to stay at and can make decent money and career kind of stuff. But not all employers look at it that way. And I guess they'll either figure it out, or they won't, but and I'm not saying I haven't figured out either, but I do not have it figured out, my guys still are mad at me sometimes do I still screw stuff up, or I annoy him or, you know, whatever, it's, you know, everybody brings your bullcrap to the table.
Jeremy Perkins 16:18
It's a difficult industry to be in to I mean, I can equate it but you know, you're constantly being undercut by people who are just knowledgeable enough, and so they can get it done. And they can do it for a cheaper price. And you probably have a little bit more overhead than the normal, you know, landscaping or hardscaping company. And it's hard, like people don't realize that you get what you pay for. And a lot of people learn the hard way. And, you know, I want to farm and I have a lot of things that that need to be done that need to be outsourced. And I half the time don't want to go with the lowest bidder. You know what I mean? Because you're sitting there and you're like, yeah, it would be cheaper. But will it be cheaper in the long run?
Caleb Auman 16:59
Right? Yeah, you and I both know, and most of my listeners, we know what the cheaper product looks like, right? And there's sometimes a place for the cheap tools and the cheap work to get done. But at the same time, like if it's something that needs longevity, you know, you got to understand, you know, what quality to price, you know, where that value intersects, right. And I ultimately, you know, fault the consumer, you got to do your due diligence and vet your people and all that stuff, you know, as far as who you're hiring, but I think it's really tough. You know, us as a business, you know, we've been in business for 20 years. Now, I don't want to say I've seen it all. But man, I've seen most of it, I feel like anymore. And it's one of the things it's easier for us to kind of command work at this point, because we have the experience to back it up, and then the portfolio stuff. And so we don't worry so much about getting undercut on price, I'm willing to walk away from work, that's just you know, getting nickeled and dimed and all that stuff, but it's really hard for the guys starting out that don't have that portfolio, maybe they do really good work, but you know, they're getting slaughtered by still the new and upcoming guy and, and that's just how it is, if you think this is something different, you're naive a history because this is always how it's been. I mean, the Irish came and built railroads and the Chinese and it was just all the next person looking for the come up right and willing to do whatever they had to do to make a living for themselves. And it's like adding business people doing everything they can to keep their business afloat and get that next job and, and just hopefully we're all learning together as we're, you know, getting these jobs and learning how to do a better job and price and better. And it's just a never ending thing as an owner yourself or whatever, you've just got to learn how you separate yourself with that with, you know, being more responsive answering the phone, you know, responding to your clients, having like ridiculous customer service of like, you'll handle any complaint for whatever the heck they're complaining about, like, I had a lady they told me she had like a big stone or front yard and it totally killed my day to have one of my guys come get a different giant rock with a loader, and set the stupid rock. But at the end of the day, if you don't have happy clients, I mean, don't be a doormat, you know, don't get run over a course. But like, ultimately, you've got to have happy customers, and you want that transaction with them and your business to be frictionless. And so it just builds and builds and builds a better business, you know, so the customer service thing is huge, too. Like, you got to provide just fantastic customer service.
Jeremy Perkins 19:14
Sometimes you do things for free or even at a loss just to retain that customer long term.
Caleb Auman 19:21
You've got to look at the long term value of that client. That's why Amazon will let you return anything and Walmart and all that because they see you as a customer for 40 freakin years spending, you know, over your lifetime $100,000 with them, they just figure you know, 100 million citizens doing that. So that's why they'll take your even though you broke it on the parking lot, they'll still take everything back because they want that frictionless interaction and they want you constantly always spending your money with them. And so we'll take the loss to keep you as a long term money generator. Essentially.
Jeremy Perkins 19:52
I had a plumbing company HVAC company come over, and we have this old our farmhouse was built in the 1700s And we got to do a large renovation, but we can't do it now because of the wintertime, I need my boiler replaced and these guys came over and they went for the long game. And I was super impressed. I was like, Honey, when we renovate these guys are our guys. I don't care what the builder says, This is what we're gonna do. And essentially, they said, We're going to keep this boiler running all winter long. And if it doesn't, if it finally craps out, right, I have a boiler that we took out of another job that people just needed more capacity, we have it in the garage, and we will install it for you. As opposed to, you know, buying a new $8,000 Weissman boiler and installing it into a house that's essentially going to be you know, completely revamped. And it wouldn't even be the right fit. So I had huge respect for people that have the long game in mind versus that quick sale. I mean, they could have whacked us for all that. And then we would have been in a worse situation later on down the road. And we would have been like, oh, man, and I come from the trades. And it's just one of those things that you look at it. And it was just unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. Usually people just go for the short sale.
Caleb Auman 21:07
Yeah, and then look at them, they've got a customer forever, you know, or until they change that policy. Right. And then that's it, man. That's the key to long business, I think. I mean, that's the way I see it. But I look at businesses that I admire locally and people I know. And I mean that that's how they look at it, a lot of the most successful businesses I know that are in the trades, that is their policy, they're in it for the long game, they're not in at the turn a quick buck. And that's just it at the end of the day. And they have long standing companies that are wealthy, and well off and well respected by the way, which is a huge, a huge piece of like having a successful business. Right? So yeah, man, I'm all with you, I'm about it. So
Jeremy Perkins 21:45
a new employees, you finally get the opportunity to have a young person that happens to apply and wants to join your company. What is the number one thing or a couple of things that you look for in a new hire, that people listening can kind of take to heart
Caleb Auman 21:59
you know, all the basic stuff for us, of course, you know, driver's license, reasonably clean record over a term of time, you know, all that kind of stuff, which is something you know, we hardly hire anybody marks or guys been with us for so long. But we've got a new guy with us right now, young kid, he's like 21, I think or 20, or something. But by the way, I just one of the things I've learned too, is I used to just, you know, hire anything crawled in off the street just to get somebody holding a shovel get somebody in a machine with a warm body. Yeah, exactly. And that always cost me more money than what I saved by hiring somebody, it was cheap, the same process, right? Which we always got to turn that around on ourselves, like, all my clients don't want to pay for, you know, anything of quality. Well, do you look at that with your own guys, you invest in your guys, right? You pay them. And you know, if you're having trouble with your staffing, I'm kind of bold saying this. But like, if you're having trouble keeping people around, like you need to look inside first and make sure that you're somebody you would want to work for. And make sure that you know you're paying wages that are not only competitive, but livable, because there's a demographic of guys out there that are looking to support their families, and they need a certain amount of dollars to make that happen. And you've got to hit that because those guys care about their jobs, right? There's crap heads at every, every, you know, income level, right? Who was it? Franklin Roosevelt? Maybe no, who was it said it, you know, a poor man may steal from a freight car, but a rich man or an educated man will steal from the entire railroad. So you know, there's crooks at every level, right? But, but you know, the big thing, you know, investing in your guys and making sure that they're well paid, and like our new guy, he's not really very experienced, we're paying more than most the good job anywhere else, but he's got a good attitude, and he's willing to work, and just gotta be willing to invest in that time. And those guys and the biggest retort to that is like, well, what if I, you know, train my guys, and they leave, and my professor in college, Dick Annesley always said, Well, what if you don't train your guys and they stay? And it's like, yeah, that's the good point. Like, what if you don't train these guys and they do a mediocre job, they stay around for five years or 10 years and so like, it's one of those things you got to be a place that you'd want to work yourself you've got to make a living you could understand you know, living on right or you didn't get to pay your guys a wage you could understand living on yourself and then just invest them and have company culture that's good and, and all that rah rah stuff that's easier said than done. And that's why business isn't easy. It's tough. And the only the crazy people stay in it, man, you got to be half crazy to stay in it. And that's what it is. It just it is what it is.
Eric Girouard 24:30
You've been through the lows of the lows, the highest highs, you've seen the depths of hell and climbed out of it to where you are today. But but obviously the journey never ends and learning never ends. What's one of the biggest challenges that you're facing today in your business and what you're looking at,
Caleb Auman 24:44
I'm still getting out of my own way. When we want to talk about and think about, like expanding we want to start a pool division of our company like installing pools, but I'm 40 years old. I'm not old by any stretch, but like I also don't have the energy or the time or band had to like, learn that part of the company myself, because there's a tremendous demand for pools right now. It's insane. And it's been this way for around here for years, like it probably has everywhere. But I mean, I know I've got six requests for pools right now people just like, hey, you guys doing pools and it's like, I get booked my year up next year. So the biggest thing for us is like, my wife's a bigger driver, this is like, me getting out of my own way and being willing to take a risk. And like, let's find a guy that wants to manage a pool division run it, us not worry about it. And we finance it. And we find this this great person to do this, pay him 5060 $70,000 a year, and we get this pool division off the ground and get going. The problem is the company's finally stable, like, we really got stable in the past five years, like really stable in a good position. You know, just we're just liquid, we're in good shape. We're not like balling out either. But like we're finally stable after, you know, the past 15 years of just like trying to figure out what the hell we're doing, you know, kind of thing. So the next thing is like, getting over that fear about overturning the applecart again, you know, kind of deal. And so like, that's our biggest struggle right now is like, do we really want to go down this road, we got three kids, we're finally like, pretty profitable, like really happy where we're at. But we also always have this drive, like keep pushing and move ahead, and we're about to build a shop, which is gonna be a big deal for us, we're about to close on land to buy or shop, or to build our future facility on. And I think that's gonna be a huge that because we're renting right now is not a great setup for us. We've got logistical issues of not being able to store a lot of stuff there. And we always logistical issues. So that's a hurdle for us on the micro. But the macro is like, where are we going? And we're a little comedy, we're at like, about $1 million in sales. We're not huge by any stretch. But like, you know, could we go to 2 million with a pool company? And do we want to is the big thing, right? And then like, how much more Am I willing to work or, you know, again, that's why we're kind of looking at this, like, we'll hire this manager. And that's one thing I've learned at scale in business period. Anytime you're in a green industry getting around 200 $300,000, in sales or revenue, you really need to be thinking about delegating some tasks out because your chances are, you're working. I do some coaching and consulting on the side, I was talking to a kid the other day, he's doing about $100,000, in production, and with three guys. And I'm like, Man, that's really good. I'm like, with three guys in the field. He's like, Yeah, I was like, but you work probably 8090 hours a week, don't you? He's like, Yeah, I mean, I'm really killing myself for like, well, you realize you're the fourth and fifth guy then right. And you're trying to put those things in perspective all the time of like what it takes to really grow. And when you're starting a company, I mean, you've got to grind it out it there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And if we start this other division, like, we're gonna have to grind it out to some extent. But now we're also at that level of business where we understand like, what it takes, I think, to scale more easily than I used to, right. And so we'll see where that pans out. But that's kind of the macro issue for us at the moment.
Jeremy Perkins 27:55
That's insane. That's actually a lot to unpack.
Eric Girouard 27:57
You know, it's funny saying, it's one side of the coin is the conservative serving, have you seen this story before? Just you got healthy business, keep it that way. And then the other side of that coin is scared money don't make money. So invest? Keep going, you know,
Jeremy Perkins 28:13
well, yeah, you've got to stay relevant. And yeah, it's working now. But long term is, you know, the pool game, going to up your game and keep you in the game, or, you know, could it sink the ship, and that's the crossroads that you're at.
Caleb Auman 28:28
And a big part of it, too, is consideration of our guys who are all getting, you know, in their 40s, too, and laying bricks for the next 20 years. You know, so we're trying to think of it from for our guys perspective of like, you know, guys, we don't want you laying bricks when you're 60, we want to be getting into like, easier labor stuff. And you know, and if you're gonna stick around with us for that long time, we want you to not be just decrepit, you know, old guys, you know, if you've been laying pavers for us forever, and, you know, again, we're buying all the tools and things we can that help them make that job easier, but it's like, you know, the pool game. I mean, it's hard ass work, don't get me wrong, but you know, it's not like laying, you know, 10,000 pounds of bricks a day, you know what I mean? And so we're trying to look at our company growth from that perspective to have like, what can we get into moving forward, you know, just based off the track record of the past, our guys will be with us this much longer, we're projecting right and we want to, you know, grow with them and so that we're not just killing them too. So you know, we're working through all these things as a business and just always trying to stay organized one of the problems with having guys that you've had forever and they're kind of like extensions of you and they know what you want the job and is all of our standard operating procedures are just communicated through like an Indian tribe or something, you know, like everything is just communicated, nothing's written down. So it's like how we want some soil is compacted and how we want our basis compact base material compacted like, everybody just knows that but we don't have a lot of written protocol for that right for like new guys coming in. And so that's something we're trying to standardize and make sure it's written down and training manuals or you know, SOPs and In all this stuff, so it's like, if we ever have to hire a bunch of new blood in, it's like, we can hit the ground running next day because everybody's on board and everybody knows now we would still hire in, we'd like to believe, you know, like talented and skilled, experienced help. But that's also hard to find. So I empathize with the guys out there trying to find that kind of help, because it's tough, and you're all milling out to poach somebody that's unhappy at their current company, which is why you better take good care of your people, because the headhunters are out there, man,
Jeremy Perkins 30:24
I'm going to slip a question in here from fathers to Father, now I made a huge change in my life, I went from, you know, working for the man to now trying to cultivate and instill hard work and something that I grew up with as a kid into my own children. So that's why we we came up with the farm and, you know, the kids are out there mucking stalls with us and doing all that stuff. Is this something that you would, you know, hand down to your children? Or is it something that you want to just make the money get out and, you know, handed down and hope to have a better future? Or is this the better future,
Caleb Auman 30:58
I want them to understand the value of hard work and the value of $1. And what it is, to be honest, right? After that, I don't care what they do, as long as they do what they love, and what they're passionate about, and what they have an interest in doing. And that that's all like, I don't care if they're, they become professional chess players, you know, run, run a quadruped quadruple our company, I don't care, the pro gamers, whatever, although I gotta be honest, I kind of don't want to go down that route. But you know, like, whatever they show their natural inclination of, like, that's what I want them to pursue. And that's what I'm going to do my best to foster and help them as best I can. But it doesn't mean they're going to get like a free ride in the handout that way, either. They're still gonna have to earn it, because I know what kids that get it handed to them turn out like, and I know what happens to kids, they get it handed to them, they don't appreciate it, and they end up racking it usually anyways. So you're good. But that's tricky, because my kids are growing up with stuff that I never had, you know, and so trying to make sure they appreciate stuff, like, you know, I appreciate the things we have now. That's the biggest thing I'm trying to instill is like, you know, I drive a nicer truck now, and I've ever driven my life. I drive nicer vehicles now than ever had as a kid, you know, from my parents, my parents were awesome, good, hardworking people. And they did what they could, and trying to make sure my kids appreciate, somehow, you know, that? I don't know. You know, how do you how do you do that? To teach kids to appreciate what they don't have, when they have what's so much better? I don't know. That's I struggled that probably the most at the moment.
Jeremy Perkins 32:30
Yeah, no, I mean, me and my wife are going through it now is, you know, we want to give our kids the stuff that we didn't have growing up. And we realized that sometimes that's, that's not the answer when they're at school, and they come home, and they're like, Hey, Dad, can I have the newest Pokemon card, and you're like, it kills you inside, because you can do it. But you're like, No, or you have to work for it, or whatever your method may be, because I'm not gonna sit here and, and judge parents for their parenting methods. But it's something that has kind of bugged me inside, it was easy growing up with nothing, to then aspire to have something. But when you've worked your entire life to get something, and now you have something, you know, what do you pass on to your children?
Caleb Auman 33:12
Right? Yeah, I mean, that's a huge challenge. I think for me, and I'm trying to balance that with, with all those items. And I frankly, don't, we're doing about all I can say is we're doing the best I can figure it out. That's the one thing as I get older, I realize like when I was young, everybody was older than me, I thought had it together, I'm quickly realizing nobody knows what the hell they're doing. This has been incredible learning all about business, that the UPS the downs, and all of our earnings, which usually the challenging times are probably you haven't had them, then you haven't learned enough. And that's usually what makes things but we always like to get a little look behind the scenes. And when you're, which is probably never because the life of a business owner is 24/7 365. But when you and your wife or even just you if you maybe your wife's like I got this, when you were able to take some time away from the business and do something that you love that has nothing to do with hardscaping smacking block any of that stuff. What do you actually like to do that has no relation to how you spend your adulthood building this business. The main focus at the moment is and this is probably not this is not great self help advice here. But like the main focus for me, I don't take really any time to myself, per se, like by myself, and I need to work on that, honestly, because I do need some time to myself, but the focus is outside of work. I have three kids and so just trying to be there with them and be there for my family. And we had two sets of grandparents that couldn't drive so constantly visiting grandparents. So families like huge das and committing and investing all that time, you know, and again, we're at that point in business where it's a little easier, but the thing I kind of had been trying to remind guys as like think of like a picture of the relative you have that you love. And maybe they're gone or whatever. Would you trade that picture for a picture of you just out working? That day instead you know what would you trade that memory for that? No. And like, I tried to look at everything that way moving forward of like, man I you know, and it's in the thing is like yeah, you got 30 hours
Jeremy Perkins 35:14
here over here dude it resonates I mean honestly it 100% resonates I joke
Caleb Auman 35:18
up every time I say that I'm the biggest sissy with this stuff, but it's like, it's so how you got to look at it in my opinion and like I've traded lots of work for family stuff. Don't get me wrong. I'm as guilty as the next guy. But there there's a J Brand Celebrex enterprises, he said it best is like everybody brags about how much it worked. Nobody brags about how much time they spend with their family. Right? Right, right. And it was like, Holy crap, I got some priorities, I gotta straighten up holy hell
Jeremy Perkins 35:44
Well, I mean, to be completely candid, it actually happened last night, I'm in school. And I had this paper that I needed to do, but my son had his first writing lesson. And instead of putting the paper down, and this is to be completely honest, instead of putting the paper down, I grinded out the paper, because I thought that it was what, what was important. And then my kid came back from his riding lesson, and told me all about it. And I was like, I can't believe I missed that. And, and I know, there's gonna be other opportunities. And that's what kind of gives me a little bit of peace of mind. But I There might not be, you know what I mean, to try to balance that and make sure that, that you are balancing home life versus work, life is huge, the
Caleb Auman 36:24
biggest thing we try to do with that stuff is we travel a lot for other business and all that stuff, aside from our construction business, but we tell the kids like, Hey, we're gonna be gone for three or four days, when we get back, we're taking the following three days off, and we're gonna go and do XYZ, or we're going to get the camper out of camp, or we're gonna, you know, we're gonna make up for that time. And that's one thing we tell the kids like, work is an important part of life, you have to work just, you know, to live, right. That's a big part of it. But you know, same time, like, we don't trade, you know, work for life, either. But, you know, it's like, we're going to make up for you know, being gone for three days with, we're going to give you all of our attention, or like, Hey, we got up the next two weeks in July are going to be horrible, you're not hardly going to see us we're working out of town like, but the next two weeks after that, we're going to shorten up the work schedule. And we're gonna cut back the week after and make sure we spend plenty of time and do all this cool stuff that you want to do and, and, you know, make sure we just do our darndest to trade that attention, you know, to somewhere else and not let it get swept under the rug. But it's easier said than done. But that's that's the best thing we have found with crazy work life schedules. And my daughter's a, I don't know, where eight years is freaking gone. You know what I mean? I just know I was younger, you know, then. But yeah, it's a tough thing, man. But you've got to prioritize it. And sometimes, you know, you got to go do the kid thing. And then you got to stay up all night to get whatever done you got to do, and it sucks. And it's that's just all part of it. And it's it's part of why we love being a business too, is like, yeah, sometimes we get pinched down where we can't get out of doing things. But same time, like, we've intentionally built our business where we have guys in the field that can handle field decisions. And if we need to break away, you know, and do certain things we can do that we can make up for it at night by answering emails and doing all that crap. So it's a lifestyle thing that we like, it's flexible to take care of family, but you know, it also is a double edged sword or you know, even like a sword of Damocles kind of thing where you know that that sword hanging over your head hanging by horsehair. Right. And that thing could fall at any moment. You never know. But that's the price and to be on top. That's that's the risk you take, right?
Eric Girouard 38:25
Yeah, no, wow, this has been fascinating. This has been incredible to learn all about the business, the journey, obviously more about you personally, and what drives you and wife and kind of what it sounds like, ultimately, a plan to build a legacy business, which not everyone starts to think about it the ripe old age of 40 years old.
Caleb Auman 38:43
Can I interject something there? Yeah, that is another huge thing that I did not do in my first 10 years of business, even though my dad tried to get me to be thinking more about, you know, the exit plan of like, what do you do with the business in 30 years? Or like, how are you going to retire and that kind of stuff and like, so the young guys out there, even if you're older, there's still ways to do it, but like, be thinking about what your exit strategy is selling the company, but I would always recommend also building a company to sell, you wouldn't, you'd be surprised like how much that will benefit you. So that's a whole nother conversation. But like, if nothing else, try to get some retirement, you know, 100 bucks a month invested in good investments, not crap, which you can define that as whatever, but like, be thinking about that just 100 bucks a month. It's not much, but it will set you up for the future a little bit better, too. So be thinking about the future connecting you're 40 years old. I'm 10 years behind where I'd sure like to be as far as retirement assets go. So I'm playing hard here to catch up. But be thinking about the future because man, it's coming at you fast. It's crazy. So that was my one other piece of advice for guys start businesses, because that's the thing a lot of guys start businesses and they lose their 401k or they you know, cash out their 401k to start the business stuff like you've got a pump, you know, you gotta have a plan for how you're gonna replenish that thing and get caught back up that you build Have a sellable business or whatever. But be thinking about that it's a big deal. A lot of guys really hosed themselves in the long run.
Jeremy Perkins 40:06
So Kayla, this has been awesome. And I really appreciate it. I want to take the time for you to plug anything that you want. So for anybody who's hardscaping or landscaping, I know you run a podcast if they want to go deep dive into what you do, what do you want to plug at this time?
Caleb Auman 40:23
Well, thanks, guys for having me on, I'm sure flattered to be on and in one of the caveat to this to all this stuff that I espouse and have been preaching, I struggle with everything I've said today, it's easy to tell people what to do, it's harder to put it into practice yourself. So I'm not without fault. And we do all the stuff I've been preaching here to the best we can and we're always trying to improve so I want to say like, I'm not some freaking guru. I don't have it figured out like we're doing the best we can and we've learned a lot of lessons and all that so you know, whatever that be, we got to think all the hardscape Academy. It's an online training platform for learning how to install retaining walls and Paver Patios and all that kind of stuff. And you know, check us out on Instagram, YouTube, all that junk, Adam and landscape. We spent a lot of time on there. That's our jam, man. So thank you for that.
Jeremy Perkins 41:07
Yeah, no problem. I mean, like, to your point, we speak as you not to you so thanks for joining us, and I appreciate it.
Unknown Speaker 41:16
Yeah, thanks, guys.
Starting in the “gateway” to trades, Caleb began work mowing grass at age 15 for his vocational agriculture teacher. At 16, he was eager to work for himself and began his own company. Caleb bought a mower and trailer with a small loan, and began finding his own clients.
“I was so excited to mow my first property that I got turned away from it because I was too early in the season. I stopped to mow a place - like one of my first properties I ever got - in like mid-February, and the guy's like ‘Man, I don't think we need cut.’”
As a young business owner in the industry, Caleb’s enthusiasm for landscaping continued to grow through the years. He began reading about landscape construction and working on small projects, before eventually enrolling in Columbia State’s landscape design build program. During this time, his professors inspired Caleb to become a more strategic businessman.
“...they were adamant about, you know, being a professional and running a legitimate company and turning the image of the trade around… not being a bunch of shirtless guys out working in the yard.. and purposely trying to elevate the industry... command better prices and more respect for the industry… pricing yourself and your work better.”
Equipped with the knowledge to build his empire, Caleb began applying his teachings to his landscaping business. However, his enthusiasm to scale the company quickly outweighed his mental preparedness and eventually led to his demise. In practice, his business was doing great. But when it came to finances, taxes, and administrative work, he fell behind.
“I wasn't in so much debt as I was just in terrible tax debt and terrible tax issues, and the bureaucracy and paperwork and stuff that comes with that. And long story short, just completely crashed the company and filed bankruptcy the whole bit and learned so much from that I had to learn from rock bottom kind of stuff.”
Applying lessons from his failures to his second business, Caleb became more disciplined in his strategic approach and has been thriving ever since. He learned to properly scale his company by focusing on his strengths, while outsourcing his weaknesses to other people.
“The number one thing there is you have to be a businessman. First you have to pay attention to numbers. And if you can't be a businessman... you have no reason to be in business... And I was a technician... I didn't delegate the business aspect of it to anyone. And I didn't do it myself. So it slipped through the cracks… The biggest thing is just learning, you know how to delegate that stuff out, as soon as you can afford to delegate out your weaknesses so that you can focus on what you're strong on and just go crazy on what you're good at.”
Caleb has successfully built his new company by placing a strong emphasis on areas such as customer service, employee satisfaction, community engagement, and more. By doing so, he is playing the long game both externally and internally to maintain a well-rounded, thriving business.
“That's the key to long business… I look at businesses that I admire locally and people I know. And I mean that that's how they look at it, a lot of the most successful businesses I know that are in the trades, that is their policy, they're in it for the long game, they're not in at the turn a quick buck. And that's just it at the end of the day. And they have long standing companies that are wealthy, and well off and well respected.”
At age 40 and in the industry for about twenty years, Caleb is always looking for new business opportunities, while staying mindful to balance his workload with family life. Looking to the future, he is looking to create a business that will outlast him for years to come. From the depths of financial hell to building a successful company, Caleb has endured the ups and downs of an entrepreneur to reap the rewards of hard work, discipline, and determination.