Hammering away at his own business: After 18 years working for others, contractor strikes out on his own

September 18, 2006

Built to Last Construction
Hammering away at his own business After 18 years working for others, contractor strikes out on his own

Bradley Ford is a true, hands-on owner.

"I really like working with my hands. I couldn't stand working behind a desk," said Ford, 40, who founded Built To Last Construction in 2000.

Starting the business was the culmination of a career path he started in 1982 as a 16-year-old student at Perry Meridian High School and the building trades program at Central Nine Career Center.

Once he graduated, he worked for other contractors in residential and commercial projects, eventually taking on more jobs of his own. After 18 years, he finally formalized his venture, starting his own company.

"I just went right to work" without a business plan, he said.

He has financed his company himself, using cash from savings and business revenue to buy tools, equipment, supplies and, most recently, a large enclosed trailer. When his tools were stolen for the second time, he purchased a new truck and trailer "with big locks."

He recently added the company name to his vehicles, a move that already has paid off.

"I got two jobs from people who said they saw me on the interstate," Ford said.

Until the recent signage, all his business has come from word-of-mouth referrals or, in the case of Mike Gaskey, firsthand observation. Ford was a subcontractor on a bathroom project at Gaskey's condominium in Tarkington Towers.

"I work at home, so I watched him work. He was very hard-working and concerned about doing the job right. He also was willing to tackle anything" and is honest and competitive, said Gaskey, an information technology consultant.

Gaskey subsequently hired Ford for several projects, including turning a bedroom and bath into a master suite complete with a walk-in closet. Ford also installed a "beautiful" large-screen television after modifying a wall and building a frame, Gaskey said.

Ford's is the go-to guy for Ron Johnston when business at Johnston Construction in Indianapolis gets backed up.

"He knows what he is doing," said company owner Johnston, who has been a contractor for 27 years and has worked with Ford about 12 of them. "He's always my first choice, if he's not too busy."

Ford attributes that kind of loyalty to his love of what he does, his attention to detail, and a guarantee of his work. About 80 percent of his business is residential, a figure he thinks is about right.

"My work is 100 percent of my selfesteem," said Ford. "I like nothing better than walking into someone's house and seeing a disaster area. Five days later, they are thrilled with their clean, new bathroom, and I'm like a god in their eyes. I can see what I've done. That really satisfies my ego."

Starting out, the hurdles were "underestimating jobs and not being established. There were times when the jobs were few and far between," which is when he'd fill in with work from other contractors. One of his biggest challenges is competing with companies with low or no overhead, such as those that don't have bonding or insurance, both of which he carries.

He keeps up with trends in kitchen, bath and other remodeling products by staying in touch with distributors and manufacturers and listening to his customers. He said he tries new products to see how they work, too.

To keep his hands free for sales and the day-to-day construction work, Ford hired an accounting firm in 1994 to take care of that part of the business.

"I don't have a degree in business. I'm a carpenter. [The firm] figures everything for me. All I have to do is sign the checks," he said.

For others interested in starting a business, he advises they "make sure to be the best you can possibly be. Don't sell substandard work," Ford said.

Brad Ford does demolition work on a bathroom his Built to Last Construction is remodeling.
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