5 on 5 with Got Brick? LLC
Contractor to Contractor
By Tim O’Toole
The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) recently sat down with Guy Surprise, Owner of Got Brick? LLC, to discuss the history of Got Brick? LLC, challenges he’s faced, and the future of the masonry industry.
MCAA: Tell us about the history of your company.
I really enjoyed his speech and after class asked him how one became a bricklayer. He offered me a job on the spot. Since I was in night school I was very happy to accept. I started the very next day, it was my natural calling. Everything came so easy for me, as if I were born to do it. I worked for him for about 6 months and an ad came into the newspaper for open testing for bricklayer apprentices for the union. The man, his name was Joe Minton encouraged me to go and said it was Gods calling for me.
I went and took the skills test and they tested me in as a 2nd-year apprentice. I worked in the union under an awesome foreman named Bill Beaver. His son was named Jimmy Beaver and he taught me years of education in seven months. They kept me on that job until the very last day. Before the next job was to start, the union went on strike.
I hadn’t been in long enough to get any unemployment so I took my savings, bought a truck load of equipment, and went on the hunt for work. I hit pay dirt right away, another company started subcontracting me to work.
By trial and error, learning by preforming, trying my hardest to always have a positive attitude, and living very modestly, I am so blessed 13 years later and counting. I have a crew of eight awesome men. Six of which have been with me for nine years. We strive for professionalism and quality. We do not advertise. We stay busy because we want to be the best. We are proud to be a mason. I am proud to own Got Brick? LLC. We all take it very seriously. This is more than a job to our group, it is our identity. We have had our ups and downs but even through the horrible economy we have managed to be profitable, happy, and haven't lost the values that we started with. Got Brick? LLC means something, it has become a recognizable brand. Professional Installers of Brick, Block, and Rock.
MCAA: What do you think has been the key to your company’s success?
Surprise: The key to our success is hands-down always striving to do the right thing. We don't cut corners. We don't avoid issues even if it means shutting down until the GC/home builder gets it corrected. Most importantly I always answer the phone no matter what. Got Brick? LLC has become a brand and people will pay for that brand because they know that this company is giving them what they are paying for and more.
We built the Lafayette Community Bank in downtown Lafayette, Indiana. It was by far the most challenging job we had ever been through. Thank God for me I have the best foreman, GC, and the best suppliers in the world, Jake Puetz, Simon Construction, Lafayette Masonry Supply and Accucast Products LLC - together we nailed it. All the cards were stacked against us. No room on site, a hard schedule, lack of experience, and the pressure to do it perfect. It was a nightmare of a jobsite, right up against the highway from Purdue University. Plus the city had street crews in at the same time building new walks and drainage all while we were trying to lay brick and set stone. We never jeopardized safety or quality over production. We knew that that building will be there long after any of us. We made our mark in the industry with that building - so much brick, block, and cast stone. It is flawless.
I am so proud to say Got Brick? LLC did that work. It marks true, that this is the kind of work we give every job $5,000 or $500,000. Got Brick? LLC is a group of men that share the same passion and respect for masonry. Again it is our identity not just another job.
Surprise: If I had any advice to give another contractor it would be take care of your people and learn to operate it from your own cash. Train yourself to be broke, discipline yourself - it is not your money until everyone is paid. Don't make purchases to get ready for something, make those purchases on a need basis. Sometimes cash in the bank is better than a good deal.
The majority of my friends that have started their own construction/contracting companies get those first couple checks and think they're making butt loads of money. Then the bills start pilling up, the tax man comes, and unexpected cost arrive. Before you know it they are using money for supplies that customers are paying for to operate their business. From that point on it's a downhill spiral.
Bottom line - be good to your people and discipline how you are spending.
MCAA: What do you feel is the masonry industry’s biggest challenge in the future?
Surprise: I feel that masonry's biggest challenge for the future is the ”brick broker”. The guy or group of guys who do not care about the masonry trade. To them it is just another job. They sub out to the cheapest illegitimate crew possible to make a buck. It is killing our industry. The quality those kind of companies do is horrible. They sub work to migratory labor and to crews who are 1099 forming their employees, or the guy who pays cash which doesn't help his people or help his Country/industry. They elude payroll tax, cheating the system, in turn shooting the market to hell and driving the price of the industry down. I've been in these situations in order to keep up with competition, the quality of work is horrific. To expand wasn't the option for our company if it meant putting out junk work, I’ll leave that on someone else’s plate. It really only helps the guy in the end that is getting away with it.
The “brick broker” as we like to call them is the worst case scenario for the person buying, investing, or building. The customer is the one that’s getting the bad deal. It has directly impacted so many people that run legit businesses and play by the rules.
MCAA: What is your favorite aspect of being a member of the MCAA?
Surprise: My favorite aspect of being a member of the MCAA is the peace of mind and comfort I get in the fact that I know there is an organization standing up for the masonry industry. They are lobbying, fighting, and protecting our rights. The MCAA to me stands for a comradery among people who truly care about masonry, masonry contractors, and the future of masonry. It is the MCAA’s identity.
About the Author
Tim O’Toole is the Director of Marketing for the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA). He has a Masters in Business Administration from Webster University and has worked in the masonry industry since 2003.