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How Your Business Can Thrive During Good and Bad Times

 

Originally aired 8/28/2019

19 Minutes

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Transcript

Rick Deans: Hi, thanks for joining us today. I’m Rick Deans, executive vice president of industry engagement with InEight. Well, with us today is Rob Trulson, CEO of T&T construction. Rob, it’s always good to see you.

Rob Trulson: How’re you doing, Rick? Good to see you.

Rick Deans: Real good. Real good. So tell us a little bit about your company.

Rob Trulson: We’re a heavy highway, mainly underground, large diameter pipe company. We’ve been in business in Arizona for 35 years, since 1983. We spawn from a company out of Wisconsin that was actually established in 1953 by four a World War II veterans, one of them being my father. And we are now transitioning to the third generation, my second son Jared and my fourth son Jordan, who is going to be joining us in December after he graduates from GCU.

Rick Deans: So you mentioned you spawned off a company that was started in Wisconsin. That’s how you got into the business?

Rob Trulson: Yep, that’s how. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduated business engineering degree, and was on my way to New York with a job. And my father was in a time where he was looking to retire, and he always says it takes about five years to train somebody to where they’re to a point where they can make 90% of the decisions on their own. And so he was looking to get out, and he needed somebody to replace him and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Rick Deans: There you go.

Rob Trulson: So I got into it then and been in it ever since.

Rick Deans: That’s great. What do you like most about what you do, Rob?

Rob Trulson: It’s a variety. The people you meet. There’s never a day that it’s the same. I enjoy taking on difficult projects, figuring out a way of building them, building them more efficiently. Obviously, safety is always an important factor of ours. In the underground industry it can be very dangerous, so we take very good pride in our safety record. And the people you meet, the relationships you develop throughout the years.

Rick Deans: Being a family-owned business here in the Valley for 35 years, I’m sure you’ve seen the Valley change a lot.

Rob Trulson: Oh yeah. When we moved out here, Scottsdale Road was a dirt road north of Shea Boulevard. There was no 101. There was no 202, so we’ve seen a lot of growth. My kids always laugh, and when we were driving when they were younger, I’d say, “Yeah, we put pipe under this road here. We put pipe onto this road here.”

Rick Deans: When I first met you 10 or 12 years ago, you had mentioned something that stays with me today, and that was, “You never want the company to get so big that I don’t know the names of my employees and their kids when we go out and have a picnic.”

Rob Trulson: It’s true.

Rick Deans: So is that still resonate within the organization?

Rob Trulson: Yes, it does. Like I say, we’re in a transition where I’m … it’s a joke. I’m too young to retire, so I’m laterally transitioning to a consulting position, and it’s up to them. But what they have seen and what I have tried to instill on them is that you can become really, really big, but all you’re doing is taking on more and more headaches. So we do between $20 and $30 million a year, and which is a medium-sized company. And yet, you can go onto a job site and you know everybody that’s working for you.

Rick Deans: Sure. So being a family-owned business, what sort of challenges do you run into here, running the company?

Rob Trulson: There’s advantages. Obviously, you’ve got family involved. I was always told by our father that business is business and family is family. I can remember when I was younger having some pretty heated discussions in the office and then going to our moms for dinner and that’s family. It’s done. We don’t look at just immediate family. All of our employees are part of our family. We’ve got about 35 people working for us, some that have worked for us for over 30 years. And it’s important that I would … like I told you before, when I go out into a job site,

I want to know everybody that’s out there, and I want to know their wives and kids names.

Rick Deans: I’m sure being in business 35 years, the business is very cyclical. We go through bumps. What are some of the ways that you’ve managed to survive during some of the bumpier times?

Rob Trulson: Oh, I call it the ’08 crash. We had a backlog of work before that hit and then we saw everything just go like this. And we got, like I call, secondidis. most of our work is hard bid, and we couldn’t pick up a job to save your soul. We got to a point where we were actually bringing our guys into the yard and paint the equipment. But we made the decision that we don’t need to work for practice, and if we weren’t able to make a fair profit and cover the overhead on a project, we weren’t going to take it. And we survived that time.

Rick Deans: And those fellows, those folks that you took care of and you kept busy during that period of time, I’m sure that they appreciated it.

Rob Trulson: Yeah. And they’re still with us.

Rick Deans: Still with you today.

Rob Trulson: Yep.

Rick Deans: Well, that’s great. That’s great. Tell us a little bit about how you win new business, Rob, or new customers, new contracting agencies that …?

Rob Trulson: Well, the industry is changing. I mean, and a lot of it is moving to what they call alternative delivery systems, which is CM at risk design build. We just completed a big design build for the Peter Maricopa irrigation project for the pump station and discharge pipeline. We’re finding more, it’s more of a combination. And we’ve submitted on a lot of CMRs, CM at risk, CMRs and design builds. We’ve won a few, our fair share, I like to say. And we’ve also gotten a hard bids.

Rick Deans: That’s great. That’s great. Tell us about some of the relationships you’ve cultivated with some of the contracting agencies here in the Valley.

Rob Trulson: Throughout the years, we’ve got a good relationship with the City of Phoenix, City of Chandler, Pima, Peter Maricopa irrigation project. We built their first irrigation part, section of their irrigation pipeline. It was a 84-inch pipeline. And what I’m noticing, though, is that as I age out … I’m 61 years old. As I age out, so are the people that I’ve developed relationships with. But with Jared and Ben, who are are taking over, they’re developing their own relationship with the entities and the owners and engineers.

Rick Deans: One of the topics that gets thrown around a lot is digital transformation. What does digital transformation mean to you, Rob?

Rob Trulson: Well, I’m looking over 35, 40 years. It’s been a huge. I remember when I first started learning how to estimate, it was done on a legal pad where everything was in pencil and everything was hand calculated. And that’s transformed now to we use InEight’s estimate system where you’ve got thousands and thousands of bid items pre worked up, and plus you’ve got the communication revolution with cell phones. We went from payphones to a radio, so we had a trunk radio system, Motorola trunk radio system, which we thought was unbelievable that you could talk to anywhere in the state with …

Rick Deans: And didn’t need to bring a roll of quarters.

Rob Trulson: Yeah, I didn’t need to bring a … well, if you wanted to make a phone call, you had to call the office and have them make the phone call for you. But then that went to cell phones, and there’s good things and bad things for that. One of the bad things I’m noticing is, is that the speed of things is almost more than a person can handle. They expect to be able to get a hold of you immediately, and they are expecting the answers immediately. I’m finding that the younger people in the industry coming up or not learning to plan efficiently. Where you had to be thinking about something a week ahead, they’re thinking they’re only having to think about a day ahead because they can just get on their cell phone to talk to somebody. So we have to spend a lot more time on that with them, getting them, because even though you can get ahold of somebody right away, doesn’t mean they’re going to be available.

Rick Deans: Or have the answer that you’re looking for.

Rob Trulson: Or have the you’re looking for. Yeah.

Rick Deans: Interesting. What are some of the design or the decision criteria that you make before you bring in any software or hardware in the organization?

Rob Trulson: I’m a self-proclaimed tech nerd. I’ve been that way or ever since its come out. But one of our main protocols is that it has to make your job easier. If it makes it more difficult, it’s not worth it. We’ve tried out software that we thought was going to make you more efficient, and it turned out it wasn’t. One of your main competitors for the document management that we’re using with InEight, it would take two days to set a job up. It doesn’t matter if it was a $15 million job or a $500,000 job. It still took that same amount of time. And I found that where it was very robust, people were hesitant to use it because it didn’t make their job easier.

Rick Deans: So you’ve been a customer of ours for many, many years. Can you tell us about how that relationship started?

Rob Trulson: Yeah, we had one of your competitors estimate system. They were our second estimate system. Like I said, I’m a tech nerd, so we went from spreadsheet to another one to then your main competitor’s. And one of the problems we had with their system, it’s a very good estimating system, project management system, but they had no way of taking information that the foreman had already submitted to the office and generating a time and materials invoice. A lot of our work, we have contract work, but there’s a lot of time and materials, extras. You run into a utility that wasn’t supposed to be there. They ask for an additional depth on a cut a pipe or whatever. So I had a stack of change orders that I needed to process that was literally this tall. And that’s revenue that’s not being realized. And my brother and I were in business together at that time, and he was constantly in my office going, “You need to get these done. You need to get these done.” Well, in order to get them done, I had to literally create a new job. We enter in the timesheets as if they were done. And then print everything out.

Like I said, we were very happy with the estimates system. We had everything set up, and a couple of your salesman came in back … I think it was about 1991, and were offering … back then it was called PSX. It was a DOS-based system, and I said, “We’re not interested in changing,” And they showed me a little bit about it. And so I just made the offhand comment, “Well, I’ve got all these change orders sitting here. Can you compile and print a change order from a timesheet that’s been turned in as T and M?” And they said, “Yes.” And I said, “Prove it.” And they did and I said, “We’ll buy it.”

Rick Deans: Can you list three things off the top of your head that you like about InEight Solutions?

Rob Trulson: I liked the accuracy and knowing that I don’t have to worry about any errors in a spreadsheet. I really liked the quote system, the quote management system, that allows us to analyze. We get a lot of different quotes, especially on materials for pipe. We do our own … everybody does their own takeoff. If you want to call them the pipe hosts, do their own takeoff. Well, we have to compare them to determine who’s going to get the … who’s lower. Our theory is if you’re low with us, you get the job. We don’t negotiate after the fact. It allows us to take our takeoff, put in their unit prices, and see where they actually are and compare them.

And then the other thing is, is the storehouse estimate. We’ve got thousands and thousands of different bid items pre-bid, and we have them pre-bid to where they’re worst case scenario. So if we have somebody that’s not very familiar with estimating or hasn’t been doing it a lot and they get in, we always do an in house review, but if something happens and we don’t, we know that we’re bid at the worst case. So we don’t have to worry about somebody forgetting an important part of the job.

Rick Deans: Or a productivity rate that’s too ambitious for the terrain.

Rob Trulson: There you go.

Rick Deans: Now as a large diameter piping contractor, you’re probably dealing with lots and lots of material items. Is there a way to keep-

Rob Trulson: Your quote system, the quote management system, is very robust. We use it extensively. We do our own takeoffs for … we just did a project for Pima that the quote that came from the pipe store houses were 31 pages long. And so they have their own takeoff. We have our own takeoff. So what we do is we enter in their unit prices based upon our takeoffs. We can compare them based upon what the materials we think are going to go into the job. And we have a policy that if a company is low with us at time of bid and we’re able to use their number, they get it to a soon enough, we don’t go out after the fact and try and-

Rick Deans: You don’t shop their numbers?

Rob Trulson: We don’t shop numbers, no. So we can honestly tell them, and we’ll show them anything they want to see after the bid, that here’s where you were, here’s where your competitors were, and this is … and we actually, on this project, three and a half million dollar materials order was separated by less than $2,000 between two of our suppliers.

Rick Deans: Wow. Wow. And that’s how you stay in business for 35 years, is you treat people right.

Rob Trulson: You treat people right, and everybody knows that we don’t shop numbers. We’re not going to tell anybody anything before a bid. They know if the they can give us their number, two hours, three hours before the bid … and it’s gotten to a point now where nobody even bothers calling us to find out how they look because they know the answer they’re going to get is, “You look like a pipe salesman,” because we don’t give out any of that information.

Rick Deans: That’s great. Tell us about some of the other software and the technology you use here in the office, Rob.

Rob Trulson: Accounting system, we use Sage Timberline, which integrates with InEight. We also use the job tracking and the timesheet collector. So all of our foremen enter their timesheet in their pickup off of a laptop. They’ve got an aircard. It gets transmitted to the office. It gets reviewed in the office and then it goes to the timesheet warehouse. We run our payrolls on Monday, so on Monday one person is assigned to compile all of the timesheets. The only thing that we have to really change is if there’s any overtime that’s associated with it because we don’t make our guys track overtime. So they’ll change one of the last timesheets and then it gets exported to the Timberline software, which eliminates us having to rekey in all of the hours. Because most of our work, a lot of our work, is Davis-Bacon work, and they require certified payroll, which it has to be done by the day. You can’t just say somebody worked 48 hours in a week. They need

to see it by day, and so we’re able to produce those reports through Timberline because of the interface with InEight’s job tracking and timesheet [inaudible 00:16:13].

Rick Deans: That’s great. So you’ve got the opportunity to review the data, make any corrections, add the overtime, and then you don’t have to rekey it into another system.

Rob Trulson: Yeah, which eliminates errors.

Rick Deans: And you mentioned job tracking or field data collection tools. You’ve mentioned an estimate. Are there other InEight products that you’ve looked at?

Rob Trulson: Like I said before, we were with one of your other competitors, and it was becoming too cumbersome to use. It was very robust but too cumbersome to use. So I saw at the IEG conference that we had document, and so we’ve adopted that. We’re also in a trial stage for plan, progress, and control, which is a web-based system that would take the place of timesheet collector and job tracking. We’ve just gone through … Jared is spearheading that. We’ve just gone through the implementation and training, and we’ve identified a few things that need to be changed for it to work for us, which you guys are working on at this point right now.

Rick Deans: That’s great, and I know you’ve been a great source of product suggestions to us over the years.

Rob Trulson: Like I said, you give it to us, we’ll break.

Rick Deans: Yeah, you bet. Great. So what’s next for T&T? You mentioned about transitioning from the second generation to the third generation.

Rob Trulson: Like I say, I’m laterally transitioning into a consulting position. I’m to a point where it’s the younger generations time to go out and see what they want to do. We don’t really see any changes as far as the line of work we’re in. A very wise man told me, “Shoemaker, stick to your trade.” In the past, we’ve tried different lines and have always come back to putting pipe in the ground. And that’s what we do well. We guarantee our workmanship for life, and we’ve never had to go out and fix anything.

Rick Deans: Okay, great. Well, Rob, this has been super helpful. Thank you so much for your time. We’ve learned a lot, and as always, we really appreciate you being customer of ours.

Rob Trulson: No problem. Thank you.

Rick Deans: Thanks for joining us today. We hope you learned a lot. For a complete list of all of our archived and upcoming webinars, click here.