Running a business in these crazy times is undoubtedly a challenge, but Joe and Dawn Cruz from Cruz Construction in Rhode Island have managed to weather the storm with a reputation for hard work and excellence.
Joe’s grandfather Belmiro started the family-owned business over 70 years ago, passing on the values of quality work and going over and above the call of duty for customers. ‘I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and worked with my grandfather from a young age. There was never a thought of not owning my own business’, says Joe.
Working in a family business in the US is a popular tradition. According to the US Census Bureau, family firms comprise 90 percent of all business enterprises in North America, the mean age of family control is 60 years, 30% have the second generation in charge and the third-generation runs 12%. With Joe in charge, Cruz Construction is providing generational continuity for the business and the community they support.
Joe’s start-up advice
Every industry is different of course, but if you’re looking to start a business, Joe has some useful observations:
- Be careful about taking on a business partner that shares ownership. It’s important early to retain total control for fast decision making
- To grow you need a strong group of employees. Take care of them like family and pay them well
- Don’t live to work, work to live
- Have fun. Everyone who visits us starts a conversation with Eko our mascot (even though she’s a dog!)
- Laughter is the best medicine.
Joe also thinks it’s important to build your credibility in business. For Joe it was a Building Construction degree from the Wentworth Institute to complement what he’d learnt on the tools. Even though his grandfather gave him character and a work ethic, Joe felt the degree gave him increased confidence to pitch for and complete larger and more varied projects. ‘The degree fast-tracked insights into the construction sector’, Joe explains, ‘and gave me added credibility when dealing with project managers on larger contracts. The only thing I would have changed is adding a business degree while I was there’.
Avoid being the lone wolf
Joe is joined by his partner Dawn, who he credits helping consolidate and build the business. Being in sole charge may sound like a great idea, but it wasn’t until Dawn joined the business that Joe felt he had everything under control. ‘I got married and now wasn’t going it alone’, says Joe, ‘so I think it’s important to have a partner on the journey’. Partnering doesn’t always mean marriage of course. It could be strategic alliances with complementary businesses, working with others to pitch for work, gaining referrals from your network or someone to talk to when things get tough.
Joe believes that having a strong network is critical to surviving in business, especially now. ‘COVID has certainly made being in business more tricky,’ says Joe, ‘and the answers are not always in your head.
Help and support
One of the first things I did in business was to hire a consultant. It was expensive but taught me the business part I felt I needed and it was well worth the money’. Joe also recommends finding a group of people you trust to share your challenges, which could be your friends, an accountant, solicitor, banker or other small business owner.
There are other sources of support before committing to paying for help. SCORE is a free mentoring agency run by the Small Business Administration. Request a mentor near your Zip code here. Every state also has several Small Business Development Centers that offer training and advice (for example, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) plus your local Chamber of Commerce or industry association may be able to help. HarborOne U also offers a range of business information, tools and training to help manage your business through any crisis.
"if you don’t like something, change it, if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it"
Failure is not an option
Joe never contemplated his business would fail. ‘I’ve always lived with the attitude that failure is not an option and whenever there’s been a negative situation, I’ll find the positive or learning opportunity’, says Joe. This is especially true when the construction industry is facing uncertain times. ‘My key challenge’, Joe explains, ‘is the same as most businesses, the certainty of the economy. It’s always in the back of my mind but we made it through the 2007/2008 crash, so I know we’ll make it through this as well. A positive attitude will always prevail and a good core group of regular customers helps’.
It’s good advice. It’s often easier and better to focus on your existing customers than try and pitch for new work and Joe’s business motto of service, reputation and experience helps lock those customers in for life. ‘At this point, we are 100% word of mouth to get referral business’, says Joe, ‘and though we have our website, it’s what our customers say about us that gets us work’.
You’ll probably by now realize that much of Joe and Dawn’s success is about attitude. One of Joe’s favorite quotes is by Mary Engelbreit. ‘if you don’t like something, change it, if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it’. Joe also remembers his grandfather’s favorite sayings which would be “Joey, we don’t live here. Wrap up this job and move on” and of course, “save, save, save”.
Great words of wisdom.
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