Contractor Stories

Offering the full package gets bigger jobs
By Tom Hatlen

For most of their 1st 10 years in business CG Hardscapes didn’t stray much beyond their core hardscape services, pavers, walls, fire features and outdoor kitchens.

Then about 4 years ago they took a big step into building structures like decks, pavilions and even pool houses that complement their hardscape work. This opened up a whole new market of huge projects.

CG Hardscapes co-owner Cory Frank says, “We’ve gotten away from doing 60 walkways in a year. Last year, we did about 25 total projects. A lot of these projects were in the $150,000 to $700,000 range.”

Project Profile
CG Hardscapes & Landscape Design, LLC
Webster, NY
Founded 2010
Owners Brandon Smith & Cory Frank

Customer base
90% residential
10% commercial

60% hardscaping
10% landscaping
30% design build (decks, pool-houses, construction)

Annual sales
$2.5 - $3 million

Project price range
$3,500 - $750,000

10 - 15
Cory says the key to landing those big jobs was developing the ability to offer the complete package. “People were always asking us, ‘Can you build us a deck? Can you build a pool house?’ As a contractor, it was always frustrating to refer them to someone else. And more importantly, it's more frustrating for the customer to have to deal with 4 contractors.”

Cory says they saw a big increase in prospects asking for expansive outdoor living areas including carpentry structures driven by the Covid pandemic. “They wanted us to build up the infrastructure at their house so they didn’t have to go elsewhere.”

Co-owner Brandon Smith handles design and sales for CG Hardscapes so he was the one who saw the opportunity first and pushed to expand their service offerings. Cory manages operations. They found a receptive audience with their installers and today operate a full-time 2-man carpentry crew.

“A couple of guys expressed to us: ‘Hey, I love doing carpentry. I love building decks and want to learn more about it.’ And, that's how we try to manage our core guys. What do they enjoy doing? How would they want to grow with the company? So if the margins are there, that's how we like to grow the business as well.”

Growth for employees
Cory says they’re cautious on further growth. He’s seen competitors who have grown their companies have problems. He says they’re happy where the company is now though they’d like to continue shifting into more large projects where they stay in one place rather than driving around from job to job. “We're making great margins. Our guys are getting paid well. No need to grow aside from creating opportunities for our employees.”

Cory says future growth depends more on their people than on anything else. As key employees continue growing within the company, then they will look at growing the company in line with those skills to create positions to promote people and keep them within the company.

Get over-educated
At CG Hardscapes they want to give employees every opportunity to advance their skills. “We've always prided ourselves on being kind of over-educated on the latest way of doing things. We go to dealers’ and manufacturers’ seminars and ask questions. I remember when I took the paver installer certification course for the first time. I was amazed how much I didn't know. So, now, we send all of our key people to the CMHA installer certification course.

“We normally bring 5 or 6 people to Hardscape North America. We send our people to every type of course they can go to or attend online. For example, some of our guys may not get involved in installing windows, but a lot of them are Anderson certified. It reassures the customer that we know what we’re talking about.”

Take care of people
At CG Hardscapes, taking care of employees goes beyond education. “These guys spend more of their waking hours with us than they spend with their families. So I think it's important to do the right things along the way.”

Building a positive culture starts at their facility. “In the locker room, we have frozen breakfast sandwiches, energy drinks, coffee and things like that. So if the guys want to come in before the start time of 7AM they're more than welcome to help themselves. It's a nice feeling when suppliers or manufacturers come in and they're like, ‘Wow, you guys are spoiled rotten.’

“We supply good gear. All of our guys get company embroidered raincoats, Carhartts. We buy our guys really nice $300 - $400 Trek boots.

Building carpentry structures in addition to hardscape has opened the door to large projects. Cory says, “We do a lot of decks and pavilions. We did this pool house that has the nano doors that open on the side, and that was basically the equivalent of building a house.”

“We want to make this more of a career rather than a job. It's important to take care of them so their bodies don’t break down when they’re 40 or 45 years old. So we are constantly investing in new machines. We've gotten into a lot of the vacuum set technology. It makes it easier on the guys especially as we're getting into laying these larger slabs.

“In addition to our mini excavator and full-sized skid steer, we have 4 mini skid steers, the Vermeer CTX100s. We have one of those on every single job. Those are literally the lifeblood of the company.”

Cory says the mini skid steers can work in areas a larger skid loader can’t. They can cut out a 4’ walkway without making a mess. They allow individual operators to do the work of 2 people and go strong all day.

“Plus, they show up every day and they don't complain. We are constantly looking for new tools and equipment we can buy that the guys really think would help.”

CG Hardscapes runs 4 Vermeer CTX100 mini skid steers, one on every job. Cory says, “Those are literally the lifeblood of the company.”

Cory says they’ve found they have to be careful not to lose their perspective when looking after employees. “I would say our biggest mistake in business has been holding onto people longer than we should have. We're strong believers in giving people second chances. Unfortunately, some people are just self-destructive and don’t change. One under performer can bring the whole team down.”

Carpentry provides winter work
Taking the step into carpentry work has helped provide the company’s key employees with winter work. “We typically keep 6 to 8 guys over the winter. We have more than enough work to keep everyone busy.”

They do decks, pool houses and other hardscape-related structures year round. They do interior remodeling throughout the winter months. Cory says, “We develop great relationships when we build a pool house or a deck as part of a $150,000 or $200,000 project. The client trusts us and asks if we can finish their basement or remodel their kitchen. We’ve done a bunch of bathrooms.”

In addition, every year or 2 they buy a house for their people to fix up over the winter. Buying up properties they can rent out is part of their retirement plan. “It’s also a great opportunity to train our guys on remodeling. ‘You want to learn drywall? Okay, we’ll teach you on our property rather than learning on someone else's.’”

They do not do snow removal. Cory says, “It never snows nine to five. And, we've always stressed work-life balance in our company. We only work Monday through Friday year round. We rarely work weekends – maybe twice a year.”

Digital Edition
June/July 2024