I started in this industry 46 years ago at the ripe age of 15. By 16 years old I was a typical young person carting around my tools in the back of my 1971 Ford Maverick. Little did I know I was getting in on the ground floor of an industry that hadn’t been named yet. When I first heard J.C. Henry use the term “hardscape,” I thought he was crazy, but cool!
Gail and I started our business in 1980 after graduating from college. We had a used Bolens tractor and an assortment of hand tools. I recall very well purchasing our first skid steer in 1988. The salesman had to give us a good sales pitch to convince us it would be worth the investment. That one sale opened my mind to just how valuable an investment in the right tools is.
My son, Tom, started working for us when he was 10 years old in 1997. By then we had purchased two more skid steers, a backhoe attachment, a loader, four dump trucks, two pickups, two trailers, a laser plane, compactor, three cut off saws and two computers! By 2019 our job descriptions had not changed a whole lot, but how we worked certainly had. Cell phones for instant communication, social media for marketing, and equipment laden with technology all made our jobs easier and time more productive.
We are fortunate that our son had a keen interest in our line of work. I asked him recently what the pluses and minuses were of working for his parents, you know, the older generation. He noted that we have a harder time adapting to new technology (yes), and we are often stuck in our ways of doing things (what?!). It is not easy to convince us to try something different (he has many times). But growing up in a family owned business, Tom learned all aspects of running a business sitting at the dining room table each night as Gail and I discussed work. He learned from our mistakes. He learned to take responsibility. He learned about planning, organization, perseverance, how to talk to customers, tracking and understanding expenses, and money management. All these tools and skills are just as important as the physical equipment we invested in.
About the time Tom was born we decided we needed help with planning for our goals in life. We knew Tim Riley, a fellow University of New Hampshire alumnus who had started his own financial planning company called Harbor Group in Bedford, NH. Tim examined our situation and has since advised us with our savings, insurance, investments, children’s college savings plans, and retirement plans.
The first order of business was to get disability and life insurance. This is something a lot of young people don’t think about. Look at my case though. Out of nowhere I had a stroke and was out of work for an entire season. Thank goodness I had disability insurance and savings (and a very capable son) that helped us through that time.
Tim had us work on building up an emergency fund after we had our insurance in place. You never know when you may have a slowdown in work or a need to have some money to fall back on. We learned that people should start saving money with their first job no matter how young they are. This is super important. Set a target of putting 10-15% of your income aside. Be disciplined and the process of compounding will reward you.
And start thinking about retirement and how you will pay for it now, if you haven’t already. Most of us contractors are self-employed. We started our retirement savings by taking advantage of the tax-free growth of a Roth IRA. A goal should be to be debt free by retirement. Try to have your mortgage, kid’s school bills, and all your large miscellaneous debts paid off.
Think about your future expenses and plan. Work with a financial planning expert. They can help you plan and calculate needs taking in all aspects of your life and goals. Many of us know how to install hardscapes, not how to invest our hard-earned money. It is important to remember that at some point you will want to retire. The longer you wait to start planning for it, the longer it will be before you can. Save as young as you can and as much as you can. Savings will give you flexibility in your future. As Tim says, “It doesn’t happen by magic”.
There are few people my age who have concentrated on installing hardscapes for their career. We are approaching the first generation of retirees from this field.
The younger generation of installers has grown up with new technology, tools, and installation techniques that make this such a great and competitive industry. I know it’s not easy convincing us older folk to try something different, but I am hopeful that us older folk have convinced you to invest in training, education, the latest technology and techniques in our industry. Just as important though is to invest in yourself. I wish all of you every success for the future. I hope to see you at future industry events!
originally published in August/September 2019 Hardscape Magazine
by Bill Gardocki, Hardscape Educator