Building A Growing Business

Building A Growing Business

Willie Roberson had wanted a son — to the extent that when Sundra Ryce was a little girl, he gave her a boy’s pet name: Kojak. Having been born a girl, Ryce may have initially disappointed her dad, but that didn’t stop Ryce (her married name) from following his footsteps into the construction business.

Now 28 years old, Ryce is president and CEO of Buffalo, New York-based SLR Contracting and Service Co. Inc., a general construction firm with 16 employees and 2002 revenues of $1.8 million. “I was in my father’s business from about the age of 12,” Ryce explains. “I would spend my summers organizing the company’s accounts, filing papers, and doing other administrative tasks.”

SLR was launched in September 1996 with a $10,000 gift from Ryce’s parents. To save money, she also rented two offices in her father’s building. The company’s initial start-up funds were used to open SLR’s bank accounts; finance payrolls for herself, one project manager, and two field employees; and pay other general administrative expenses. By October, Ryce’s company began to see the results of those summer holidays spent learning the family business when SLR secured its first contract, a $20,000 job to repair the heating system at the local YWCA. For its first year, the company grossed $177,926. After this project, work began to flow at a fast clip.

Taking advantage of the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, SLR grew its clientele to include the U.S. Air Force, the VA Medical Center in Bath, New York, and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. One of the company’s largest projects to date was the demolition of seven buildings in Bayonne, New Jersey, for the U.S. Army Core of Engineers — at an estimated cost of more than $2.6 million.

An early challenge for Ryce was finding the highly skilled personnel required to land more lucrative contracts and to structure their salaries so overhead wouldn’t go through the roof. “As we grew, we needed to add executives, whose salaries were high, and one result was that at times cash has been tight,” Ryce explains. “For example, we needed a senior estimator whose salary runs] between $64,000 and] $80,000 a year with benefits. The salary for a senior project manager is between $55,000 and $65,000 per year. We also decided not to do a national search, but a regional one. These employees are in such high demand in our region that they come at a higher price tag, which has been a challenge for us,” Ryce adds.

When business was slow, Ryce took advantage of the extra time to re-examine her business strategy and update her business plan, concentrating on management and administration as well as operations and marketing. According to Ryce, the company is focusing more intensely on these areas — a focus that had been lacking in previous years.

Ryce says the exercise of revisiting and updating the company’s business plan is what will achieve the expected $10 million in revenues for 2003. That goal is already being helped along by an improvement in