Tim Noble knows hard work. He grew up poor and he began working at age 6 when he mowed grass on his dad’s riding lawn mower. He’s worked every day of his life. It makes the success of his business all the sweeter.
Noble founded Kentuckiana Builders in 2004. He had no plan to work in construction; in fact, he had a degree in laboratory medicine. He had worked in the construction industry while he was earning his degree, so when the hospital he worked at developed financial difficulties, he went back to construction and never looked back.
He got his start in equestrian buildings, and he has a lot of beautiful examples of that work in his portfolio. However, that is no longer his mainstay. There isn’t a lot of quality work available in the equestrian sector. Noble expects that it will come back when people feel better about the economic situation.
“The key to equestrian work is that it is built with clients’ disposable income. With the stock market as it is, people aren’t spending money on equestrian projects.”
These days Noble does mainly commercial work, offices and warehouses, and residential, with a little agricultural construction thrown in. He works in post-frame, brick and mortar, and traditional stick built, whatever is wanted.
Noble isn’t building all of these projects himself anymore; he has a crew of 10. His way of handling the worker shortage has been to offer incentives to his employees to reach out to people they know and recruit them.
“If you have good people and they know you treat them right, they will be your best recruiters,” he said.
Further, your workers know that you care, Noble said. You are trying to get them help and you are even willing to reward them for helping you find workers.
Another challenge that Kentuckiana Builders has faced is one that most small businesses face: cash flow problems. Vendors want their piece of a project immediately. However, the builder doesn’t get all of their payment up front, so that can be tricky. Most of the time, Noble said, good vendors will give you 20-30 days to pay. Other vendors want their money right away. Early on Noble worked with those businesses, but eventually he decided to pull back from them. A business that is on the edge may not be there when you need them.
Part of managing cash flow is keeping your guys on track and the project on budget. Also, Noble has a credit line that the company can draw on if needed. The business is strong enough now that they don’t usually do that, but in early years when capital was harder to come by, it was helpful.
Procuring materials and equipment has been a challenge for Kentuckiana in the last few years, as it has for many companies. They are still waiting on a bulldozer that was ordered over a year ago. When the time comes that you need the equipment and it has not been delivered, it’s a dilemma. The choices come down to paying way too much for a used machine or renting. And sometimes renting isn’t even an option because so many people are looking for the same kind of equipment. Sometimes you have to beg and if you are a good customer, vendors will usually find some kind of solution.
“Now is not a good time to be a non-established business,” Noble said. “Without relationships they won’t take you. The lumber company and concrete suppliers will not take walk-in business.”
Noble tells a story about a supplier error in which his account was placed on a COD basis only. They refused to deliver to him for that reason. Of course, he got the error cleared up, but he doesn’t know how newer businesses could make it without industry connections.
Kentuckiana has great partners for materials in Wick Buildings for post frame, K & I Lumber, and ABC Supply where they get components from Plyco and Central States Steel. These are some of the relationships that have helped the company.
Still, there are other business challenges that go beyond the support of solid vendors. “I know what it’s like to owe a million dollars. I know what the interest is on that. I know what it’s like to borrow $150,000 to buy a piece of equipment. Then, of course, there is insurance, taxes… the construction industry is not for the faint of heart,” Noble said.
Kentuckiana has come through it all and they have plenty to show for it…a portfolio of beautiful buildings, pride in a job well done, and they have won some awards along the way from the NFBA. Noble is also proud to state that 80% of their business comes from referrals.
Noble’s business philosophy has certainly helped his company grow. “Treat people the way that you want to be treated. And always tell people the truth. They may not like it, but they will like it less when they find out you lied. Above all, be better tomorrow than you are today.” FBN