For Mike Pennington, life is about family, the hardscape brotherhood and hockey – in that order. If someone doesn't like it, then they just don't understand the tough love of being on the wrong side of the stone saw for 12 hours.
“You don't understand until you have wheel-barrowed for 15 hours straight or fought through the mud or worked in negative 18-degree weather,” Pennington says.
Pennington oversees residential design/build at Lakeridge Contracting in Whitby, Ontario. The business was founded in 1999 by Dean Maahs and was solely commercial until about four years ago when Pennington launched the residential division, which is now about 25 percent of sales.
Lakeridge employs about a dozen crewmembers who share Pennington's die-hard work ethic. Many of them have beards. Burly ones. They do a lot of heavy lifting. And a lot of laughing, too.
Together, they're the #LakeridgeBrigade, part of the #HardscapeBrotherhood – a social network of contractors on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram who work with stone.
“Everything we work with here is heavy, expensive and easy to break," he says. "That is a horrible combination. Who wants to do this job?’”
The guys at Lakeridge do.
Really digging it
Mike Pennington can show you trees on the side of Route 401 that he planted when he was 16 years old. He can show his daughter the playgrounds he helped build.
“I have spent time shoveling dirt into bags and managing landscape construction projects that are worth $1 million,” he says.
At the gard16 years old. He can show his daughter the playgrounds he helped build. en center, he met landscape architect Dean Maahs. “When he started Lakeridge, I went with him and I was the first person he hired. We built the company together.”
The firm has grown steadily over the years, and dove into residential about four years ago. The first year, the division did about $500,000 in sales, and the last couple of years the company has met or exceeded that number in the division.
“It's not like we started this from ground zero,” Pennington says. “We had a crew of experienced people and a fleet of trucks and machinery.”
Residential business allows crewmembers to be creative on the job, and it diversifies the company's income.
“We can turn jobs in a few weeks and get paid for them versus the revenue stream that comes from commercial,” Pennington says.
Meanwhile, business is feeling strong in 2014 for Lakeridge.
“I was really excited about 2013, but I think that was my own generated excitement. This year, based on presold numbers, I'm saying, this is a banner start for us.”
Humor and hard work have gone a long way to help the company persevere during tough times. And, the team’s unstoppable attitude has essentially become a company brand, winning the firm business and recognition. The Lakeridge crew is gruff and vigilant – and awfully likeable, judging from the traction the company gains from social media, and the range of commercial and residential business it wins.
Right now, that business includes several school playgrounds, an extension on an area university and a wide array of residential projects. Meanwhile, the company has filmed YouTube walk-through videos of $100,000 landscape design/build projects – and recently, a trailer that will be shopped around for a potential reality television show about the hardscape life.
Pennington admits he's not an office guy, so no need to look the part. But he mainly began growing his beard a couple of years ago because his young daughter likes to brush it. And when it comes to the #HardscapeBrotherhood, he's got a real soft spot.
Twitter has been a great tool to show potential clients and the public how Lakeridge Contracting operates, and it's a venue for showing off his talented team and tossing out daily cheers for jobs well done. Pennington started his first Twitter account two years ago after a green industry seminar.
“I found this community of people,” Pennington says, referencing #HardscapeBrotherhood. “Electricians and carpenters have unions. They have a gathering place of people with similar life experiences. We lack that in this business and I think this movement growing of that hardscape brotherhood is a way for us to connect.”
Pennington also discovered a way to publicly acknowledge his people. “I feel like there are a lot of owners who don't tell their guys they are doing a great job, but for me, I put a tweet out to all of them and let them know that,” Pennington says. “It's an easy way to communicate.” Meanwhile, 10 crewmembers at Lakeridge have their own Twitter accounts. They keep it positive, share project updates and keep each other going during those cold, hot, muddy, back-breaking days. Pennington encourages clients to check out social media updates to see how their projects are transforming. “I can stand here all day and tell you I've been doing this for 25 years and I'm ICP certified. I'll be the only contractor to show you on a day-to-day basis how I'm doing work.”
This closes sales for Lakeridge, too. So do the YouTube videos, because clients see how creative the crews are at Lakeridge. “You can watch a walk-through of a high-end design/build backyard project or a goofy parody, and clients see we love our jobs,” Pennington says. “Video is a great way for people to see what they are getting – I don't tell people what I'm going to do, I show them.”