Hitting a Milestone
Rob Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Land Surveying in Houston, tells POB how his company is still going strong today
POB: Your company is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2013. Why did you decide to launch your own business?
Rob Hoffman, in the firm's current office, in 1986.
Hoffman: In 1976, I was managing the survey department of a local engineering firm. The owner, who was a mentor and friend of mine, later decided not to have a survey department anymore and helped me break away to form Hoffman Surveying Company (our original name).
POB: How did you develop a business strategy? What have you looked to improve with your business?
Hoffman: In the beginning of our company, I used to go out in the field during the day with one or two helpers to measure everything. I would bring the measurements back to the office and stay up half the night manually drawing up surveys on a wooden Mayline drafting table. After a year or so, I was able to hire a secretary to answer the phone and a full-time crew so I could spend more time in the office and less time in the field. The business all came from referrals. We didn’t advertise back then, so we were pretty much winging it. Our strategy was simple: to keep up with all the work we had.
POB: What do you believe is the key to running a successful surveying firm?
Hoffman: Perseverance. When times get tough, don’t give up. The key to our success is employing good, honest individuals and never accepting anything less. It is the employees’ hard work and dedication that helps us to succeed. We strive to treat clients the same way we would expect to be treated.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge? What has been your biggest success?
Hoffman: One of the biggest challenges we face is keeping up with our clients’ expectations of providing services in a timely manner. However, this is the nature of our business and we do it well.
Another challenge is making sure that our services are within the client’s budget while also creating a worthwhile profit. We have achieved this by keeping our overhead low and not overextending ourselves financially. Although we like to keep up with new technology both in the office and out in the field, we are big believers in the saying, “Don’t fix it unless it’s broken.” This is the more conservative approach; however, I feel as though this has been a major factor in what has kept us in business all this time.
A third challenge is keeping up with the economic situation and housing market trends. There is no way to accurately predict what the future will bring, (but we do try) to stay ahead of the curve to continue our growth and success.
Our biggest success is staying in business for 35 years. I’m most proud of our service because we strive to do what we say we are going to do when we say we are going to do it. Our client services staff always stays on top of our work and understands that communication is the key to success. We make sure that all of our work is completed in an efficient manner, which sometimes results in taking a few extra days to complete the job. We communicate this to our clients so they can understand why it is taking longer than planned. Keeping the client in the loop is very important! We may not be the largest surveying company in Houston, but I think we’re the best in service and reliability.
POB: How has the profession changed in the last 35 years?
Hoffman: We have seen so many changes over the last 35 years, mainly in the technology department. When I first entered the surveying business in 1976, I would write the survey orders on little strips of paper that I would then put on my credenza on the back of my desk. That’s how we’d keep track of the orders! Someone would always joke with me and say that if I sneezed I would be lost because my work orders would be scattered everywhere. Once the fieldwork was completed, I would put a check mark and the completion date on the little strip of paper. I would hand it to our secretary, who would then type out invoices on a typewriter. We kept everything in a ledger. When people would pay us, we would keep track of all the accounts receivables on index cards that were alphabetically filed according to builder. This is how our business worked up until the early 1980s when we got our first IBM computer. Using today’s technology, we are now able to do more work with fewer people.
Supply and demand is also a huge factor in how the profession has changed over the years. There have been years where the demand was low so we had to downsize. But then there are years when the housing economy is booming so we have to expand. The most employees we ever had at one time was 30, but then we had to downsize to 10. We currently have 16 employees and are looking forward to what 2013 brings. We plan to continue to grow as the Houston housing and real estate market grows.
POB: How do you stay on top of the newest and latest technologies?
Hoffman: In the late 1980s to early 1990s, we started drawing everything on AutoCAD while using a Lietz T60D in the field. Up until this point, we were doing those field calculations on a HP calculator. Now, we stay up-to-date on technology by using GPS and modern survey equipment such as the Carlson Explorer data collector with SurvCE software and the Sokkia CX 105 total station. Once the files are transferred from the Carlson Explorer data collector to the office, our survey techs use MicroSurvey for calculations in conjunction with AutoCAD.