Owning one business can be time consuming, expensive and challenging. Throw in a second business, and an extra set of challenges is introduced. How is it possible to achieve success with double the clients, projects and work? Adam Hoffman, owner of Godfrey-Hoffman Associates and Hodge Surveying, tells POB his story.
POB: In April 2010, you purchased Hodge Surveying after already owning Godfrey-Hoffman Associates (GHA). How hard has it been to run two businesses? What made you want to do both?
Hoffman: I was asked to take a look at the company by one of my now key employees at Hodge; he felt the business [had potential but] was not being run very well. Through review and due diligence, I confirmed that was the case. Since both firms do the same type of work, I had the experience of running this type of business already, so it seemed a natural fit. Also, unlike GHA, Hodge was being operated with outdated technology, which can cripple a company in our business today, and I saw an opportunity to better serve those clients.
It wasn’t as hard as I had first anticipated. The team at my original company, Godfrey-Hoffman, unified while the new business, Hodge Surveying, had an under-utilized employee who was a diamond in the rough. With the appropriate guidance, empowerment and technology upgrades, he has been managing that office successfully ever since.
I decided to operate Hodge as a separate business because they have been around since 1925. Also, GHA does both surveying and engineering, and I didn’t want to upset the engineers that did business with Hodge. Now that they know me, they understand I’m not out to steal their clients.
POB: How did you develop a business strategy? What have you looked to improve with your business?
Hoffman: I never had to start from the ground up. When I was first licensed, I was a partner with my uncle, Bernard Godfrey, so together we continued to build on his excellent reputation. Our philosophy was to “do great work at reasonable rates, and they will come.” When I purchased Hodge, we continued with our approach, applying it in a new location and continuing to listen to our clients.
Our clients are the biggest barometer for us. They will always tell us what’s working and what’s not. Fortunately, we hear consistent, positive feedback from them telling us that our business is responsive to their needs and solves their permitting issues. Our focus and specialty within “sustainable design” is an area we want to help our clients benefit from further. Clients can see their construction costs be reduced by as much as 40 percent in some cases, with maintenance expenses over the development’s lifetime dramatically reduced as well. With the reuse of existing materials, we also want to help our customers “go green” and feel good about their decisions.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge? What has been your biggest success?
Hoffman: The current economy has been extremely challenging for our profession. Construction of new housing has just about stopped. Larger firms have seen huge contracts dry up and are scrambling to replace them with smaller-sized projects where they’re not as competitive due to scale and overhead.
Luckily for us, we have always operated extremely efficiently, yet accurately, which allows our clients to move their projects forward quickly and cost effectively because town officials know and trust the validity of our plans. Our clients tout our ability to “get things done” for them, despite advice from brokers or attorneys who say approvals will be unlikely to obtain, and all of us know time is money. I am most proud of the fact that at my company, we are like a family; we care about one another. If someone is gone for some reason, everyone steps up to get the job done.
POB: What technologies do you use, and how do you stay on top of the latest trends?
Hoffman: We have found great success with robotic total stations and office software like AutoCAD, and are about to jump into GPS. We see this as a great tool to add to our toolbox.
We are committed to learning. We invest time and money as active members in multiple trade associations and organizations, and make sure we stay abreast of new technologies and attend vendor demos, etc. We talk with other engineers/surveyors and read, read, read! With the Internet, all the information is available so we do our homework.
POB: Your company also markets 3D laser scanning services. How did you get involved, and what do you see the future of this technology being?
Hoffman: I knew a guy who was laid off from his “normal” survey job; he bought a 3D laser scanner figuring it’s the newest technology in the industry and since he was not licensed, he could legally offer these services. We partnered up on a few projects, and I marketed it to my clients, which created some work for both of us.
Since BIM is the latest technology in designing buildings, laser scanning helps create the base mapping. It also allows for some mapping to be done remotely when conventional methods would be cost prohibitive. As-built surveys of a highway would require the highway to be shut down or traffic to be re-routed. Laser scanning can be done without stepping foot on the highway, which is much safer.
As for the future, as the pricing decreases, the uses will increase, but it’s just another tool in the surveyor’s toolbox.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Hoffman: While no one can predict the future, I do see opportunities for new ways of thinking that can allow us to serve and partner with our clients to help them achieve their project goals. Our clients cannot afford lost time and expenses for missteps and errors, so they look closely at the “whole picture” of cost and quality when deciding who they hire. Our best clients are informed clients, and we have noticed that with the down economy other companies are taking a lot of short cuts and their work integrity suffers. Our clients know that it truly matters who they hire and that not all plans get them to the finish line.
We have built our business on offering top quality work at reasonable rates, and work with clients who want the job done right the first time and every time. Another opportunity and advantage is the fact that we’ve been around since 1925. Over the years, we have acquired and owned an abundance of past survey records that can save our clients money since these records avoid the need to re-perform research that has already been documented and approved by town officials. It’s the little things that really add up for our clients and we enjoy helping them learn how to put the pieces of the property puzzle together and save money at the same time. As they say, knowledge is power!
In 1978, Adam Hoffman began his surveying career by working for his uncle, Bernard Godfrey. In 1988, after receiving his land surveying license, Hoffman and Godfrey formed Godfrey-Hoffman Associates. In 2010, Hoffman acquired Hodge Surveying from William Grundwald. Hoffman can be reached at email@example.com.
Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story for a future issue, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.