A Fresh Start
Taking over an existing company presents a substantial set of challenges. Focusing on customer service, communication and versatility can make the transition easier while providing a new avenue for success. Tony Blumentritt, owner of Blumentritt Land Surveying, PC, shares his thoughts in an exclusive interview with POB.
POB: You worked at the company for years before purchasing it in 1991. Why did you decide to buy it and make the company your own?
Blumentritt: In 1991, the owner of the company I worked for decided to sell it. At that point I had three options: Start my own company; find another place to work; or purchase the company I worked for. I decided to go with option three because the price was reasonable and I would buy it from two of my former mentors, both of whom I respected and had a great relationship with. Moreover, I could start a company with a backlog of work. The previous owners wanted me to purchase the business and were willing to work with me to make the transaction happen.
POB: Did you have to develop a new business strategy?
Blumentritt: Initially, the only changes in strategy I wished to pursue were expanding the business by enlarging the geographic area it covered and expanding the staff. There were loans to pay, and this strategy seemed to be the most viable way to handle that. I focused on cultivating relationships with clients, both new and existing. In 1991, when I purchased the business, there was one technician and myself. By 2005, I had two offices, four licensed land surveyors on staff and three additional support staff. After the economic downturn in 2007, my staff slowly contracted to the point it is at today, with me as owner and land surveyor, a technician and an office manager. My current strategy is to keep selected clients and attract new ones by providing exceptional service.
POB: What do you believe is the key to running a successful surveying firm?
Blumentritt: Service is foremost; quality service retains clients. Communication with clients is also important. I follow up on projects when necessary to make certain that the client has an understanding of the outcome. If an issue arises as a result of a survey I have done, I discuss it with the client and create a plan for resolution. I also have an open door policy with my clients and try to be available for their questions and concerns.
In order for a company to be successful, it has to be properly funded. The only source of income my company has is from the services it renders. The fees for those services have to cover expenses--that is an economic reality. My clients pay me a portion of their hard earned money; in return, it is my responsibility to make sure that my clients know how their money is being spent. I use service contracts to make sure there is an understanding of the work to be done by my firm and the payments expected.
Quality is paramount. An inferior product will almost guarantee that the company will not be producing very long, especially in a small market. If a consumer receives inferior service, there is a good probability that they will not return.
Versatility is also important. Every year is a bit different from the previous in terms of the skills required. One year, it may be railroad track layout; another may be elevation certificates, subdivisions or municipal mapping. A person has to be well versed in many forms of surveying to run a small business and be successful. I try to know my limitations. At the same time, though, I am not afraid to push my limits.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge? What has been your biggest success so far?
Blumentritt: The biggest challenge is staffing and scheduling. I either have too much staff or not enough. If the workload gets to be more than I can do in the time allotted and cannot be scheduled according to my clients’ needs, I will call in another surveyor to help me through the challenge. My biggest concern is my clients. I will do whatever it takes to meet their needs, even if it means referring their work to someone else in the hopes that they will come back.
The biggest success is to have kept my business operating as a viable, ongoing and active operation. I am proud of the relationships cultivated with my clients and peers. I receive a great deal of respect from both, and I owe a great deal of respect and gratitude to both. I am also proud of the extent of work I’ve prepared over the years. I have a lot of survey drawings out there, and the work will live on for a long time.
POB: You’re very active in different societies and have served as president of both the Minnesota Society of Professional Surveyors and the Western Chapter of the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors. Was that a valuable experience? Would you recommend it to other professionals?
Blumentritt: Before I became involved with these organizations, I worked primarily alone in my own little world. Being a member has greatly expanded my knowledge of and appreciation for the many different aspects of surveying. I learned from my peers that there may be other, better ways of working than the methods I was currently using. Involvement in these organizations has allowed me to see how important they are, not only to the well being of the profession, but also to the well being of the public we serve.
These organizations allow for input into areas of legislation that affect land ownership. In my opinion, there is no one better to advise our lawmakers on the suitability of a law regarding land boundaries than a land surveyor. Certain tasks, whether it is an educational function, a government relations function or even a public relations function, can be accomplished more easily and more effectively by a group than by an individual.
I would absolutely recommend involvement with these organizations to those with an interest in serving them. With any organization, the benefit derived is proportional to the amount of commitment. Personally, the benefits gained have far outweighed the work put forward with these organizations. I have made many friends and acquaintances, and have received many opportunities due to these organizations. Recently, I was selected to be a National Society of Professional Surveyors governor representing the Minnesota Society of Land Surveyors. I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with and learn more from this very important organization.
POB: What technology development over the last few years has most benefited your business? What developments do you hope to see in the near future?
Blumentritt: In my opinion, the two greatest changes have been the advent and development of RTK GPS systems and the amount of online information available.
GPS was, and remains, a game changer. All of our surveys now have a common orientation. This benefits the local government units in preparing accurate mapping. More importantly, it benefits the property owner and any future surveyor by providing a survey which is relatively easy to retrace. A concern that I have is that, while technology is a fantastic tool for the land surveyor, it is only a tool. Technology is not a substitute for good judgment, which is and always has been the fundamental concept behind a professional decision. Just because the computer says it’s so doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.
The amount of online data available to the land surveyor is incredible. Compared to a couple of years ago, and even more so compared to 10 years ago, the online access to GIS data, highway maps, control points, subdivision plats and deed information is amazing. And all of this data is available from the field via laptop, phone or survey control device.
Regarding future developments, I foresee even easier access to more data, and positioning equipment that is easier to use and even more accurate. The equipment and services available presently are astounding, but I think we are just at the beginning of the technological revolution.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Blumentritt: To me, the most exciting part is the changing role of the surveyor. The advent of technology has removed some of the difficulty in obtaining accurate measurements. The GIS profession is doing some of the mapping work, which used to be in the domain of land surveying. The building and grading contractors are getting more proficient at staking their own projects and at using the technology available to do so. The land surveyor is, and always has been, an expert at locating land boundaries. That is our past, and I believe a large part of our future. However, I see additional duties as part of the profession. I see the land surveyor of the future being trained not only in the use and acquisition of data in providing a boundary determination, but also being well versed in the laws regarding land boundaries and in mediation of land disputes. Mediation of other forms of disputes could also become part of a land surveyor’s skill set. Ultimately though, for the practicing land surveyor, I believe that as long as there is private land ownership, there will be a need for the unique set of skills that the land surveyor possesses. To me, that is a secure future.
Tony Blumentritt began his career with Kleinschmidt & Webber in 1974, after graduating from Winona Area Technical College with a degree in civil engineering technology. In 1982, Tony attended Rochester Community College and Winona State University to fulfill his educational requirements to become a licensed land surveyor in Minnesota. Blumentritt Land Surveying, PC, located in Winona, Minn., offers boundary surveys, topographic surveys, as-built surveys and more. Blumentritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.