Dealing with an empty checking account, Rita Lawrence began a paving enterprise to outlive. Now they name her “Mama Bear”

Rita and Arlyn Lawrence have been residing the nice life in Phoenix, Arizona, the place they’d relocated after Arlyn retired from working a heavy freeway building agency in Illinois. However in a sudden coincidence, the retirement cash they have been counting on from his former firm disappeared.

“We checked out one another and mentioned, ‘What are we going to do now?’” relates Rita. Arlyn had the reply: “We’re going again in enterprise, and also you’re going to be the boss.”

With Arlyn as her mentor, Rita took on 100 p.c possession of L & L Asphalt, working for the town of Phoenix as a small-business enterprise. “We purchased shovels and a dump truck and employed a couple of guys and simply began filling potholes,” Rita says.

The work had its challenges. “This space has about 25 totally different mixes for asphalt, and everybody thinks they’ve the very best spec,” she says. With Arlyn serving as her chief estimator, the 2 tackled all of the bids they may deal with.

On the finish of the primary yr, Rita examined the underside line. “I assumed, ‘Wow, if we may make that a lot simply filling potholes, we have to crank it up,’” she says. “So I purchased a paver.”

Sadly, the brand new paver was a lemon. “It broke down each time,” she remembers. “I raised a lot hell the vendor despatched me one other paver to switch it, and that one wasn’t significantly better.”

Ultimately Rita employed an estimator, and so Arlyn lastly acquired to retire… once more.


Then alongside got here the recession

When the Nice Recession hit, it hit L & L exhausting.

“I cried and prayed so much,” Rita says. “We have been tapped out on our line of credit score, and we had a couple of jobs go mistaken. Then the financial institution froze our account.”

Rita negotiated with the financial institution. “They gave us six months. We needed to promote the entire tools we owned. All of us took a pay minimize.”

The corporate’s numbers improved; it made its funds. Ultimately the financial institution doubled the road of credit score.

“We discovered learn how to choose and select jobs,” Rita says of the expertise. “I now know we don’t need to tackle the whole lot simply to trade dollars.”

What makes her proud although is that “no person left me, even after the pay cuts. Everybody stayed,” she says. “All of us simply form of hunkered down.”


Public works focus

The corporate concentrates on the general public works market inside a 100-mile radius, together with municipalities, airports and water therapy vegetation. “A variety of the bigger firms don’t need to mess with the smaller jobs,” Rita explains, “however with us there’s actually nothing that’s too small.”

However that doesn’t imply they don’t tackle bigger tasks, similar to a present $1.eight million job at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix.

“If the mission suits, and it’s for considered one of our prime shoppers, we’ll attempt to do it,” says John Doerfler, chief estimator, who was employed by L & L after a number of years of expertise with one other agency.

The corporate’s tools fleet consists of pavers, skid steers and rollers. “We’ve actually stepped up previously two years with our rollers,” Doerfler says. “We used to hire them, however they have been exhausting to seek out. With proudly owning them, you don’t have to fret about that. And Rita was not proud of how a lot we have been spending on rental.”

Doerfler continues: “This sort of work is tough on tools, so shopping for it after somebody has already used it’s robust to do. With shopping for new, we’ve the guarantee. It’s actually the one manner we are able to go along with pavers.”

There are robust realities with engaged on an asphalt crew within the deep Southwest. “Asphalt comes out at 300 levels out of the truck, and it’s already 110 levels on the market,” Doerfler says. “It’s not a simple job. In the event that they make it the primary week, although, they’ll often keep.”

Rita’s son, Jon Conkling, serves as L & L’s chief mechanic. “He so good at engaged on machines,” she says.

“The folks we’ve now are the very best crew we’ve ever had,” Doerfler says. “Our superintendent Daniel Gonzales is on prime of the whole lot.”

Mike Elkins with B & F Contracting presents this remark concerning the can-do angle of L & L crews:

“We do a number of emergency work for the town of Phoenix, and we’re working till darkish or so long as the plant can run. They by no means inform us they’ll’t assist us.”


Mama Bear

“We name Rita ‘Mama Bear,’” Doerfler says. “You possibly can method her about something, and should you need assistance, she’ll assist you.”

A part of Rita’s caring perspective comes from being a most cancers survivor, identified with lymphoma in 1984. After two years of remission, the aggressive most cancers got here again. Her life was saved by a then-experimental therapy that’s now FDA-approved.

Rita calls the expertise a miracle. When medical doctors ask her, “Have you learnt what a bullet you dodged?” she says, “Sure, I certain do.”


ASA Diva

Alongside the best way, Rita joined the native chapter of the American Subcontractors Affiliation and have become the chapter’s chief membership advocate, passing out membership brochures on jobsites to different subs. One yr, she was accountable for inviting 20 new members to the group.

She even has a license plate that reads, “ASA Diva.” For her efforts, Rita acquired the nationwide affiliation’s Timothy L. McLaughlin Exemplary Management Award in 2017.

“Inside the ASA group, you may merely say ‘Rita’ and everybody mechanically is aware of who you’re referring to,” says Carol Floco, CEO of ASA of Arizona. “She’s our building model of Cher.”

“Becoming a member of ASA actually put my firm on the market,” Rita says. “It made an enormous distinction. There’s a lot you may be taught from an affiliation.”

“L & L isn’t simply excited by getting your online business,” provides Darin Bailey with Hunter Contracting. “They’re all the time there to assist value-

engineer choices and supply their experience and expertise.”


Speak to the proprietor

Rita has seen plenty of modifications within the 18 years she’s been in enterprise, particularly as a girl in a male-dominated trade. “Folks would name and say, ‘I need to speak to the proprietor,’ and I’d inform them that was me, they usually’d say, ‘Do you may have a male there I can speak to?’”

She pauses, then says: “I don’t hear that anymore.”

“I used to be a management freak at first,” Rita continues. “I used to be so afraid that we have been going to lose the enterprise I felt I needed to management the whole lot. It took a very long time to seek out the best folks, however as soon as I discovered to let go and put folks in these positions, I discovered to delegate.”

“I name myself the politician of the corporate,” Rita provides. “I acquired out and went to conferences and acquired concerned with legislative points affecting contractors.” This involvement displays husband Arlyn’s instance. “That’s what he did along with his former firm, and it simply makes an enormous distinction in your organization’s popularity,” she says.

“Rita may train others learn how to be a great enterprise proprietor and supervisor – which aren’t all the time the identical factor – and the significance of connecting with and caring about staff, and championing the problems that influence the trade,” says ASA’s Floco.