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August 2005
A Growing Family of Builders
By Casey Jacobus

       During the Great Depression, Homer Randolph left a railroad job to become a concrete subcontractor in Havre, Montana. He worked his way up in the construction field, bought a concrete supply company, and later expanded into commercial building.

Although he had only a seventh grade education, Homer built a successful business from the ground up. He passed his strong work ethic on to his son Ray, who joined his father in 1962 to create Randolph & Son Builders.

“I learned everything I know about how to make a family business successful and about construction from him,” says Ray Randolph, now president of Randolph & Son Builders.

Ray Randolph and his wife, Gail, who is secretary-treasurer of the company, raised their sons to share the same work ethic and belief in client service and quality construction as the keys to success in the commercial building field. Chuck, Jeff and Joel all earned their stripes in the business, completed relevant college degrees and developed specialties within the construction industry.

In 1986, the family moved to the Queen City from Montana, spurred by the active construction industry in the Carolinas. “There wasn’t enough work to feed all of us in Montana,” says Ray. “We had to move to make a living.”

Ray and Gail looked around the country for a couple of years before deciding on the Queen City. They wanted to locate someplace where they could work year round. At first they chose Las Vegas but, after a visit to Charlotte, they changed their minds.

“I told the boys that if the company didn’t make it, they could all get jobs in Charlotte,” laughs Ray.

Charlotte’s vibrant growth proved just the right match for Randolph & Son Builders. The company has worked on over 400 projects in the corridor between Columbia and Mooresville in the last two decades. At first the projects were in the $25,000 to $150,000 range, but they’ve grown over the years. Today the company works on projects valued up $5 to $6 million. Among the many commercial projects Randolph & Son has built are offices, churches, daycare centers, medical clinics, restaurants, and other retail establishments. Industrial projects include printing plants, trucking terminals, chemical-processing facilities, and textile operations.

 

Starting Up

Chuck, 41, Jeff, 39, Greg, 35, and Joel, 34, all started working summers for Randolph & Son Builders at age 13, just as their father started working at a young age for his father. Each of them earned money for their college educations working in the family business during summer vacations and each of them are vice presidents today, with the exception of Greg who took his love of computers to a technology company.

“Each of the boys chose a field of endeavor and we provided the opportunity for them to grow within it,” says Ray. “We all share the understanding that this is a business and we stress that we deal with business matters at the office – fun times are separate. If any conflicts occur, we resolve them before they can fester.”

Chuck, who remembers earning $2.50 an hour when he started working for Randolph & Son Builders, oversees the design-build division of the company. He also supervises the erection of the steel frames for buildings. This is an area in which Randolph & Son maintains an edge over many competitors – the company maintains its own steel erection crew, rather than contracting out the steel work.

“This is a service we provide to our clients,” says Chuck. “A lot of times, steel erection is 20 percent or more of the project. Because we do it ourselves, we can control the quality and the cost.”

Jeff handles general construction, supervising the staff who manages the projects, and Joel is in charge of marketing and sales.

“Each of them chose what they’re doing and that’s really their strength,” says Ray. “They grew up together and learned to respect each others’ decisions, so they’re comfortable with letting each other do their own job.”

The family is close even outside of work. As Ray points out, there are 19 birthdays to be celebrated. The men enjoy hunting and fishing and play a little golf together as well. They are currently planning a vacation in Montana together in November.

 

Succeeding in Charlotte

The Randolph family quickly made Charlotte their adoptive home. After renting a building for the first decade, the company built its own 15,000 square foot office and warehouse off Westinghouse Boulevard in 1998. Ray and Joel bought houses in South Charlotte, while Jeff and Chuck settled in Tega Cay. The company prospered.

The family also got involved with the community, joining the local Arrowood Association and working on various projects with the Chamber of Commerce. Joel has served on the Airport Advisory Commission for six years and is preparing to serve a term on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission. The company also sponsors local sports teams.

While Randolph & Son Builders suffered a slight downswing after the events of 9-11, it has rebounded quickly. Last year was, according to Joel, the company’s strongest year ever. And, with a current backlog of projects, there is a sense of confidence about the future.

Ray Randolph attributes the company’s success to its commitment to quality work and to service. Not content to simply bid on a project, Randolph & Son Builders works closely with its clients during the design and building phases to ensure a smoothly running, cost-effective project. The company helps clients address everything from soil and environmental testing to financing options. It can guide clients through the maize of government regulations such as setbacks and buffer requirements.

Unlike some other large commercial builders, Randolph & Son Builders does its own concrete, steel work and carpentry. Having these specialists on staff means hiring few subcontractors. It also gives the company greater control over the quality of the construction.

Randolph & Son Builders is proficient with a wide variety of construction materials from conventional buildings to innovative preengineered building systems. The company is also adept at combining several construction materials within a single project.

The company has also invested in the latest technology; a move Ray says has contributed to its success.

“We’re ahead of the competition in terms of technology,” Ray asserts. “The fax machine, the digital camera, lap top computers, all save time and improve construction a lot more than anyone realizes.”

One room at company headquarters is dedicated to a digital estimator, which crunches out all the numbers relevant to a specific project. Ray says it takes days off the process of estimating the materials and costs of a project.

With sixty years of experience, the company has a strong track record with the business owners, architects and developers who build in the Carolinas. Among its satisfied clients and their projects are:

·       Salice Corporation – office/ showroom/warehouse facility in Charlotte

·       Pro Golf Discount – retail store in Charlotte

·       Weyerhaeuser – office/lumber distribution facility in Harrisburg

·       United Airlines – air cargo facility at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport

·       Spitfire – maintenance/charter airplane hanger facility in Concord

·       Meineke Discount Muffler/ Precision Tune – retail store in Charlotte

·       National Welders – retail/office/ acetylene manufacturing facility in Charlotte

·       Union County Electric Membership Corporation – office/teller collections/vehicle maintenance facility

 

Randolph & Son Builders has found a special niche in building post offices. They have built 13 new ones, including the U.S. Post Office in Oakdale, and have worked on restoring several others. They’ve won accolades for completing a post office in Columbia, S.C., three months ahead of schedule.

“We started building post offices in Montana,” explains Ray. “There’s a lot of paperwork involved and you have to build to very tight schedules. We’ve gotten on their list of qualified builders.”

Randolph & Son Builders is currently working on a $4.7 million complex of buildings for the South Carolina Department of Transportation in Rock Hill, S.C.

 

Looking Ahead

The future of the family business appears to be assured, with nine grandchildren as possible builders. Although Ray at age 63 has no intention of retiring, saying, “I’ll stay until they kick me out,” he is still intent on training the fourth generation. Chuck’s daughter Nichole is in her fifth summer of working in the front office, while her sister Danielle, a sophomore in high school, is working as receptionist.

Thirteen year old Justin Randolph, Greg’s son, is also working at Randolph & Son this summer – just as his father and uncles did. However, while they earned $2.50 an hour at that age, Justin is earning $8.00. Although his father is no longer part of the family business, Justin delighted his grandfather recently by declaring, “I think I want to be in the construction business.”

At 17 months Joel’s daughter Emily may be too young to join the business, but she is already learning to work the phones. Her dad says she can already unlock his Blackberry and scroll his address book.

“I’d love to see all of them work here,” says proud grandfather Ray. “It will be open for them, but it’s their choice to make.”

In addition to hoping for a fourth generation working full time at the family business, Randolph & Son Builders has a business plan that calls for growing the business over the next five years.

The plan lists the company objectives and organizational goals for each year, looks at a succession plan, and focuses on delivery of quality projects for clients. It also contains Ray’s expectations that the company will work on larger projects in the future. Ray expects the company to be working on projects in the $10 to $15 million range over the next five years.

With the family line of succession well established and a business that is continuing to grow and prosper, Ray Randolph is confident that Randolph & Son Builders is well positioned to serve the Carolinas in the future.

“Charlotte is very competitive,” says Ray. “There are a lot of good contractors here. We have to work hard every day and do a good job of marketing. Fortunately, we have a lot of satisfied clients and a good word-of-mouth reputation.”
Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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