Chairman's Message: Vendor No. 25 and Selling Norman Rockwell’s Cottage

Words: Dick Dentinger

Growing up in the home of a mason contractor had all sorts of wonderful experiences for my siblings and me. My father and mother had a good thing going in their little household. They had a happy marriage and were raising four children. Mom was in charge of managing the household, while Dad was doing well as a manager at his uncle's masonry company. They lived a modest lifestyle and always saved their money. Eventually, they moved the family to a new development in the Milwaukee suburbs. The area was mostly farmland at the time but was poised to become a booming new area and perfect for making permanent roots for their family.

In the Midwest, we often endure long and harsh winters. Once spring arrives, families spend every possible weekend experiencing the seasons in the great outdoors. As such, it's common for us Midwesterners to desire a lake home. Where I live now, in Minnesota, we call these lake homes a "cabin ." In Wisconsin, where I grew up, everyone calls their lake home a "cottage ." No matter if it's a one-bedroom primitive structure or an elaborate modern compound, we call it a cabin or a cottage, depending on which side of the Mississippi you call home. My parents, being from Wisconsin, decided to build a cottage. Nearly every weekend, our family would load up the station wagon and make the drive to the lake. Over the months, they completed the cottage. As kids, we enjoyed endless adventures every weekend. Norman Rockwell would have had no objections to setting up his easel on the edge of my parents' lake lot to draw the scene as our family lived out my childhood. Life was good at the Dentinger home and up at the cottage.

Eventually, my parents decided it was time for them to try to start their own masonry company. Dad had built up a solid reputation in town, and the timing seemed right. So, they sold the cottage to provide some of the seed money needed to begin their company. My parents told us kids about their plans and warned us the family was going to have to be very frugal as starting a business would be challenging. Mom and Dad were aware of the statistics showing most businesses fail in the first year, and your improved odds of survival are slowly earned a year at a time. In retrospect, as kids, we didn't really notice a difference other than the loss of the cottage. All we needed was a bicycle and a baseball mitt. I do recall feeling the stress now and again over the next few years when the burden on my dad's shoulders showed on his face. Still, their company gradually took root, as did a sense of steadiness and confidence.

That first act of selling their treasured cottage was important to help finance the business. Especially when considering the timing of payables versus receivables in a new business. With challenges like that facing them, my parents made additional strategic decisions that would help increase the odds their business would prosper. One of which was recognizing that there was always more to learn. Dad was a proud Navy man and very smart, but he wasn't a bricklayer and had no college education. Yet, he always valued that while working for his uncle's masonry business, they were members of MCAA and would send my dad to the conventions to network and be on top of what was happening in the industry. So, when my parents started their own company, even though they were forced to be very frugal, they would always attend the MCAA annual and midyear meetings. As a start-up business with the deck stacked against it, my dad knew it would be valuable to build a network of friends and mentors in the industry and to play a role in the work being done to ensure the industry thrived. Along the way, he developed friendships with colleagues from businesses of all sizes. Businesses from other cities who weren't bidding against him back home. He became close to the major suppliers and vendors in our industry as well. They also valued these trips to the MCAA meetings as they served as nice getaway excursions to reward their long hours of work building their company.

Near the end of my parents' career, my brother and I spun off the St. Paul, Minnesota operations of their business to start our own company. As my parents had done decades earlier, the same cycle started all over again. This time, it was us who were the ones sacrificing and crossing our fingers to determine whether the business would be on the winning side of the statistics for starting a business. We also knew we didn't know all the answers. I recall setting up our vendor accounts into our accounting system on week one of forming our business. That day, the MCAA became Vendor No. 25. We, of course, have hundreds of vendors now, but Vendor No. 25 was in that first batch because we knew its value. We've been attending the annual and mid-year meetings ever since. The networking and knowledge I learned from my friends and allies at MCAA over the decades has, without question, improved our business in countless ways. We always benefit from gathering intel and brainstorming, which blossoms out of these meetings.

The MCAA mid-year is being held at the Stein Eriksen Lodge and The Chateaux properties in Park City, Utah, during the last week of August. It's a very special resort in the beautiful Deer Valley area. Here's a link to the MCAA Midyear info and registration: midyear.masoncontractors.org  

If you've never attended the MCAA midyear meetings, you're missing out. Invest in your business's continuing education and play a role in shaping our industry. Come and meet others, just like yourself, who are trying to maximize the potential of their business. In fact, if this is your first midyear, I would enjoy the chance to meet you and welcome you to the events. I look forward to seeing you in Park City in a few months.

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