CHARLOTTE – Hoss Hinson is a cool name, and the guy who has it has the cool to back it up, too.
The wrap-around-sunglasses-sporting, pickup-truck-driving, beard-wearing, hard-hatted and safety-vested vice president of the Monroe-based Godfrey Construction Co. showed up at East Mecklenburg High School taking swigs through a straw in a Big Gulp cup full of Mountain Dew.
He was rarin’ to go.
The 35-year-old Monroe native waved us over to his pickup and told us a few facts about the $3 million renovation of the 1950 school building’s auditorium and a few personal facts: He’s married to a yoga and pilates studio-owner named Jill, he’s got three kids, 12, 11 and 8, and when he went to college at N.C. State he “majored in women.”
Before we could ask him a question, he asked us one, and the interview was on. Come along for the ride.
“Where do you want to do this, man, over here in the shade?”
Sure. Where can we sit?
(Throws down the tailgate of his truck and plops down.)
Good idea. Hell, yeah. That’s what we do; we’re in the construction business. Tailgates are perfect.
You do a lot of institutional work. We’re about 95 percent institutional: schools, public buildings. We do a lot of churches, too. We’ve done about eight or nine of Charlotte’s newer fire stations.
Oh yeah? Some of those are really sharp-looking and very functional at the same time. Yeah, I think they started that post-9/11, making them really, really nice.
Who’s Godfrey? That’s my grandfather; he started this company in 1964 – we’ll be 50 years old next year – and Dad bought it. Dad’s semi-retired and I run around running the business, pretty much.
You going to take it over officially, eventually?
(Nods his head in agreement as he takes a big swig.)
How have you guys done during the downturn? It wasn’t bad for us, not bad for us. We were lucky to be involved in several long projects, and we were able to weather it. And we didn’t owe any money. That’s really important. We’re basically a construction management firm with 11 employees, all managers, so we don’t have anything to owe money on. We don’t own very much equipment. We’ve got maybe two guys out here who work for us on this job and there are 80 people here working. We subcontract everything. To do that, you gotta have a good quality control program. We have somebody out here every day to make sure everybody follows the contract to a “T.” Take this fire and water system we just installed.
(Points to some huge brightly painted pipes coming out of the ground)
It’s a perfect example. We had an engineer come out one day and look over what we were going to do, then we did it the following day, and he came out the next day and looked it over, and the next thing you know, boom, it’s done and everybody’s happy. We’ve got seven other projects going right now, and we have about $20 million to $30 million in revenues a year, and doing it the way we do it is the only way to get all that done.
Has the institutional construction market bounced back yet? Not in Charlotte, not strong, no. Charlotte came late to the recession, and it is one of the last pulling out. Our business follows roofs, like everybody else, and the roofs are just coming back, slowly. But we’re not as hurt as a lot of people. The year tends to start off with an influx of work in the first quarter, it drops off some in the second, and when you get to the third and fourth there’s hardly anything left.
How do you maximize your chances at being the low-bidder on a project? The key to keeping costs down is just doing the job smart, that’s all. The materials costs are locked in. Where you get your numbers lower is in the labor. You look at something, and you know how it’s going to be done and how long it will take to get done. It’s the knowledge, the experience that keeps the bottom line down.
Growing up in the family business, did you have any choice about going into it? I’ve always wanted to do this, been around it all my life, got my degree at State in construction management in ’99, been doin’ it ever since. It’s just what it was. And I loved it, and I still do. I love the people. I spend too much time at my desk, but I get out to every job site once or usually twice a week, and that’s the part I love best.
You mentioned doing churches. We work a lot for the LDS church, the Church of Latter Day Saints, Mormons. We’ve been building for them since the early 1980s in North and South Carolina. There are only three of us in the country who build churches for them, and we do it in the South for them. They kept us busy during the recession.
You a Mormon? Nah. We go to Elevation Church. I don’t know what you’d call us. I don’t think we’re affiliated with nothin’.
Your wife has a Pilates and yoga studio in Monroe, right? Yeah, Core Studios. There’s no competition for it in Monroe. All the competition comes from Charlotte. She’s got the market cornered on it, for sure. It’s a real higher-end clientele: $80 an hour – it’s crazy, a lot of older people with money. She also has a nonprofit, the Pink Ribbon program, for cancer patients; Pilates and yoga therapy after chemo treatment and your insurance runs out. She’s cool. She’s one of those people you meet and just like right away. She speaks in San Diego, all around the country.
A marriage, three kids and two successful businesses – that’s a pretty full life. Hell, you only get one, so haul ass.
Plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead, right? Right.
So what about that name, Hoss? I grew up with it. Mom and Dad named me that, and no middle name, either.
That’s your God-given name? I gotta show you.
(He leaps off the tailgate brings his wallet from the cab and holds up his driver’s license.)
See, and no middle name. Most people don’t believe me.
It really fits your job. It fits my personality, too, doncha think?
BROWN can be reached (704) 247-2912, [email protected], or on Twitter at @tonymecktimes.