Sometimes, when the 6-foot-3-inch Jeff Stock climbed out of his tiny 1993 Toyota Corolla at a construction site, he got some jeers.
“The word ‘go-kart’ was used more than once,” he recalled.
But the car had been his wife’s college car, and it was paid for. As much as he hated the cramped car, he hated debt even more.
That’s the principle he’s run his business by: Be frugal, work hard up front, offer honest service, and the rewards will come.
His experience as a leader in the Army during the Iraq War also shaped his business principles. So did his grandmother.
Stock owns Elk Ridge Electric in Billings and may be reached at 697-0104 or through his email at ElkRidgeElectricMT@gmail.com.
Here’s what else he had to say about building his business and why he has a soft spot (and a discount) for senior citizens:
Nature of the business?
Elk Ridge Electric is an electrical contracting business that can service any residential need. The focus of the business is twofold — service and seniors. Being a veteran of the Iraq War, I feel that I have first-hand knowledge of a commitment to service. I have been an electrician for 11 years, and I feel I can solve all of my customers’ residential electrical problems with unmatched customer service.
I have a special connection with seniors. Growing up, my grandmother was a big part of my life. I was very close to her and we spent a lot of time together. I remember watching her struggle to live on a fixed income, not having a lot of extra money for things that went wrong in her home. These things would often just go unfixed. I offer a 10 percent senior discount off my hourly rate for a service call to anyone over age 55.
Why start this business?
The military played a large role in my draw to entrepreneurship. I was thrust into a leadership position very early in the military and had the privilege of being able to make decisions for myself and others. These decisions had obvious consequences on our work environment. Often, as an employee I have struggled to see a connection between myself and what happens in a company. For better or worse, the decisions I make will have a direct impact on my future and the future of my business.
For years I have been going into homes as an electrician and asking people questions about what they expect from an electrical professional. The most common answers have been: “To fix the problem”; “Someone who will call me back”; “Show up on time”; and, “Stick to the price you quoted me.” I am always surprised to hear how often these basic customer courtesies are not provided.
Where did startup funding come from?
With the ’93 Corolla, I would like to think my restraint from buying a huge truck, saving the money on gas and truck payments over the years, has helped in having the savings to finance my new business.
If we had accrued a lot of debt, starting a new business may have never been an option for me. I can recall many a Monday morning listening to friends talk about taking their four-wheelers up in the mountains, pulled behind very nice trucks. This was truly painful at times. But now, not being harnessed with that debt has allowed me to take this kind of risk for myself and my family.
How long have you been in business?
Since March 2011.
Your biggest challenge during the current recession?
I was one of those in the construction industry lucky enough to not be laid off during the recession. But my hours were significantly cut at one time. That’s when I established Elk Ridge Electric as a way to do side work to help make ends meet for my family.
What was done to overcome those challenges?
I really believe that when God closes a door, he opens a window (you just have to find it). We’ve just kept looking for those windows, keeping a close eye on our finances to manage the fluctuations during an economic time such as this.
What is being done to expand the business?
Encouraging word-of-mouth advertising, which I really believe is the most powerful kind of advertising. To expand Elk Ridge Electric, we have started by making one customer feel valued.
Sometime within the next six months to a year I will become a master electrician. This will allow me to grow the spectrum of electrical services I can provide, enabling me to service the electrical needs of both residential and commercial customers.
Your best business decisions?
Making time to network and market my company. It can be scary when you first start out and have little to no cash flow to set aside time for activities that don’t immediately pay off. I still struggle at times to strike a balance between working and marketing/networking.
Your worst business mistake?
It may be too early to have felt the consequences of a mistake, but hopefully as I make them I will be able to learn from them and make improvements.
What advice do you have for someone running a business?
No matter how big or small, don’t forget the customers that got you to where you are today. Remember were you came from and the things you didn’t like when you were working for someone else. Keep your focus on where you want to go, try not to get distracted.
Number of workers?
Does my wife count? She definitely is one of my workers and my strongest advocate.
What’s your five-year plan for the business?
To have a steady, repeat customer base and firmly establish Elk Ridge Electric as a top electrical contractor.
A question you would ask other entrepreneurs?
What are the greatest mistakes that you have made along the way? And subsequently, what did you do to survive those mistakes and become stronger as a result?
If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would be your dream job?
Owning my own business has been my dream job for so long, and it has taken such hard work to get here that it’s hard to think of something else I would consider my dream job.