FL Crane & Sons on the Perks of Risking in the Unchartered Territory

From a one-man business to doing multi-state projects with super products, FL Crane on how to excite people for changes, what is leadership in family business looks like and the art of balance innovation versus risks.
FL Crane & Sons leadership team
Courtesy: FL Crane & Sons
By | 11 min read

Founded in 1947, FL Crane & Sons is a specialty contractor that offer a wide range of service including drywall, floor coverings, ceilings, and other operations technology services. Started out as a small business with only five people in Fulton, Mississippi, the company now employed over 600 people for 12 of its branch offices.

FL Crane & Sons is, indeed, a family business that is currently run by the fourth generation. As it has gone on a long journey to be one of the biggest players of the Southeast, there are many highlights on how its management has successfully brought up the company over generations, the lessons earned for itself, and messages for fellows in the space.

The Rise of a One-Person Business That Revolve around Trust

In an interview with Couple of Subs, the firm’s president Ty Crane flashbacks how his seniors have leveled up the company from a one-man business to doing multi-state projects with the super product as of today – in which story the company reveals the secret sauce of its success.

“Actually, every new branch we ever opened, it was from a homegrown employee that were first working in the field with us,” Crane explains. In the late of the 90s or also known as the ‘Casino era’ – that was when the firm took off. It started to see more projects flying in, naturally have more people in place and finally the need for new branches appeared.

Since that point, picking the candidate for any new divisions has become a subtle tradition and process within the firm, including the following steps, “they work their way up to be an estimator and when my grandfather saw something in them, he would just make it simple asking ‘I’ll go get that brand up, you want to be in?’.” An example for that is Jackson and Louisiana’ division manager Chip McAlpin who has been with the firm for over 25 years that also was a college kid being trained by the firm and be set up for that management role.

“That is kind of how we have done everything!” Crane addresses another college buddy of him is now running the Melbourne, Florida office. There are plenty of markets that the firm wants to tackle but the president claims it is crucial to remain patient and wait for the right person to come up for that position. After that, the firm would fill them up with help – to find great teammates to work underneath as well as other necessities for the machine to run smoothly.

“We’ve got 14 branches and have never acquired people from other companies that we did not know and trust already. I know it’s out there every day but that is something we haven’t been willing to do.”

In brief, Crane and his firm’s speed of growth correlating with trust. They have this market in mind to tackle but are not going to do it yet until the trusted person is found. According to the president, to grow faster and resilient in a new market, you have to feel confident in authorizing managers and in giving them the autonomy for decision-making. That is how the company has been, for eras, scaling and exploiting new regions without being disrupted by unnecessary involved levels across the organization.

Turning Points and Game-Changing Decisions

Taking over the management was not easy for the brothers – Ty Crane and Cody Crane since the stigma of the new generation has always been there and to win seniors requires a lot of hard work. However, as stepping up and leading new time the brothers have made many game-changing decisions that, in fact, enable the firm to continue its position in the forefront of the scene.

Turning Points

FL Crane & Sons staff at a job site
Courtesy: FL Crane & Sons

From residential to commercial across the country, that was a lot of growing, stretching and especially changing for a small business. How did people respond to changes and the leadership’s approach?

“If you are not growing you are dying and I think it is accurate,” the president explains, what happens before growth is transformation, you cannot stay relevant in the construction industry without catching up with technology. “To run without advanced technology or the unwillingness to get on board is like Blockbuster vs Netflix.”

There were good companies he knows that are dying out because they opt to go down the food chain – to stay in residential, for instance.

However, to convince and excite hundreds of staff for transformation was no easy task. Crane recalls there was always that group who has joined the firm for more than 30 years and have skepticism about him for being a young generation plus the new way of operating. Yet, there is nothing you can do rather than have the new methods reveal themselves– as a matter of fact, by now the company has expanded its services to more than five areas with completely new machines along with the latest procedure. The management was determined to its vision and people gradually recognized the highlights of innovation.

Taking Risk in the Uncharted Territory   

While successfully embracing the human and technology side of the business, there are still other questions to answer and one of the most important for FL Crane at that moment was how to balance being on the-cutting-edge of innovation versus being in emerging markets.

To tackle emerging markets means to explore uncharted territories that nobody has done for the research and development. This is more about building their brand to be the leader in the space than just ‘another division’ – so, how did they go through that process knowing which trails to blaze and which to not?

By taking what is known from the past. “We’ve got a really good team that comes together before we make these decisions,” Crane continues, there are both seasoned veteran who are great at managing and directing and young people that are good with the technology and execution.

However, trials and errors are inevitable prior to making great decisions. “You just got to be willing to take a few punches,” the president realizes that to be the authority you have to take risks and be dare to be the first in everything.

“FL Crane is a known brand in the Southeast, if you needed manpower, you called FL Crane, if you needed a big casino built there is nobody else to call. And then people started catching up with that.” The firm is always on guard planning for its next step, because that is how leading works and to be in the forefront – it is what it takes.

Game-Changing Decisions for FL Crane

FL Crane & Sons staff in a training session
Courtesy: FL Crane & Sons

Taking the management, the president and his vice put in their grand efforts to penetrate in training and expanding markets. In an interview with ‘Principles with Cory and Logan’, they talk about what they had done to embolden the company’s trademark as well as presence.

The most recent is the new work procedure and approach to cope with the pandemic and the competition this difficult time brought along. Beyond that is Crane College which is a three-year program for new trains. Everything from how to read a tape measure to running your own crew. “We have really seen it making progress and it’s a good way to tell the world how we do it at FL Crane.” The firm’s president claims, most of what the company is doing is envision to be benefited in the long run.

On top of that is to race for a new game – they yearn for any projects that work to expand the reach of the company which involve producing new products and moving to new markets.

“Drywall has become a super competitive commodity, we still do that because that is what the company was built on. But the load-bearing penalization, stuffed panels and metal panels – that are the types of work did not just any company do.” Crane addresses those are the three big items his team is going after.

While remaining solid in old markets, most of the firm’s divisions are now laser-focused on many more advanced products, new dynamics, and new space that nobody is yet dominant ­– because “that can really set us up to be the authority.” That was their second game-changer.

And the Southeast area is a perfect match for FL Crane. According to the president, because there is not a lot of high-rises in Mississippi, Alabama, and even Texas, buildings with twenty to thirty stories cannot fit into the local system. So, that has created some time for the firm to grow and be able to be in front of the space.

A Leadership Message: Recipe of a Loyal Homegrown Workforce

FL Crane & Sons leadership celebrate in a ribbon cutting ceremony
Courtesy: FL Crane & Sons

All young management have their own challenging time winning people – from earning validation from seniors to exciting their new teammate. Continue the conversation, the president talks about how he did it and how the company’s values intertwined with his.

“There is a stigma that the new generation has failed because we are not doing it like our grandpas.” In such scenarios, it’s critical to broaden people’s perspective on how shifted the industry is – let them know the urgency of innovation and how the company could only stay true to its core value and firmly in the position by changing what it used to do. People only be convinced to transform when they see the aftermath and purpose of it.

Besides, working hard to gain respect at the same time take good care of your people, that is how a loyal workforce get produced – “take care of those guys and they’re always going to take care of you,” Crane says “I see a lot of people who young and coming into a big role in a company and companies take it as an opportunity to fill their pockets full of money but that isn’t how you benefit your company as a whole.” According to him, the real impact lies in the way management being able to tap into every role within the operation and back their employees with inclusion and appreciation, because the monthly incentives by means of paychecks are barely enough.

The Bottom Lines

It takes FL Crane 74 years to get to today’s position, even though the firm always seems to be racing with itself, yet that is the race built on a solid foundation of industry experiences, loyal workforce and local recognition.

While taking over the corner of the Southeast, new products and markets are inevitably mean risks but that’s how the company approaches success – by daring to be in the forefront and risking its way out.

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