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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 1 year ago

A long road

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Woodruff & Sons doesn't shy away from complicated construction projects. It's a formula that's worked for seven decades.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Quality and integrity aren't just buzzwords at Woodruff & Sons Inc.
Those words are the guiding principles for the Bradenton-based contractor's third-generation owners and, they say, two reasons why the company recently celebrated 70 years in business.

“When we finish a project our name is on it,” says Don Woodruff, the company's president. “Most of them are here in our community where we live. We drive by those projects every day, and we want to be proud of them.”

Woodruff & Sons was founded in Michigan City, Ind., in 1946 by Roy Woodruff, who used his savings from serving in the U.S. Army during World War II to buy a bulldozer. He moved and hauled dirt, originally working with his brother and father. He bought them out after a few years, and the company eventually expanded into underground utility work, site development, road construction and construction management. It's also a recycler, manufacturer and supplier of crushed concrete road base material, soil cement and cement treated base.

The business moved its headquarters in 1973 from Indiana to Manatee County, where the family had spent many winter vacations. Today, it has about 175 employees in Florida and about 30 in Indiana, where there's not as much growth and development activity. The firm is now run by Roy's sons Don and Bruce Woodruff and his daughter, Linda Wakeman, with a fourth generation (Linda's son and son-in-law) in training.

The Woodruff children still adhere to their father's motto: “Take pride in your work, do it right the first time, and respect the other person and his property.”

“If my dad told you something, that's the way it was,” says Linda Wakeman, the firm's secretary-treasurer. “And that follows through the way we do business. We want things done right.”

The company has been active in east Manatee County recently, working on expansions of Lorraine Road and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. It's also nearly complete with work on the extension of 44th Avenue East, which will connect Bradenton to Lakewood Ranch. On the private sector side, one of its biggest clients is homebuilder D.R. Horton, where it's done site development and utility work at residential developments such as Del Tierra in Bradenton.

Annual revenue came in at almost $41 million in 2015. Woodruff and Wakeman call the $40 million range their comfort zone, and the company tends to hover around that level with no pressure or plans for major growth.

“Any bigger and you kind of lose the personal touch,” says Woodruff. “We don't want the client to feel like they're just a number to us. Most every client we have has my cell number, and they know they can call me at any time. When you've got a huge company you're not going to have that service.”

Keeping growth in check also helps the company ensure it's producing the kind of work it wants to. “Sometimes with growth your quality goes down,” says Wakeman. “We like to keep our ship tight and quality good.”

The family also gives its employees plenty of credit for the company's success. There are many second- and third-generation staff members, and some employees have been with the company for 40 years. During the recession, the company did work on its own property to help keep its people employed and receiving a steady paycheck.

Now, with the market on the upswing, the firm often looks for more complex projects, work where it can draw on its experience and sometimes face less competition. “If there's a difficult job, we may have three or four legitimate competitors,” says Woodruff. “If it's a simple job you might have a dozen. So we tend to go after the difficult ones, because we know how to deal with them — and some of our competition does not.”

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