Palmer Lake, CO – June 15, 2018
The key to good customer service is simple, says Paul Sutton.
“What we’re trying to do here is as old as the golden rule,” says Sutton, who owns Palmer Lake-based Peak Structural with wife Lisa; the company specializes in foundation repair and basement waterproofing. “If we came out to serve you in your home, I would want to see that that happens in such a way that if the shoe were on the other foot and I was the customer, that I’d feel great about how I was treated, the value that i received, the kind of workers that were in my home, and the final product.”
That philosophy helped elevate him to Small Business Person of the Year at this year’s Small Business Week awards, presented by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center. It was the second straight year he won the honor. Peak Structural has also won the BBB’s Excellence in Customer Service Award multiple years and was named the Family- Owned Small Business of the Year in 2017, among other honors.
“It feels funny to be singled out,” Sutton says of the title Small Business Person of the Year. That’s because he gives the credit for the company’s success to his employees. “They’re the ones that really make this business what it is.”
The award is based on several factors, including company growth, response to adversity and community contributions. As local winner, Sutton will be considered at the state level for the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year.
“Paul is just kind of the full package,” says Jonathan Liebert, CEO and executive director of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado. (Sutton serves on the BBB board.) “He’s a small-business owner whose business has grown tremendously. But what really impresses me about Paul is that he’s very approachable, very easy to talk to, very interested in providing good jobs to people and also providing good service to the community – and doing it in a way that is ethical and responsible.”
Sutton is a second-generation builder; he grew up in Minnesota, where his father was a general contractor specializing in home improvement. Lisa is from Overland Park, Kan. The two met in college in Dallas in 1983 and married a year later. They eventually settled down in the Kansas City area, where Lisa was a nurse and Paul did general contracting work, including a lot of custom renovation work in some of the older mansion districts.
In 1997, they moved to Colorado Springs. By then, they had four small children and saw the Springs as a good place to raise a family, Lisa says. “We wanted to do hiking and camping and all those outdoor adventure type things.”
Paul continued with general contracting but began to get interested in developing a specialty – “something that not every guy with a pickup and a toolbox would get into.” As he researched structural repair, “I began to feel there was quite a need. I felt that the kind of service being offered at the time was, by and large, less than what most homeowners would appreciate.”
They started small. “At the very beginning,” Paul says, “it was a home office and a rented storage locker for our equipment.” He had a couple of part-time employees and he handled everything from marketing to estimating jobs to leading the small crew to bookkeeping in the evening.
The business grew and they rented a small industrial space off Filmore Street for a few years, then bought a small commercial building on South Sierra Madre Street. A key point in the growth of the business, Lisa says, came in 2006 when they joined the Team Basement Systems international dealer network, an association of foundation and basement service companies throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. It’s not a franchise, Paul says, but offers many of the benefits of one, including patented products and training.
Sutton continues to put an emphasis on training and professional development, not just for his employees but himself.
“I was a guy who was almost strictly a tradesman,” he says. “I loved the trade, what I could do with my hands, but all those skills don’t immediately translate into the skills that you need as an entrepreneur and a business owner. It took a few years of learning, and I continue to learn. I began to realize that for the business to grow, I had to grow.”
The business moved to a 24,000-square-foot building in Palmer Lake in 2015. Location was a key selling point.
“A lot of our work is in the Denver metro area and some even farther north of that, so this location geographically made a lot of sense,” Paul says. “Our crews can get to Denver almost as quick as we can get to Fountain.”
There were other tenants in the building when Peak Structural, which only needed room for a couple of offices “and a little sliver of warehouse space,” bought it. “As our growth has dictated the need for more space and tenant leases were expiring, we had to say goodbye to a few of the companies that were here.”
Even now, though, Peak Structural doesn’t occupy all of the building, so there’s still room to grow, Paul says.
Peak Structural added spray-foam insulation to its services late last year and now is rolling out another service: decorative concrete coatings. But Paul says he’s cautious not too diversify too much. If you let diversity become a diversion, he says, “you can take your eye off the ball when it comes to your core competency. Nor do we want to get into other product lines that have nothing really to do with what this company is focused on.”
Nor does he intend to lose the company’s focus on customer service – service that gets more public scrutiny in this age of online reviews.
“We don’t always get it right.” Paul says. There are customers who get an estimate that’s not quite correct or a problem with installation. We have to be very responsive to that. We don’t pretend that everything’s rosy all the time.”
The business employs about 90 – and the Suttons’ vision of customer service extends to them.
“They’re our first and most important customer, our internal customers,” Lisa says. “We really view them as an extension of our family.” (In the case of Peak Structural’s human resources manager, it truly is a matter of family; she’s the Suttons’ daughter Brooke Castillo.)
That extended family could continue to grow.
“We feel like there’s so much to be done,” Paul says. “We feel like this company can double or triple in size still. We do serve most of the Front Range, so it’s a big, big marketplace.”