This is one of those rarest of inspirational business success stories.
It has everything the greatest histories include. A father and son startup back when hauling ice was necessary for home refrigeration, eventual advancement of services to become an enterprise with $20 million in annual revenues from construction site work and related services. A receptionist enters the picture a half-century later, starts answering phones and taking messages, and ultimately becomes the CEO of the thriving company just a decade later!
The Cook family business was started back in the 1900s by father and son, Montry and Thomas Cook. They began hauling ice back in the 50s then expanded into an asphalt paving company installing driveways. They started doing city and state work and built an amazing company in the Cleveland market. Linda Fletcher, President and CEO of Cook Paving and Construction tells the story and talks about the pavement sweeping component of the modern operation:
Cook is a small minority business that subcontracts to many general contractors, performing paving, site, and underground utility work. In our excavation processes and in our paving work we use power sweepers. Being certified as a minority business sets the company apart with our customers’ needs. We perform work for the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and the State of Ohio.
Enter Linda Fletcher, President and CEO
Linda Fletcher was not even born yet when Montry and Thomas Cook started their ice-hauling business. At the time Ms. Fletcher came on board at Cook, she was a mother of three young children. Today, her kids work at the company. Her two sons both work in the field and her daughter works in the office. I was hired in 1993 and came into the company as a receptionist. I previously worked for the county and city doing reception and secretarial work. I have also been in the banking industry. At Cook, I worked in different facets of the business, including project management. We were a small company with one or two crews. In 1999, I bought into the company and was named corporate secretary with two other owners. In 2010 or 2012, I became the president and CEO.
Power Sweeping in Cook Paving and
The importance of pavement sweeping in our paving and milling processes depends on the individual customer’s needs. Overall, it’s about 30% of our business. The remaining 70% of what we do is the underground and site work. We do various preparations of construction sites for building our site work. We do sewer installation, and we do asphalt paving. For paving we actually mill and we asphalt pave. We do milling of the road surface, and then we come along to do asphalt paving. We incorporate pavement sweeping in our construction projects of all sizes. It’s like a package production that enables our paving crew to be self-contained, with all the parts of the team needed to do the full job.
Cook Company Team
We have a VP of Operations. He has two superintendents, a Resource Coordinator who manages scheduling, and the warehouse and the shop. In the business office, we have a receptionist, an Accounts Payable admin, a Contract Manager,
and a Controller. We have a sales team, a VP of Estimating, sales managers, project managers, and estimators. We have a shop where our fleet management team maintains our equipment. Our shop manager is John. He has a team of guys. Our total workforce, during the season, with the field and internal staff can get up to 50 to 60 people.
Cleveland Competitive Market
New business has its ebbs and flows in this market. You bid, and if you’re successful, they choose you. But, it’s very competitive, and you’re only as good as your last bid.
During Covid, we were fortunate enough to be an essential contractor. We had contracts that we already had working. So, we didn’t lose a lot of people. We did have employees who got Covid, and like most companies, we had suppliers that weren’t available to get materials from.
Cook Purchase Criteria for
In purchasing our sweepers and paving and milling equipment, our shop manager, John, does a very good job making sure the quality of the equipment is good. Having easily accessible replacement parts is a big deal and so is the warranty. All of that plays into the decision-making on what he suggests and what we purchase. We want suppliers who are customer-focused — the same thing our customers expect from us. So, we have great vendor relations.
It’s been about 15 to 20 years since we put sweeping into the field operations. It became more efficient for us to have it out there. We’ve had sweeping contracts in the past, but when you don’t have the volume of broom sweepers for road sweeping and parking lot sweeping you can’t compete. Instead, we use our sweeping service as an added feature of our paving productions.
We’ve used the ODRA Road Sweepers for a very long time. They’re good sweepers, very durable, and the company is customer-focused. When it comes to replacement parts, they’re top-notch. We also have a distributor, a water truck as part of our equipment, a mechanic’s truck, and all of our foremen are driving a foreman’s truck that has everything they each need on it.
Cook Company Growth and Future Outlook
As I mentioned, Cleveland is a very competitive market. You’re only as good as your last bid. Whether yours is or isn’t the low bid, you’ve got to get there. It’s very competitive to be in the business of construction anywhere in the country, whether you’re building or repairing roads.
It varies, but, generally speaking, we run about a $20 million company in annual revenues. We hire subcontractors on our day-to-day operations, whether it’s for trucking or for sawcutting pavement.
Because we do a lot of subcontracting and municipalities, and we provide good, reliable, quality service, most of our customers are repeat customers. As long as the government is spending money on road construction and repair, there will be jobs and opportunities.
Unique Company Image for Cook Paving
The differences that make Cook stand out from our competitors in the Cleveland market are our service quality and our identity as a minority-owned business. We don’t display large signage unless we’re the General Contractor of a project.
Being a minority-owned company is kind of our niche and our identity. As far as growth, we’ve
tried some marketing things in the past. But, I think what we’ve managed to do is focus on the
site work, concrete work, underground utilities, and paving. That’s Cook. We’ve stuck to what we know and it’s what we’ve become well known for in the area.
Hiring and Training Power-Sweeping Employees in Ohio
We’re a union-based company. We do job outreach programs with other affiliates that we know. My partner speaks to young people about getting into the construction industry. We’re strong in pushing with our politicians to get trades back in the schools.
For some things, we do in-house training. If and when we buy anything new, we get the training from the vendor, and sometimes we send our guys away for training. But, most of the time, training is done through their unions.
Major Challenges for Cook 2023
I think we’re all here today suffering with the workforce problem. Everyone has a workforce shortage. The construction industry is the same. So, that’s the reason we do our outreach. That’s why we tell young people that we need the next generation to come in. We need to get them on board now, so we can put them next to a seasoned operator or laborer.
Book savvy is not the same as being next to a guy who has been doing it for 20 to 30 years. Tri-C Community College, CEA Construction Employers Association, and Cleveland Builds have programs. People can apply to become an apprentice and learn skills in the industry.
Advice for Industry Entrants from
Linda Fletcher, Cook CEO
For new workers, I came into the industry at a time when the gentlemen I worked for at Cook were very giving. There wasn’t a time when I couldn’t ask a question and they wouldn’t take the time to explain. Find a place to work where your career development will be nurtured.
For new business owners, I have a great team that works here. We’re very family-oriented. I truly believe employees want to be heard. So, I try to be as accessible as possible for them.
For more information about Cook Paving and Construction Company, Inc., call (216) 267-7705, or visit https://www.cookpaving.com/.