Bringing a Woman’s Touch to Commercial Construction
MonaVation General Contractors helps rebuild homes, businesses…and lives
La-Tisha Pirtle and her husband, Michael Pirtle, are building MonaVation General Contractors (MonaVation) around home and business building renovation—and impacting people’s lives. Launched in 2014 in Indianapolis, MonaVation began as a residential and commercial restoration company. “That was all we did, that was all I knew, and that’s what we did, insurance restoration: fire, water and mold remediation,” La-Tisha says.
La-Tisha is particularly proud of MonaVation’s work at an Indianapolis-based American Senior Communities property, Bethany Village Assisted Living. The roof had blown off in a severe storm, which resulted in significant water damage to both the structure of the building and the residents’ personal property.
“We were able to respond very quickly to the call from Midwest Remediation, one of our partner companies,” La-Tisha says. “We had over 20 people working to commence selective demolition and other remediation activities. That one sticks out because of the feedback we received from the executive team of American Senior Communities. Although we were not the prime contractor on that project, we were able to positively impact the trajectory of the job by maintaining tight operational accountability between our team and Midwest Remediation. Not only did we gain some good reputation capital for our own company, but Midwest looked like a rock star as well. A job well done all around.”
Using the experience gained in insurance restoration and in other work, the company branched out into other forms of commercial contracting. In 2017, La-Tisha was having a conversation with an acquaintance about the commercial construction business in Indianapolis. “It was like I had a set of blinders on,” she says. “The day I left that lunch, all of a sudden I was seeing all of the commercial construction in Indianapolis for the first time, even though it had been going on for years.” That stirred the company’s venture into the commercial construction industry. But it has not been an easy journey to get there.
“The decision was to take things that we were already good at—that we were already doing residentially—and transpose them into the commercial space,” La-Tisha said. MonaVation currently offers commercial service in painting, drywall, cleaning and interior demolition.
La-Tisha would like to become a full-service general contractor, “but right now I know we are efficient in those three areas,” she says. The focus is on remodeling for residential or commercial. “We do home additions, but we don’t do new builds,” she adds.
Woman-Owned in Male-Dominated Industry
MonaVation is a certified minority- owned and woman-owned business. “Because we are woman-led, we strive to bring a different flavor,” La-Tisha says. “In a male-dominated industry where the work can be hard, fast, dirty and a bit intimidating, we love bringing a level of comfort, compassion and servant leadership to how our customers and staff experience the world of construction,” she says. “This mindset transfers into the craftsmanship that we bring to each and every project, both large and small,” she adds.
The company had always done remodeling as part of its restoration work, so it was only natural that it started soliciting similar business outside of the restoration work. The company began offering residential services that now include full kitchen remodeling, bathroom updates, room additions, painting, drywall installation, lighting, custom carpentry, power washing and landscaping. Maintenance services are also available, such as HVAC service, pool maintenance and electrical.
MonaVation also has a janitorial division offering commercial cleaning services, including monthly, weekly or daily services; debris removal; post-construction clean up and rental property/apartment turnover cleaning. “I realized that we were very vulnerable, because if any of our three or four largest customers were to walk away, we would be sunk,” La-Tisha explains. “So I started thinking of ways to diversify our revenue, figuring out ways to insulate ourselves from something like that happening.” Construction cleanup has now become a major niche, she says.
A promising beginning in 2014 was interrupted when La-Tisha’s mother, Mona Plummer, suffered a stroke and other health problems. “She’s the Mona of MonaVation,” La-Tisha says. “We only did one job in 2015 before her health scare happened. We had no revenue and no activity. We were inactive until January 2016. When things happen with your parents, everything takes a back seat. Our priority was getting her well, and that is what I focused on.”
MonaVation is actually the continuation of the family business. La-Tisha’s parents had owned an insurance restoration business for as long as she could remember. “They specialized in fire and water restoration and commercial cleaning/specialty cleaning. So that is how I was raised. That’s how they supported us. I spent my weekends, some summer vacations and some fall breaks working with my family,” she says.
La-Tisha had never really wanted to take over the family business. She had planned a career in marketing; but when she and Michael returned from Germany, where he had been stationed with the U.S. Air Force, all that changed. “I had my first child in Germany, and I quickly realized that I really wanted the flexibility of being a business owner in order to raise my children how I wanted to raise them.
I also knew I wanted to get out of the corporate lifestyle,” she says. Her mother was still doing some light renovation work around Indianapolis, “so I took to helping her so I could learn the ropes.” La-Tisha incorporated the business as MonaVation LLC.
“I had no idea what I was doing—no clue; but everyone starts somewhere,” she says. Soon thereafter, her mom’s health took a nosedive and the business essentially was put on hold for nearly a year.
Her mother’s recovery went well, and in January 2016, MonaVation got its first restoration job. “That was our second start. But once we got going, boy did we get going,” La-Tisha adds. The company began to have opportunities to work with some of the most established companies in the market, she says. “We blossomed and hit strong profits in our real first year,” and MonaVation has been busy ever since. “We continue to strive to maintain our reputation for excellence and responsiveness and have seen great success because of it.” Her mother is still a project manager with the business, while her father, Ralph Plummer, has taken on more of an advisory role.
Finding Workers in Tight Labor Market
Being really busy with what is essentially still a start-up has brought its own set of challenges in a business arena with a really tight labor market. MonaVation only has three full-time staff persons right now, although the company is looking for another project manager. With a staff that small and a need for labor, MonaVation has created a unique partnership with Shepherd’s Pathway, an Indianapolis faith-based organization that helps individuals get back into the workforce after experiencing homelessness, addiction or imprisonment.
Shepherd’s Pathway provides MonaVation a ready labor force. “We are very blessed to have that connection,” she explains. “We are able to be very nimble in our staffing. We can go from five to 25 people within about an hour. That has actually been one of our calling cards in the area,” she says. But using that labor force can present its own issues.
“Every now and then we will have a situation where someone is getting kind of skittish, and they’ll walk off the job,” La-Tisha says. “But, we are very lucky that we have a rapport with the individuals with whom we work. It is mutual respect. Obviously, when you are dealing with that population of individuals, you are going to have your challenges. You are going to have people challenges, and they are exacerbated because these are people who are recovering from addiction. But we have been very fortunate. We’ve not had a single accident on one of our job sites since we started working with them.”
So, while MonaVation is helping rebuild someone’s home or business, at the same time the company is helping rebuild lives.
“We are the definition of a bootstrap business,” La-Tisha says. “I literally started this business with a $500 insurance policy. We have been self-funded, and every dime has gone back into this business. I don’t believe that I actually understood what I was getting myself into. I look back and think, ‘I just could have been a lawyer.’ But honestly, even with the growing pains and the challenges of cash flow and the uber-competitive pricing, I still love what I do.
I love, love, love being able to meet people’s needs.”