Big Business Served Family Style
Execution equals value for PAW Demolition of Florida
Things did not go smoothly for Jim Wohlfiel and his sons during their first PAW Demolition trucking job in Florida. On the second trip of moving stone from the Brooksville Quarry to a septic system company, a switch was bypassed causing the truck to allow oil to flow onto the road. The resulting cleanup costs were double what they were due to be paid in the first place.
Despite this setback and others, they persevered and have become one of the leading demolition and trucking companies in Florida. Originally named in honor of Jim’s wife, Patricia Ann Wohlfiel, PAW Demolition is now one company with four very distinct divisions: Demolition, Trucking, Materials (Recycling) and Fleet Tech (Truck Repair). In 1983, with a single dump truck and a strong work ethic, Jim and Patricia moved from Ohio to Central Florida in hopes of building a better future for their family. While Jim dreamed of becoming a business owner with a truck company and repair facility, his sons, Rick and Ron, and son-in-law Bob Lyall, wanted to grow and develop a company that would sustain long-term growth. “Trucking alone has a lot of liability with little return,” Rick says. “We needed a diversity of income sources in order to continue to grow and maintain long-term margins.” With the help of a calculator and their drive to succeed, they decided demolition would be a good solid option.
Hire Smart; Promote from Within
PAW Demolition began in the Tampa/Orlando area of Central and Western Florida. Today, the firm has projects throughout the state. Satisfied customers spread the word that PAW Demolition handles jobs with creativity and safety in mind, helping build the foundation for growth. In the beginning, the whole family worked for the company by taking care of ordering, payroll and accounting, as well as driving trucks and managing workers.
Rick credits the support of family friends as well. One friend, Mike Bates, now retired, moved down from Ohio to help during the early years when all traces of profit were being put directly back into the business. The success of the trucking division and subsequent growth of the entire company can be directly attributed to the dedication and work ethic of the founding members and family friends like Mike. Regarding his workforce, Rick says. “For me, it is best to promote from within to maintain the right core values, because skills can be taught.” A prime example of this philosophy in action is his son, Derek, who is currently working for PAW Demolition as a Project Manager, but who also holds a degree in civil engineering from the University of Florida. Rick insisted that Derek work elsewhere after graduation so that he could learn and grow as an individual and professional.
Bob, Current CFO and Rick’s brother- in-law, is a prime example of a relative working his way to the company’s top tier and co-ownership. Bob started as a mechanic who had worked with his father-in-law in an Ohio auto/truck dealership. When he joined the company in 1984, he took over the Fleet Tech division, moving on to become the Equipment and Parts Manager. Six years ago, when the need arose for the company to appoint a CFO, Bob stepped up. Taking it upon himself to understand the financial side of the business and having a fiscally conservative disposition, Bob accumulated the skills necessary to help the company grow to where it is today.
Another family member who has done well is Zach Doyle, Bob’s son-in-law, who is currently the Operations Manager for Demolition, but is a visionary of the future with his passions in recycling and creatively executing and performing projects. The newest family member to join the company is Autumn Lyall, Bob’s youngest daughter, who just began working and training within the administration side of the business.
Rick proudly explains that he and his family treat everyone, from laborer to managers, with equal respect, and they look for potential in all as they promote from within. Bob attributes this mindset and the overarching success of the company to simply years of hard work and dedication. “It keeps the next generation involved with the daily business while also allowing employees to have a stake in the success of the company,” Rick explains.”
The Right Attitude is Key
Rick attributes much of the company’s success to having a first-year mentality. He says that the hunger you feel in that first year in business is a skill that can keep a firm buoyant year after year. “The hunger that makes you give it all, the willingness to do anything to keep a customer happy—that’s what is needed on a daily basis to keep a company successful,” he says. “Anyone can get paid an average salary for doing average work. We want to provide the best and reap better rewards.”
He credits his father Jim, who passed away six years ago, with the joyful feeling he gets from going to work. His dad liked to reference Mark Twain’s story of Tom Sawyer and his famous picket fence painting chore. Jim would remind them regularly, “You have to make people want to help you because they see how much fun you are having.” When remembering his father, Rick says, “More was caught than taught; just watching how my father lived, his work ethic and how he treated people was the best education possible.”
PAW Demolition has experienced consistent growth through the years. The company currently has almost 90 employees in its four divisions. Naturally, not everyone in management is a family member. Rick is quick to point to their Superintendent Todd Green who started as a driver/laborer many years ago. Recently, Todd started a targeted training program to identify specific talents and to train employees accordingly.
Kim Luis, Project Administrator, says of the company, ”Everyone is an overachiever; no one can work here and continue as a slacker.” The owners hired Kim after meeting her as a volunteer fundraiser for a local charity. They recognized her drive and willingness to learn right away. Kim was soon hired in 2015 as a temporary worker for billing and material ordering. “Rick was willing to teach me anything and even let me drive some of the smaller machines,” she says. “Now I know why boys like their toys!”
Kim appreciates the respect she gets not only from the owners, but also from the men in the field. Since 2018, she has embraced her current position as being the spot she was meant to fill. She spends her days putting out fires and making sure that each job has the equipment and material the superintendents deem necessary.
Another valued and extremely necessary employee is Environmental Health and Safety Officer Hank Belcher. “He makes things better and safer in terms of chemical exposures and equipment use,” Rick says.
Past Projects Lead to Future Profits
In the past few years, PAW Demolition has been involved in many high-profile projects in the Central Florida area. Each one highlights positive aspects of the company. A series of bridge demolitions along the Interstate 4 corridor included 15 bridges and over 250,000 square feet of concrete. With work still continuing, it requires precise scheduling and equipment availability.
In the last months of 2018, due to an engineering flaw in a tank at the NW Wastewater treatment plant, it was necessary to remove the two-foot-thick concrete walls without damaging the footers or floor. In addition, they were required to do the demolition in such a way that the internal steel reinforcing rebar would be able to be reused. Using innovative tools and techniques, they were able to help the contractor avoid large quantities of liquidated damages.
For all of 2019, finishing in February 2020, the company worked on a 7-story demolition of over 250,000 square feet at the Tampa International Airport. “On display were some of our greatest strengths: diversity in tooling, creative thinking and safety,” Rick says. Another example is a current project, the demolition of the 350,000-square-foot River Oaks Wastewater Treatment Plant. Rick says, “We were able to show off our capacity to handle any job in tight timeframes. We are able to reduce time needed significantly more than other contractors. We do it by having the equipment and manpower necessary to finish any project as planned. Customers should trust you to do what you say you’re going to do within a specific time frame, safely and within budget. Execution equals value.”
Part of the Local Community
The PAW Demolition team is involved with many local charities, donating time and money to such diverse organizations as the Veterans Action Project, Inc. of New Port Richey, Florida, and the Quantum Leap Farm, a local horse farm driven to improve the quality of life and cultivate human potential through equine-assisted therapies. In addition, they bring their trucks to local schools providing a rodeo to show off their heavy equipment skills and safety measures. Some of the family members and employees have gone so far as to volunteer in church missions through P4H Global’s projects in Haiti to provide a better life through education for the people there.
What Does the Future Hold?
Although highlighted in the television show “World’s Greatest!” the company won’t be resting on past achievements. Recently, the owners reached out to county governments to help with their recycling needs. “Landfills are overflowing and people are coming to realize that we only have one planet,” Rick says. “We have enough material already, we just need to learn how to reuse and recycle it.”
With that knowledge, PAW Demolition has purchased over 68 acres with the intention of creating a recycling center specifically for glass, plastic, gypsum and other building materials. Ron explains, “The future looks bright, especially with the innovation of new recycled products being used for building.”
Before too long, the current owners, Bob, Rick and Ron, hope to retire and turn over the reins to the next generation. Kim explains, “The next generation of the family are all people who are very passionate about the company and the jobs they do. They complement each other’s strengths and personalities. I look forward to seeing what they will achieve once they are in charge.”
As cousins, friends and colleagues, their children have earned the right and responsibility of continuing the vision of a diversified adaptable business.