The Big Dog Story

And So it Began…

Now or Never

We had always dreamed of starting a business founded on the values and culture that were important to us. The time never seemed right.

Adversity brings opportunity and in 2013, Dave was laid off from his corporate job. For over three decades we had enjoyed the reliability of weekly paychecks and benefits. We realized that “job security” is an illusion and that the only way to gain control over our future was to take charge of it ourselves.

Armed with a General Contractor’s license that he had received a year earlier as part of his professional development, we knew that this was our “It’s Now or Never” moment.

Ben Franklin said “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”  Dave was a City Commissioner and earning his Master’s in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. We’re certain Franklin would have agreed that the timing was perfect to start a new business!

Creating a Brand

Our first task was coming up with a name. We didn’t want to use our personal name as we felt the focus should be on the team, not us personally.

A family brainstorming session on the patio led to a suggestion by daughter Lisa that since we love dogs, and more specifically big dogs, what about “Big Dog”? We all agreed that was a great idea.

Next came creation of the brand via a logo.  We believed that our dog needed to convey a sense of attentiveness and reliability as a companion who would be by-your-side during the construction process.

Dave’s sister Sue, a professional graphic artist, was enlisted to bring our vision to reality. She did a spectacular job of capturing the essence of our message in an image resembling Norman, our beloved black lab, one of the many dogs who have been members of our family over the years.

Fun as a  Core Value

One of Dave’s biggest corporate frustrations was the attitude that if you were having fun it meant that you weren’t taking your work seriously. To him, the two were not mutually exclusive ideas.

We endeavored to create a brand and culture where we took our work seriously, yet still allowing for fun.  We started with our secondary job titles, Dave as Alpha Male and Rhonda as Chief Canine Officer (CCO). Hires in future years included Salty Dog, Nauti Dog, and Super Dog.

To commemorate starting the company and to share our love of dogs, we co-wrote Management Lessons from the Dog Park. A PDF version of the book is on our website, enabling anyone to visit the site for a quick smile.

The fun continues year-round through social media posts featuring the dog “dressed” for holidays and special occasions.

There’s a “First” for Everything

First Employees

Dave initially hired Joe Leannais, a carpenter whom he had worked with in the past.

Other than the carpentry work, Dave did everything else — business development, estimates and proposals, accounting, and all aspects of managing the jobs.

Dave even served as “Carpenter’s Assistant”.

First Residential Project

One of our first jobs was to build a small decorative fence, which required holes to be dug for the posts. Dave eagerly pitched in for his “Carpenter’s Assistant” role, knowing how essential his help was in completing this project. Throughout the day, Dave constantly reassured Joe that he was fine in tackling the labor. It was years before Dave admitted to Joe that he went home that day and took more ibuprofen than is advisable in one dose!

First Commercial Project

On one of his first Business Development calls, Dave spoke with the COO of Huizenga Holdings. He and Dave worked together when Dave was a project manager on what is now the BB&T Center arena. He offered Big Dog the opportunity to build the Williams Island Yachmaster’s Office in Aventura for Scott Huizenga. Based on the Huizenga family’s ongoing relationship with Dave, Big Dog was awarded the challenging job. Our work with the Huizenga family continues to this day.

What a Difference Three Years Makes

Rhonda Joins the Team

In early 2015, it became apparent that Dave needed admin support. Did we hire someone or should Rhonda quit her job and join the company? We made the decision to “put all our eggs in one basket”.  Big Dog World HQ was established in our spare bedroom.

While Dave primarily worked on business development and field supervision, Rhonda worked behind the scenes. Because Dave had complete faith in Rhonda’s abilities, on her third day of work, Dave dropped a scope for a bathroom remodel on her desk and asked her to prepare an estimate and proposal. Never having worked in construction previously, Rhonda asked Dave for guidance on the task. His response was “If I need to explain everything, I might as well hire someone who knows what they are doing!” The challenge was on.

Dave had full confidence in Rhonda, however, and knew that he would provide enough oversight to ensure she did not fail. Beginning with that estimate, Rhonda figured out whatever she needed to know. Beyond simply performing the tasks required, she continually seeks ways to enhance processes and procedures.

Open to Opportunities

The early years featured mostly kitchen and bath remodels. In 2016 we were asked to provide labor for the FLL Airport Southwest Airlines Terminal 1 Modernization project. Our Small Business Enterprise (SBE) designation would help the project to meet participation quotas.

At the time, other than Dave and Rhonda, we employed one carpenter and one project manager. The initial request was to provide six workers, ramping up to 10-15. To Rhonda, this was clearly beyond our capabilities. Dave disagreed. With great fanfare, Dave posted a Richard Branson quote on Rhonda’s wall – “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!” Again, another challenge.

Working with Career Source Broward, we arranged for 3 hours of group interviews with 60 prospective laborers. Once our team was hired, we began the next chapter in our evolution. Although the team changed over time, we worked on this project for over 2½ years. It opened the door to similar work at the airport, Broward Courthouse, and Port Everglades.

Out of the Bedroom

By mid-2017, we realized that working in the house was not ideal. Our two adult daughters were living at home and awoke each day wondering who they might see wandering around. It was time for a real office.

On a visit to the offices of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), our industry trade association, Dave noticed that they had space available in the building.

In August of 2017 we moved into an 1,888 sq. ft. office that at the time seemed like more space than we would ever need. The official “leash cutting” was held in December.

Our love of dogs includes Lacey and Callie who provide emotional and “security” support to the team. They and Rhonda look forward to returning to the office once the threat of COVID subsides.

The Clarity to Move Forward

Defining Our Ideal Client

For years we struggled to define our “Ideal Client.”  Are they commercial, residential, or public jobs? Is there a target job size? An ideal location?

The definition finally came into focus. We were at a charity event and met a woman who worked for Subway Corporation. She mentioned that they were building an office for the Fred DeLuca Foundation and asked if we wanted to toss our hat in the ring. We gladly accepted the opportunity.

Over the following weeks, we proactively sought clarification on what the client wanted and offered suggestions to both save money and maximize their panoramic 23rd story view. Following our bid submission, they told us that we weren’t the cheapest, but that they appreciated our sincere interest in their project, active involvement of Dave and Rhonda, overall attitude and responsiveness, as well as our philanthropy.

At that moment it became clear. Project type, size, and location were considerations but not the most important factors. We are often not the lowest bid, but our high quality standards and focus on excellence have won us some great jobs and fans among our clients.

We are most suited to work with discerning clients who truly value superb quality and excellent service.

 That is the definition of our ideal client!

Goals and “Big Hairy Audacious” Goals

Each December, Dave sends around his “Thoughts From Under the Hardhat” memo. It features a yearly retrospective as well as future goals. In addition to the more easily reachable goals, Dave also includes “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAG), a concept presented in the book Built to Last.  According to author Jim Collins, BHAGs are long-term goals that are guided by a company’s core values and purpose.

Beginning in 2016, Dave’s yearly memo included the BHAG of of being listed on SFBJ’s “Fast 50″ list of fastest growing companies in south Florida. In 2020 we were recognized on the South Florida Business Journal’s (SFBJ) Fastest Growing and Women Owned Business lists. We also received that recognition in 2021, as well as Top 100 Private Companies.

We are honored to have received Excellence in Construction awards from the Associated Builders and Contractors for: Rockridge Capital Buildout, Coconut Creek City Hall Renovation, and ABC Lobby & Restroom Remodels.

What BHAG do we have our eyes on next? Stick around to find out!

Moving Forward

It is hard to believe the changes and iterations of our company since its inception. While we were legally formed as a corporation in January of 2012, we didn’t start working in earnest until mid-2013.

In the spirit of Richard Branson and George Bernard Shaw, we continually seek out and CREATE new opportunities.

In 2020 we built our first multi-million-dollar home at the request of a long-time client. We are now building two additional exclusive homes, along with several major residential remodels. Our commercial portfolio is expanding as well, including a major renovation for U.S. Foods and other high profile projects in the works.

Our performance and reputation are why 95% of our business comes from repeat clients and referrals.

These clients know that we are the Smart Choice and that we will make them look good for selecting us.

We care about every job and every client. Most importantly, we do what we say we are going to do. This powerful combination of values and experience explains why our reputation is growing daily.

Our experienced team and “can do” attitude enable us to solve virtually any construction challenge.

We are prepared to handle any opportunity that comes our way.