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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 1 year ago

Contractor grows by pursuing larger, more complex projects and building strong team

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Palmetto-based TLC Diversified has more than doubled its revenue in four years.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Before starting TLC Diversified, a Palmetto-based contractor that builds infrastructure for the water and wastewater industry, Thurston Lamberson worked for a contractor in Clearwater. “He just needed a job in order to put diapers on the table,” says Dalas Lamberson, his son and the vice president of TLC. “I was a newborn baby.”

Shortly after Thurston started working for the contractor, he became a superintendent for the firm. Six years later, he started his own business. A few years after that, Thurston put in a bid to buy the company he had worked for in Clearwater. He was outbid on the deal, but Dalas still thinks it’s impressive that his dad — who walked onto the job site as a laborer in the field — ended up submitting a bid for that same company. “It just shows you what perseverance and hard work can do,” Dalas says. “The American Dream is alive and well.”

Courtesy. TLC Diversified Vice President Dalas Lamberson says one key to the company’s success has been chasing larger, more complex jobs.

TLC President Thurston Lamberson, now semi-retired, started TLC with a $5,000 loan in 1985. The business has long been a family affair. Along with Dalas Lamberson in the VP role, Thurston’s wife and Dalas’ stepmother, Joanne Lamberson, has focused on accounting and finance for the company. Her daughter, Tiffany Taylor, is stepping into her mother’s role and is now the controller.

By pursuing larger projects and building a strong team, TLC has grown into a company with 101 employees, projects across Florida and $47.1 million in gross revenue in 2019, up 114% from $22 million in 2016. And the company isn’t done growing — Dalas is looking to even bigger years ahead.

One milestone in TLC’s expansion came in 1999, when the company bought a 5-acre complex from Waste Management in Palmetto for its corporate headquarters. The company also has an office in West Palm Beach and a satellite office in Oldsmar in Pinellas County.

Amid many years of growth, a challenging time in TLC’s history came in 2009 and 2010. “We went through a couple very difficult years,” Dalas says. “My father, instead of letting people go, kept people employed. He could have easily let 40 or 50 employees go, but he kept everyone employed during the tough times. When the economy came back, we had a lot of our original team members we had groomed over the years to become key personnel, and we were able to come roaring back.”

‘This company is strictly built on people. I was hell-bent on finding the best people in our industry to help us grow and make this company what it is.’ — Dalas Lamberson, TLC Diversified

Dalas became vice president in 2011 after working with the company for 12 years. Since then, he’s focused on growing the team and a pool of superintendents and project managers. “This company is strictly built on people,” he says. “I was hell-bent on finding the best people in our industry to help us grow and make this company what it is.” In hiring, he takes a specific approach: “I make sure I hire and focus on adding people in areas in which I’m weak.”

Dalas has also made some counterintuitive marketing moves, including introducing radio advertising hiring campaigns and billboards. “I’ve spent $60,000 in billboards, but it’s paid off strategically,” he says. “TLC Diversified is synonymous with some of our largest competitors in the country. Our name is thrown in the mix with nationwide contractors simply because of marketing and social media. Where that helps us the most is in the pool of employees. When an employee leaves another company, they now think of TLC.”

Another key to the company’s success is chasing larger, more complex jobs. By going after those projects, TLC reaped a clear benefit — it weeded out some competition. “I would focus on more projects where there weren’t a lot of bidders due to the risk involved,” Dalas says. “I would go after jobs where instead of seven or eight bidders, there would be two or three bidders.”

From 2018 to 2019, the firm grew revenue nearly 40%. Dalas says it was possible because the right employees were in place to strategically target projects. “We got a little bit of luck as well,” he says. “We submit on a job, and if we’re low bidder, we get the job. It was just kind of the perfect storm.”

Like many companies, TLC has seen impacts from the pandemic. None of its active projects were paused or canceled, but there have been delays on the administrative side of municipalities. There are jobs TLC was the low bidder on five months ago that still haven’t been awarded, for instance. “We see our revenue falling off in quarter three and four, but we still see a banner year in terms of profit margins,” Dalas says. He also expects 2021 to be a good year because of work the company landed in the first two quarters of 2020.

For the years ahead, Dalas has his eyes set on larger jobs and more growth. “The recipe and formula is in place,” he says. “We’ve more than doubled in revenue in the last four years. I think that can be done again if that’s what we want to focus on. It’s certainly obtainable.”

Editor's note: This article was edited to reflect that Dalas Lamberson became vice president of TLC Diversified after working for the company for 12 years.

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