Q&A: When your startup turns 15, celebrate. How Heartland made it

(From left) Scott Bleich, Scott Turczynski and Kim Pullen, the founders of Heartland, a Des Moines-based company specializing in commercial construction related finishing, framing and decorative services.

When a construction company turns 15, project plans are replaced with party plans.

Temporarily.

Heartland Finishes was created 15 years ago by three men and that company is celebrating its 15th anniversary Thursday, Sept. 14 with a party. And the two other companies that spawned off of Heartland Finishes—Heartland Door and Frame and Heartland Window Treatments—are also enjoying anniversaries of 10 and 8 years, respectively.

A company that started with three employees now has close to 200 combined between the office and the field.

Founders Scott Bleich, Kim Pullen and Scott Turczynski met with Clay & Milk to discuss how they did it, what advice they have for companies starting in 2017 and how technology is changing their industry.

How did Heartland get started?

Scott Turzynski: We all used to work at a different company at the time and we started having some private conversations.

Kim Pullen: Scotty (T) and I went down to rural Iowa to look at a job and coming back we just started talking about. Then we decided we wanted a third partner in case we didn’t agree. So that’s where we brought Scott (Bleich) in and the first time we talked about it he said get out of my office I don’t want to talk to you about it.

Scott Bleich: I think it started because we thought we could do it better. We knew that there wasn’t a lot of growth opportunity for us where we were at. Us three had a lot of contacts and that was part of why it was somewhat easy for us to go out on our own. Not only external contacts to get the business but internal contacts, a lot of men and women who joined us on day two coming to work for us.

What challenges have come with growth?

Turczynski: Right now it’s pretty tough to find those skilled crafts people

Bleich: That was maybe a little easier when we started in 2002. I think Central Iowa has gone through its own dynamic. In the downturn around 2008-2010, a lot of people were fed up with this roller coaster that was construction at that time. When people got laid off they went and found jobs somewhere else. Then they didn’t come back, or they retired.

We lost a lot of skilled people, so when it came back in 2012-2013, since then its been hard to find skilled trades.

How has technology changed Heartland?

Bleich: Paperless. It’s all paperless.

Pullen: Our foremen have tablets on the job.

Bleich: To have their documents on there, their plans, spec, all of those, as well as daily correspondence with the office and customers.

Turczynski: There will be some day where you won’t have any plans on a job site anymore.

Bleich: And the augmented reality that’s coming.

Turczynski: It hasn’t hit us yet but what we see in the future, a guy could be wearing a helmet that shows the plans right in front of him and also everything else in real time and space. So you won’t need to take a tape measure.

Is it harder/easier to start a company in 2002?

Bleich: The one problem we have that we didn’t have back then was the manpower. That would be the toughest part starting out, because even if you could find the money, technology would help you but I think you would be up against it.

For companies starting in 2017, any advice?

Bleich: Do what you say you’re going to do.

Turczynski: Over communicate.

Pullen: Find good partners if you need them and surround yourself with good people.

Bleich: You’ve got to build a great culture, and that’s why I think we’re as successful as we are. We can have the smartest people in the world but if your culture is not where the best people want to work, then it doesn’t matter.

Then what is your leadership style?

Turczynski: Work hard, play hard. And we just remodeled here so we’ve all got the same size office as somebody else plus no doors.

Bleich: We allow our people to make decisions on their own, to not have to always check with us. We believe you need to fail, because we’ve failed, but if you don’t fail you won’t learn from it.

And what about this celebration party?

Turczynski: So technically our anniversary date is March 19 so this is kind of grouping them all together and from this point on we will be known as Heartland.

Bleich: We are re-onboarding everyone. So they will come in Wednesday morning (Sept. 13) and they are not only going to have all the new swag, but they will have a message from each of us. This is the new Heartland.

We are no longer known as Heartland Finishes or Heartland Door and Frame, we are now just Heartland. We’ve established ourselves well enough in the last 15, ten and eight years that if you talk to people in construction in Central Iowa, if you mention Heartland they know who we are.