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Spotlight - Masterpiece Grinding & Grooving

image Masterpiece Grinding & Grooving president and out-of-the-box thinker Mike Puentes.

DALLAS/FORT WORTH - If Mike Puentes received his life in a box, he would leave the instruction booklet inside, take the parts out and figure out how assemble it on his own. Thinking outside of the box is a strategy that the president of Masterpiece Grinding & Grooving fully enjoys and one that has served him well – both personally and professionally.

Tell me a little about your background.
    I was born in Clovis, CA, and I was definitely an outdoors kid. We lived close to the mountains; I did a lot of camping, hiking and fishing. I also was in sports growing up; I wrestled, played football and did a little bit of track.
    My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad was a welder who worked for the Gallo winery in California. On the weekends, he would go to these ranchers and build them little machines to help harvest the grapes. He was pretty handy at welding, and that’s what got me into machines.

Did watching your dad weld and work on the machines make you think that you might follow a similar career path?
    I thought I was actually going to work for the Department of Fish and Wildlife or Department of Forestry & Fire Protection because I liked the outdoors so much. In high school, I got a job the summer of my senior year with a good friend of my mine who was in the concrete cutting business at a mom-and-pop type company. I would go with him to help him out to core drill a hole or cut some concrete and after that, we would go camping or fishing!
    I ended up making a pretty decent living doing it and stuck with it. A few years later I jumped on board at a bigger company in the concrete cutting and breaking industry.

What did you like about it?
    You jumped from job to job and didn’t stay in the same place; you went to a few locations every day. You were kind of your own boss. Each job was different; there was a lot of problem solving involved so you had to be resourceful, which made the work interesting.

Was it at that time that you thought this was something you might stick with long-term?
    At this point, I didn’t. It was physically hard work. But when I went to the bigger company, they did larger scale work and demolished buildings, which was more exciting. I went from using the small hand-held stuff to the heavy equipment and machinery.
    When the company in California started to go nationwide, they bought out a small company in Denver, opened an office and wanted a lead person there. I transferred from California to Colorado to help them with the transition. I wanted to travel and I love the mountains, so I got the best of both worlds. I stayed in Denver for two years, then the company opened an office in Grapevine, TX, and I transferred again.

So you went from working in concrete in sunny California, to cooler working conditions in Denver and finally to the oven of North Texas? And you stayed?
    I remember my first day out in the field here on top of a building. It was hot, and then a storm blew in. It rained and thundered like I’ve never seen before, it passed over in an hour and then the humidity hit. I said to myself, “If other people can live here, I can live anywhere in the United States!” I thought it was that bad. It sucked the life out of me.
    The heat in California was [different from Texas]; it was scorching. It seemed the air was thinner and it wasn’t so humid. The heat was hotter. Texas humidity took me a while to get used to but I’ve learned to live with it.
   
How did your career path change once you came to Texas?
    I stayed with the company until 2005. I had kind of topped out salary-wise and I didn’t really want to get into management; I like being in the field. I was traveling all over the country for the company and I just got tired of the traveling. I learned about grinding and grooving in Dallas and it was pretty lucrative, so my goal was to start my own company.

Was that a difficult decision to make?
    It was really simple. I had been doing it for 11 years. I got really good at it to the point where the company was having me train people and sending me on special jobs. I felt like I was being tied to a big corporation and their procedures. A good thing about my boss at the time was that he gave me the freedom to be resourceful and to figure things out. When he passed away, I ended up being under new management and they didn’t have the same thinking that I did. The pond was too small for me, and that’s when I made the choice to do it my way.

What learning curve did you experi-ence when you started your own business?
    Doing the taxes, payroll, administrative and legal work was new, but I figured it out. That was the biggest learning curve. Luckily, I went to an attorney and was advised; I was very cautious in the beginning and went overboard to make sure I was doing things right. After I got the hang of it, I started doing it on my own.

How has your business grown over the years?
    When I started the business, it was just a friend and me. Most of these grinding companies have six to eight employees at the most, with about three machines to do the work. Once I started picking up some big work, some of the employees that I had hired at my previous company wanted to come work for me. I started off with one machine and I have three now. It’s still a small company though. I’m comfortable where I am now. If it were any bigger, it wouldn’t be fun anymore.

Has there ever been a time where you almost grew too much or too fast?
    In 2014, they started working on the toll ways in the Metroplex and we were getting all of the work. They were handing contract after contract to me, and it was hard to turn down, especially when they offer you more money – double the money – after you say no. I almost bit off more than I could chew and it nearly wiped me out, but I was able to come out of it. You have to learn to say no. I told myself that that is my golden rule, to not get greedy and try to do too much. I’ve seen my competition go down that way. Pretty much everyone in our industry can go down that way – they overcommit, the machines wear out and the people get worn out.

Your company is very specific, very specialized, and not many companies offer what yours does. Why do you think there are so few companies like yours?
     It’s a very demanding business. You have to work out in the cold and the heat. You work long hours and are sacrificing a lot. You have to travel, which is probably one of the biggest reasons for turnover. The equipment operator has to be a mechanic too so they can repair the equipment on the side. We wear several different hats.
    If a lot of my competition is not out of business and they’re still around, the people I started out with are not around; it’s just the company name. Everyone I started with is pretty much all gone. There’s a big turnover.

Why do you think your company has succeeded when other companies haven’t?
    We definitely think outside of the box. I was always very competitive, so I would always work longer and harder hours, doing what my competition wouldn’t do to satisfy our customers. That’s what I did with the other company I was working for and it made us very successful, so I carried that over to here. I was very hard-driven and did what no one else wanted to do because I knew I had to compete with big companies. It’s a very specialized trade, so it was hard to get in at first but I knew that if I could do the things that other people didn’t want to do – and that’s what this industry demands – I would do it.
    I always say, “We specialize in specializing.” If there is not a machine that can do a job, I will build one that can. When I worked for the other company, their machines would have flaws, and I was pretty good at figuring out the problem and making my own design that would work better.

Do you do anything in your free time? Do you ever have the chance to enjoy the outdoors?
    The first couple of years, I worked really hard, but once I got established and got my name out there, I moved out to Lake Tawakoni and would come home and go fishing. I would take some time off in between jobs. It was a really good balance because I would go work for two or three weeks really hard and then have a couple of weeks off before the next job started. I had it balanced pretty well for a while. But I eventually moved back to the city – that drive every day wore me out.   
    I also love martial arts. I’ve been doing that since I was 19. I earned a black sash and am certified. It’s a style called the Wing Chun, which is what Bruce Lee did when he first started. I do it on the weekends to relax.
    That’s where I get the out-of-the-box type of thinking philosophy. Many people seem to have an “instruction book,” they follow it like it’s the gospel truth and they can’t go outside of that. To me, the instruction is the idea and then once you get the concept down, you can run with it as far as you can, with no rules. That’s how I do my work; I go outside the rules and the norm, I guess.

Do you think you’ll always run this business?
    I think I’ll always do it. I mean, this is all I pretty much have done since high school, so I’ve pretty much committed my career to this industry, so I have to stick with it! Plus, I know so much about it.

What advice would you give to people coming into the industry?
    I guess a lot of people look down at getting their hands dirty and doing construction, like it’s a bad thing to do. It’s actually a free way of working and you can make some good money if you get into a field that you like. I didn’t know anything about the business – I always tell people that I have no business owning a business! – but it’s not as hard as you think.
    Lewisville-based subcontractor Masterpiece Grinding & Grooving offers profile grinding, slash bump grinding, bridge deck grooving and surface treatments, boat ramp and loading dock grooving and drag strip grinding. –mjm


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Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net