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Home | HOUSTON | Spotlight | Spotlight - Ed and Robyn LeGris, First Choice Plastering, LP

Spotlight - Ed and Robyn LeGris, First Choice Plastering, LP

image Ed and Robyn LeGris, General Partners, First Choice Plastering, LP, Pearland, TX

HOUSTON - Ed and Robyn LeGris’ eyes met at a Halloween party (actually, a few times before that). Their life together has been a treat ever since, even when life got tricky. Theirs is the ultimate couples costume: Two people in love, working together in an industry they enjoy.

 

 

 

 

How were you introduced to construction?
Robyn: When my dad moved to Houston in the 1950s, he started a plastering company along with a farm and some other businesses. He had so many kids that we all ended up playing on scaffolding, cleaning windows and sweeping up; we grew up in the industry.
    I had different plans, but I really enjoyed being with my dad. In order to get my dad’s attention, I would always get really involved in the company. That was the only time I would get to spend with him, either on the farm with him or at the job site; that was our special time. I was a pest and I was the youngest of all of the kids. I was pretty much spoiled so if I wanted to go to a job, then I went.
    I had two older brothers who were expected to do something in the construction industry, but I wasn’t. When I didn’t have another job outside of that one, I either had a business or I worked for somebody else. I started working really young, and I always wanted to be my own boss because my parents had their own company. I got out of school a year early and started an alteration design company in Spring, TX when I was 17. I planned to go to California to go to school for acting but my dad wouldn’t fund the bill so I just decided I would earn my own money.
    Right away, I got really good-paying jobs in the automotive sales industry selling to car dealerships. Through my early 20s, I didn’t work for Dad unless he needed me to. I sold real estate, and then I met my brother’s roommate, Ed, at a Halloween party.
Ed: I was born in Lee’s Summit, MO and did not come from a construction family. When I was 14, I got a summer job working for a plastering contractor that did multi-family projects. That was my introduction to the plastering industry. After that, I worked for several different homebuilders, started painting and got on with the framing crew. Within a year, I was running two framing crews. Then, a cabinetmaker taught me how to do a lot of nice cabinet work and mill work.
    In 1983, I worked for a man who had a computer furnishings store. I managed all of the 10 stores he opened in 2 years. When he embezzled a large amount of money and went home to Syria, I started working for Robyn’s father in 1986. I worked for him about eight or nine years before I “met” Robyn, although we had had some run-ins …
Robyn: But I never noticed him! He didn’t show on my radar until the party!

How did you know you were meant to be?
Robyn: I’ll never forget: my sister had a New Year’s Eve party and served a lot of champagne and I got really drunk. The next day, my dad sent me and Ed to Denton to start plaster work on a Red Lobster. Ed and I had only been living together a month and we were at that stage where you don’t do anything embarrassing around your boyfriend. Well, I had to vomit the entire way to Denton because I had such a bad hangover! He’s driving and holding back my hair, pulling the car over and buying me 7-Up and crackers. It was mortifying for me, but I thought he had to be a good guy if he would do that.
    On New Year’s Day, we got to Denton and it was 15 degrees, snowing and sleeting, and we are plastering this Red Lobster. My dad is hard-nosed and told us to rent heaters. So, we rented heaters to blow on the outside of walls so that our work wouldn’t freeze before it dried. We were up there for a week, and it was horrible. That was basically when we started working together. We figured if we could get through that, we were going to be okay. We got married June 21, 1992 and had a baby in 1993.

How did you start running the business?
    Robyn: Everything was good for a while; I went to optician school and started working at an eyeglass place. In 1994, two weeks before our son’s first birthday and on my first Mother’s Day, my dad passed away of a heart attack. It was crushing, and really unexpected.
    The next day, we took over the company because we’re in the middle of projects. We had to pick up the ball. While my mom and I are planning the funeral, Ed is running the company. We didn’t get a day to stop. We had to keep these guys working and keep these jobs going and take care of my mom in the meantime.
Ed:  It was a rough period.
Robyn: There wasn’t any question of what we would do, we just had to keep working. We ended up formally changing the name of the company to First Choice Plastering that year and changed it all over to us. We’ve kept some of the same clients that we had and some of the same people that were working for my dad.
Ed: The people that had given us lines of credit at supply houses, all they knew about me was that I was the guy that had come in and pick stuff up when Bob had ordered it. They very graciously extended their credit and let everything keep going.
Robyn: It was pretty seamless; it could have been a lot worse. Apparently, my dad had a premonition of things to come. My oldest brother had died, and my other brother isn’t in the industry, so my dad started grooming Ed.
Ed: The management skills I picked up running all of the furniture stores really came into play. The different facets of the construction industry I’ve been in, the obstacles that showed their faces at the job sites, I was able to circumvent, and I became a pretty good manager of people. It wasn’t a difficult thing to [adapt to], it was just difficult how it happened.

How did you change the company?

Robyn: I computerized everything. Before, my dad wrote an invoice by hand, or my mom would type it on a regular typewriter. I put everything on a bookkeeping system and developed a website for us in 1994. As far as my research goes, we were the first plastering company in the world to have a website. I started doing marketing and did the bookkeeping for a couple of years, but then my niece needed to work her way through college; she was taking accounting, so we hired her to do our accounting. I started doing websites, and developed a company called First Choice Publishing. Then, we started answering the phone “First Choice.”
    I still work with Ed, though; I take phone calls and look at job plans and help Ed out with sales work. My sister is our bookkeeper for both companies and our office manager. My niece graduated and went on to bigger and better things. It’s still a family-run business, just like my dad had and it has continued since 1955.  We’re still a partnership.

What qualities does the other bring?

Ed: She has so many things that are a developed asset. The way she can market, the web developing, the rapport she maintains with long-time clients, and her general mode of being, it’s just a constant. There are no interruptions, no flutter. She an invaluable asset.
Robyn: Ed is very organized. He knows how to look at a set of blueprints and see all of the secret places other people miss. He can talk to clients, even new clients, and gain trust from them.
Ed: I try to convey to them that they’re in good company, that we have our act together, that I’ll take care of them.
Robyn: We treat people how we would want to be treated. I think that works.

How do you enjoy your spare time?

Robyn: We remodel our home a lot! We buy fixer uppers. We bought our first house and we’ve spent 17 years fixing it. Then this house [that we live in now] was basically a time capsule to 1972, so we’ve been messing with that for 12 years. It looks a lot better than it did!
    Other than that, we work in theatre; we build sets for community theatres around town. That’s one of the things we love to do because we like being creative together.
Ed: We really feed off of each other. We just like to be together.
Robyn: We have date night every night. We have two boys and two grandsons who live with us. We’re such great parents that our kids don’t want to leave! Also, Ed’s mother is in a garage apartment here. We have a full house!

What are your future plans?
Ed:
That’s hard to say. We’re on this wave, and it keeps on rolling so we’re staying on the surfboard cruising along. Opportunities present themselves in strange ways sometimes; you just never know. We can decide to get out of this and get into something else completely different. We keep our eyes and ears open, but we don’t plan on stopping what we’re doing any time soon.
Robyn: As long as the industry remains strong, we’ll be here doing our thing as long as we’re able to. I think we have several years left in us.
Ed: Yeah, we’ve got a couple good ones.
    Subcontractor First Choice Plastering LP is located in Pearland. –mjm


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Author Info

Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net