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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight – Larry J. Ybarra, President, Service Shade Shop

Spotlight – Larry J. Ybarra, President, Service Shade Shop

image Larry J. Ybarra with members of his staff at Service Shade Shop on Gevers. L-R: Tom Thomas, Trish Kneuper, Larry J. Ybarra, Celia Onofre, Ofelia Pulido

SAN ANTONIO – Though Larry J. Ybarra wasn’t involved with the construction industry when he came to San Antonio more than 30 years ago, he entered the field when he took over Service Shade Shop in 1997.

    Since then, he has become actively involved in the construction industry. He helped found the Hispanic Contractors Association (HCA) de San Antonio and bring the benefits of the association to local fellow contractors and suppliers.
    Today, Service Shade’s business is 80 percent commercial and there is new light being cast on the shade business with waves of new technology.

How did you become involved with Service Shade?
    My wife, Aida, and I bought the company in December 1996, took possession Jan. 1, 1997. It’s been a family-owned business since 1932. It has been owned by five different families over that timeframe.
    We looked at a number of different business opportunities and the thing that I liked about it was, potentially, anybody could be my customer. That was something we liked about the company; that we could go talk to individuals or companies.

What has changed since you took over the company?
    In that timeframe, 1997, probably 85 percent of our business was geared toward mini-blinds, and over that time, we’ve seen lots of changes in the industry. We’ve gone from being predominantly a mini-blind company to where the vast majority of our products today are shades of some sort.
    When we took over the company, we had five employees, and we have 13 employees today. We evolved from where we used to manufacture 80 percent of our products. About two years into the operation, we realized that it was getting expensive for us to buy all the materials, have them shipped in, and stock all the different colors and components we needed to make our blinds. So, we evolved from being a manufacturer to basically ordering, selling, and installing window treatments.
    What piqued my interest was motorization of shades. One of our first jobs was selling and installing motorized shades at the Driskill Hotel in Austin. At the time, with technology coming along and the pricing going down, we were going to see this everywhere. Because of safety concerns for children choking with cords, the industry has proceeded to go cordless on window treatments and is expanding motorization.
    People are accepting motorized shades that can be programmed on timers or solar sensors. We’ve just wrapped up our largest project, UHS Medical Tower at the new main hospital at Medical Center. It’s close to 1,000 roller shades. We had a number of motorized shades that are controlled by a solar sensor with new cutting edge technology in our field. It’s going to get easier and more cost effective for people to take advantage of these products.

Tell me about your background.
    I was born in Houston. I’m the youngest of seven. I went to high school at Stephen F. Austin High School and graduated there in 1973. Graduated on a Friday and started college on Monday at the University of Houston. I went to summer school and graduated in three years.
    I worked my way through school, working part-time jobs, both off-campus and on-campus. I got my degree in business and my major was marketing.

How did you figure out what you wanted to do?
    My brother had gotten his degree in accounting, and I thought I would try that.
    My first year in college, I got a part-time job working at an accounting firm in downtown Houston. I was basically the office gofer, doing all the errands for the office. I would also run an offset printing press that would do the financial statements. A secretary would type up a master, I would run the machine, and we’d print out the copies. Then, I’d have to bind them for client presentation & review.
    I learned I didn’t want to be an accountant. I also learned more about time management; accounting firms track everything. If I did a project that took me three hours, I’d write three hours. The compartmentalizing of time that accountants used to bill their customers was an eye-opener for me, because I never really thought about my time that way.
    I worked at that accounting firm for almost a year. Then, I got a job on campus working for different departments and organizations.
What did you do after you graduated college?
    I graduated in August of ’76, and I started working in October of 1976 for a small company in Houston. I went to work for a company called Enterprise Leasing. I was the sixth person they hired in Texas. They had just opened the second location in Houston and I was hired as a trainee.
    Having grown up in Houston, traffic is really bad and there are lots of wrecks. The main business they had back then was what they called “insurance replacement,” which is people getting a rent car when their car was out of service. That was the main source of their business. Considering Houston traffic was getting worse every year this was a no-brainer.
    I moved up as a trainee to an assistant manager, then to manager with my own office in north Houston. In 1982, I’d been with Enterprise Rental Car for six years. I was running an office with 13 employees when they offered me a position to relocate to San Antonio to open up the market here. I moved in July 1982 from Houston, and I’ve been here ever since.
    We opened that Northwest office, and grew from one office to a second office, then up to six offices. As my manager got promoted, they decided to base a regional vice president position in San Antonio. So, I applied and got the position. I became vice president and general manager for Enterprise of Texas. My territory was basically Texas, excluding El Paso, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston.
    At the time I was promoted, the Texas group had 12 locations. I held that position from 1989 to 1995; we grew from 12 to 65 locations, and from 2,000 cars to over an 8,000-car fleet. The group had over 500 employees. Then, in May 1995, Enterprise decided to make some changes, and I wasn’t part of them. They gave me a severance package with a non-compete agreement.   
    So, if I wanted to work, I had to go into a business not related to the automotive areas. We had a couple of business brokers that worked with us, and that’s how we ran across Service Shade Shop for sale.

Did you have any previous knowledge of construction?
    My dad’s vacation was the month of July. His vacation was not our vacation, because that was the time that my brother and I would work. My family had some rent houses, so we would go in and do everything from roofing, painting, leveling floors, plumbing, and just a little bit of everything.
    My dad was very mechanically inclined. He was a welder by trade, and worked hard at the same company for over 35 years. Many a July summer afternoon, we were up on the roof of a rental house. It was an eye-opener. Painting became second nature, because we were constantly painting houses; I did that during college as well.

What is your life like outside of work?
    We have two daughters and a son. The two oldest have completed college with engineering degrees from the University of Southern California. Our youngest daughter is a junior at Sam Houston State studying criminal justice. Over the years, dealing with their activities, getting them through school and college has pretty much been the main activity. So, when people ask me, what do you do for fun, I say, well, it has pretty much been work.
    Years ago, my wife insisted that I take up a hobby; she said why don’t you go play golf? I did take up golf in the early ‘90s. Before, we’d go to company conferences where they’d have golf outings, but I’d stay in the clubhouse because I didn’t play golf. I decided I needed to learn. One of my employees, who was a good golfer, gave me lessons and advice. Today, being a member of different associations in the construction business, playing golf is one of the fun activities that we participate in every year.
     Being almost empty nesters, Aida and I like to spend a night out for dinner and a movie. We enjoy traveling and visiting our daughter living in Los Angeles. Over the years we have traveled to Hawaii, California, Florida, New York, and Las Vegas. But, we are always happy to get back to San Antonio.
     In Texas, we like to visit family in Houston and like to spend long weekends at South Padre Island.
     For our business, we have taken trips to visit our suppliers in Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, California, and Indiana.

What associations or organizations are you involved in?
    I’ve been a member of AGC and ABC since we started. We are also members of the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce, and I served on the board for a year. Thirteen years ago, I was one of the founding board members for the Hispanic Contractors Association (HCA). We helped set it up here in San Antonio.

Didn’t you also serve on the board of the HCA?
    I was on the board through 2012. Thus, serving on the board for 12 years and serving as chairman in 2003.
    During the business search in considering buying a business, the Hispanic Contractors Association of Texas was having a conference in Austin in October of ’96. The one thing that I learned from that conference was that there was a group of people in that association who were willing to help other folks learn the construction industry.
    The other item that was important was the networking aspect of getting to what I call the public entities, such as city, state, county. To me, that seemed like a natural fit, because when the economy goes bad, the government seems to always have money to spend, even though individual or private entities will hold back. In a bad economic time, the government is going to spend money to spur the economy on. So, I thought if we could do some government business, that’ll help our company. And that’s one of the things that got me involved with the HCA.
    HCA didn’t have a chapter in San Antonio, but they did have one up in Austin. The first several years in business, I would go to Austin on a monthly basis for their monthly meeting. Several years later, they said, Larry, we’re thinking about getting a chapter started in San Antonio; would you be interested? I said, yes, but I don’t really have time to be the chairman. They said, okay, somebody else will do it, but you just need to help them along. So, I was the first treasurer for the association. People who were not Hispanic would ask why they should join a Hispanic organization. I said, well, if you’re a general contractor and you want participation from HUB contractors that are certified by the state of Texas, or by the city or the county, where are you going to get them from?
    You have to get them from somewhere, and if you can help an organization that is educating people that have gotten into the construction field become better contractors, wouldn’t it behoove you to join that kind of group to help support it? Because in essence, they’re providing the pipeline for you to be able to access companies that can help you do your job to help you make your bid successful. It is a win-win situation.
    I think the association is providing an opportunity to get small businesses firmly established, to get them on the right footing, to help them get the tools they need to be successful and help their employees if they decide down the road to do the same thing.
    I’m still a member and participate by helping out in whatever form they ask of me. –mp

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Sue Johnson sjohnson@constructionnews.net