"We've found success in being able to do a lot of different trades," says Supervisor Tom Joyce. "That's a great service to help homeowners so they don't have to hire two or three contractors to do a job."
Blue Spruce consists of Joyce, who founded the company, Jim Barry, Aaron Rothenberg, and Shawn Larson. Joyce has worked in construction for 30 years. Before that he worked in commercial construction and institutional work, including the paint shops at Cornell University for a few years. He founded the company in 1998 to find more interesting projects and have more control over where he worked.
Barry has been with the company almost since the beginning, while Rothenberg and Larson came on board more recently. Joyce works with the local painter's union, conducting health and safety training for the union and administering a grant. He met Rothenberg and Larson through the apprenticeship program.
The four can do everything the company offers, though each has particular interests and specialties. For example, Larson has a fine arts degree and experience in decorative painting at MacKenzie Childs. That means that Blue Spruce can offer murals to clients who want them.
All four participate in running the company, which is set up as a workers' cooperative. They meet monthly to trade ideas and discuss efficiencies, and at the end of each year to decide how to apply profits.
"The decision making process is really a group process," Joyce says. "Each of the four are important, and at some level have equal say in much of the decision making, and certainly in how the profits are used at the end of the year. This particular group has been very mature in making those decisions and looking out for the company as a whole."
While the company works as far afield as Elmira and Binghamton, its main focus is in Tompkins County. Joyce says the firm takes all kinds of jobs, but especially likes unique projects that offer challenges spanning different tasks. One example was a job in Trumansburg that had the company renovating rooms in the historic part of her house. The old plaster walls were falling apart and had to be replaced with studs and dry wall. The owner's daughter was upset that the original wallpaper was gone, so the owner asked the firm to find a way of duplicating it.
"For us this led to a whole process of learning," Joyce says. "There is a company in northern California that specializes in exactly that kind of thing. They'll take a little scrap of wallpaper and reproduce it in the exact colors and pattern. It was hand printed and untrimmed, the way wallpaper used to be."
That led to a new learning curve, because modern wallpapering techniques didn't apply to the custom-made wallpaper.
"You had to trim all the edges first and put it up," Joyce recalls. "Then every strip had to be double cut, because the images are double printed on the edges. In order to get a nice match two pieces had to be put up, then they had to be singly trimmed to make a nice seam. We like to do that kind of work. Personally my favorite part of the trade is wallpaper work. We have done a lot of quite interesting projects. I like that challenge."
Joyce also does the estimating of potential jobs, and he prides himself on being 98% accurate, and on sticking to price given clients in the estimate. That prevents the kind of horror stories many people experience when working with contractors.
"That's an important part of the job," he says. "I have a record of every job I've ever done -- how log it took, the square footage of all the walls and the linear footage of all the trim. I have found that is invaluable. Estimating work is a profession. We have found that the accuracy of that is crucial. When we give a price we have never changed a price. That has been very helpful to customers who need to know what the price is going to be and that it's not going to change."
Joyce says that the economy has impacted the company as it has so many businesses around the country. He says that it has required him to estimate more jobs to get the same amount of work to keep everybody busy. But he says that word of mouth is the most effective way that Blue Spruce gets jobs, and for that to work quality is key.
"We do really quality work," says supervisor Tom Joyce. "Our approach is to fix every crack in a room before painting it. We tend to fix everything in a project, as opposed to just letting it go. When I did an analysis of the first 200 customers that we had it was about 90% referrals. That is the key. If you focus on doing good work that is probably the most important thing."