Women’s Holes Inc. celebrates 50 years of drilling, cutting and crushing concrete

Having spent most of her life in the construction industry, Darlene East knows that things don’t always go to plan on a construction site.

The same lack of predictability apparently applied to his rise within the family concrete cutting and coring business, Holes Inc.

“When my mom first told me about the company’s succession plan, her plan was to retire at 55,” East said of Holes co-founder Susan Hollingsworth. “She waited until she was 70.”

Under Hollingsworth and East, which became CEO in 2019, Houston-based Holes has earned a reputation for delivering reliable results in a field where survival depends on the ability to adapt to the unexpected. Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, the women-owned company, which employs approximately 50 people, specializes in concrete cutting, drilling and removal.

East estimates that 95% of Holes’ work is done in the Gulf Coast region and that about 85% of the company’s jobs come from repeat customers. The company’s work runs the gamut.

Holes has worked on projects at Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Exxon Mobil headquarters in Irving. The company continuously performs construction and patchwork work on local highways. He demolished an old Best Buy store over the weekend and deployed a wire saw to slice through the propeller of a damaged freighter that got stuck in a canal in Galveston.

Due to its ability to train its workers to adapt, the closed company’s revenue grew steadily, from around $8.8 million in 2006 to around $12 million in 2019 before the pandemic hit. restricts much of the construction work in the area the following year.

“When you’re talking about cutting concrete, drilling and sawing concrete in a (building) that’s been around for a long time, you can never be sure what you’re cutting,” said Brandon Mabile, director of strategic development based at Houston at Performance Contractors, which is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and has hired Holes for more than a dozen projects, including numerous petrochemical plants. “They have the ability to understand a project and roll with the punches.”

Since its founding in 1972, Holes has benefited from a local population boom which has fueled transport and industrial projects and ensured the continuity of construction work. Over the past 50 years, the population of the Greater Houston area has more than tripled to about 6.6 million, far exceeding the U.S. population growth rate of about 50% over the same period. according to the census. Meanwhile, the region’s economic output more than doubled to $488.2 billion in 2020 from $211.8 billion in 2001, according to the Commerce Department.

Such a future for the company was far from assured when East’s family moved from California to Houston in 1970. At the time, East’s father, Ken Major, worked for a concrete-cutting company. based in California that expanded to Houston because there was little competition in the area.

Major was brought in to run the new branch, whose business grew fast enough for the parent company to send in additional levels of management. That didn’t sit well with the entrepreneurial-minded major, according to East. The family, meanwhile, had just purchased their first home in the Houston area when a new manager to oversee Houston operations arrived.

“My dad didn’t get along with him,” East said. “After the first mortgage payment, my dad came home and said, ‘I quit my job. So they started Holes. Fortunately, my mother has always been good with money.

Major had found that the demand for concrete cutting and similar services was more than enough for another company to enter the market. With Major handling much of the on-site sales and estimating work and Hollingsworth of accounting and administration, Holes grew steadily until Major died in 1992 at age 46 year old from brain cancer.

The recession of the early 1990s was beginning to reduce local construction work. At the time, East, who had worked in the company part-time in high school and during college summers, was raising a family in Louisiana.

“1992 wasn’t a great year for construction, but my mom got the company through it,” East said. “My mom called me and said, ‘I need to know if you’re in or out.'”

Having joined the company full-time that year, East worked under Hollingsworth to learn the ins and outs of the business and was eventually named chairman in 2000. During this time Hollingsworth became one of the leading advocates of construction safety practices, such as requiring workers to perform safe work. Analysis to identify potential hazards in a job and empower each worker to stop a job and notify everyone of an issue that could pose a threat to safety.

Hollingsworth and East were also joined by East’s younger sister, Kellie Kimball, who has served as the company’s vice president for the past 20 years and leads the company’s safety and training department as well as its office operations.

In the meantime, the company has built a reputation for getting tough jobs done on time and on budget. One such job involved the Best Buy store on FM 1960, where Holes cut down the back of the original store during the construction of a larger store and demolished the old store over the course of a weekend. end, allowing the store to lose just a week. work.

“It’s not like a job where you come in at 7 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m. Sometimes our guys won’t know until Friday afternoon if they’ll be working Saturday,” East said. “Our customers need us yesterday, not tomorrow.”

Holes is one of the few female-owned construction companies in a male-dominated industry. After Major’s death, Hollingsworth found that some men didn’t want to talk to her about plans, East said. But East said she hasn’t faced the same challenges.

“I didn’t have that problem,” East said. “People remember my name because I’m often the only female entrepreneur in the room, but I can’t remember all their names.”

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The company’s growth came to a halt after the pandemic hit in early 2020. East said the company got a loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which allowed Holes to avoid layoffs. But the company’s revenue this year will approach pre-pandemic levels after surging in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, East said.

The company is also doing its part to ensure that the local construction industry has enough skilled workers, especially given the labor shortage, according to Rusty Barnhill, company president of Force Corp construction. La Porte-based Barnhill, which has hired Holes for more than 1,000 jobs over the past 30 years, sits with East on the board of directors of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Houston business group and the Construction & Maintenance Education Foundation. , a non-profit organization that develops and administers vocational training programs in the field of construction.

Holes workers gave much of their time training students to prepare them for work in the industry.

“People think construction is dirty, but it’s a safe industry and you can make a lot of money,” Barnhill said. “Construction is all about hard work, and his company promotes those values.”

Meanwhile, Holes continues to expand both geographically and by job type. In addition to its headquarters in Houston, the company has offices in Beaumont and near Corpus Christi, and it is also developing its Holes Technology division, which specializes in concrete scanning and ground-penetrating radar services. East says the company is also working with manufacturers of concrete cutting and drilling machines to test the equipment.

As for Holes’ future, East, 55, says she expects to work “at least another 10 years” to lead the company’s geographic expansion. As for a succession plan for the next generation, East is less certain than her mother was about who would be in line to take over the business.

“There are many growth opportunities in South Texas. None of our kids showed much interest, but I have a few nephews in college,” East said. “Kellie and I aren’t as well planned as my mom, so we’re still working on the next phase.”

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