40 Years of Success Thanks to a People-First Culture
C&L Water Solutions
Water distribution and sewer collection systems company C&L Water Solutions is based in Denver, Colorado with an additional location in Marriott-Slaterville, Utah to better serve its customers in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States.
The company was founded in 1979 by Larry and Chrystalla Larson, both of whom had previously worked at a plumbing company that ran service-lateral utilities development – a very popular market sector in the late 1970s and early 1980s – in Douglas County in Colorado. The couple’s son Christopher Larson, who now works as C&L’s Chief Operations Officer, recalls that this company over-extended itself and went out of business after a while; however, Larry was, at that point, well-known by many of the company’s clients.
His customers asked him to manage their field operations and contractors, so Larry began several maintenance contracts with small entities outside of the Denver area, effectively beginning the operations of C&L. Larry and Chrystalla initially ran the business from their garage, with a backhoe in the driveway and dump truck parked across the street. They started with a single employee, growing the family-owned company to the robust, firm it is today.
C&L’s core business heavily relies on its service division, which offers an around-the-clock response for water and sewer utility issues. It also sports open-cut excavation and trenchless divisions, the latter being the largest of the three. Larson believes that the company’s ability to provide vertically-integrated service across these three areas is what makes it stand out. “We can do everything from bypass pumping to trenchless pipelining… [to] open-cut to fixing a fire hydrant,” and this is just a sample of the services offered by the business.
C&L has partnered with many companies and initiatives to expand its business, but its most recent focus in this area has proven to be of great interest. Roughly four years ago, the business teamed up with construction software company HCSS which focuses on automation in the industry and learned about I Build America (IBA), an initiative presented by HCSS to “instill pride in the construction industry and inspire the next generation of tradespeople and leaders,” according to its website.
C&L is a founding member of IBA, and Larson feels that American industries “need contractors to start stepping up and taking responsibility for training the workforce instead of complaining.”
Larson touts the company’s steadfast partnerships, particularly those that support its trenchless operations. A positive supplier relationship is one marked by loyalty and honesty in communication, he says, noting that paying on time and being loyal to suppliers are key to keeping them, particularly in “the price-driven world we live in.”
A project that the company undertook at Denver International Airport was one of its most memorable and one in which its partners were of great use. The work involved lining a drain under the airport tunnels, and because diesel-powered equipment was not allowed in the tunnels, workers had to improvise and run electric lines through the drain pipes with the use of what Larson calls “crazy apparatuses.” C&L has found itself in many unique and challenging situations but always makes the most of it and leaves its clients satisfied with the work done.
The company’s culture is especially focused on its people. C&L is proud to create opportunities for employees which in turn leads to customers being taken care of very well and ensures that the product “is put in the ground right,” as Larson puts it.
The culture is built around three workforce values: ‘sweep the floor,’ a catch-all for the company’s determination to get the job done with access to up-to-date technology and the hard workers who use it; care, referring to its strong relationship with its customers; and faith, which shapes a lot of the business and personal relationships of those who work here.
It has not always been an easy ride for C&L, and the biggest challenge for the business currently lies in the workforce itself. Larson feels that the amount of work available in the market and the pace at which it comes through the door is faster than a typical employee can be trained, even with good training and people-centric culture. This challenge affects everything from the safety of working practices to avoiding the temptation of having untrained individuals simply embody a role to meet demand, he says. This can lead to curbing growth but he feels that if the company addresses the challenge by taking things slowly and investing the time to vet the workforce, it will succeed.
As of press time, C&L is also concerned with getting through the coronavirus pandemic, a problem that is shared by businesses worldwide as many struggle to understand the short-term and long-term implications of the situation. Aside from that, Larson and the C&L team will be focused on growing into other markets in the Pacific Northwest, South, Arizona, Eastern and Midwestern regions, depending on where opportunities present themselves and if the foundation can be put in place to succeed. Larson reveals that, with the company’s eyes on several markets and the goal of “going where the customers are,” it will be right on track for where it needs to be, and growth in the future is a certainty “as long as we have the people to facilitate it.”
Over the past forty years, C&L has learned that having patience in every aspect of the business is of utmost importance, as is not over-extending or over-leveraging itself. The company believes people are the key to success, and that belief has only become more important with time. Larson recalls that, some thirty years ago, the pipe business was a rough one where people could be “hired one day, fired the next, a crack the whip mentality.”
Thankfully, that has changed a great deal as more companies acknowledge that they can get more out of a workforce by appreciating them. “If you’re patient with your people, work, and growth, it can really pay off,” Larson concludes, confirming that the people-first culture that C&L has cultivated and improved upon for the past four decades will continue as the years roll on.