Love where you live!
By Gina Garcia
LA MESA – In the history of small business in America, the story of father and son is a powerful one. Dad founds a business by the sweat of his brow, trains his son and, eventually, turns over the keys to his progeny and retires.
Jason Larson has rewritten that script a bit. Larson, now 43, did learn at his father’s side. A home remodeler, Gary Larson had moved to California from Wisconsin and, with superior craftsman talents, claimed his own niche in booming California as a high quality builder and remodeler.
But as the younger Larson grew into manhood, he had his own ambitions and an independent streak.
With Dad nearby to lend advice at every turn, Jason Larson in his 20s started shaping his own niche. Rather than word of mouth alone, Jason built a remodeling business that combined his father’s standards for quality and service with more modern, and more costly marketing techniques to spread the word.
Today, more than two decades later, Jason heads a firm – Lars Remodeling & Design -- from a small cottage at the corner of Lemon Avenue and Spring Street in La Mesa. He has 15 employees – down from a high of 23 prior to the recent economic challenges – and the little cottage is a virtual remodeling Mecca, combining computerized virtualization with material samples.
With a steady diet of TV commercials and magazine advertisements, Jason Larson has built a reputation and clientele that reaches throughout San Diego County.
In this new version of Father and Son, Jason and Gary remain close, but with Dad playing the role of contractor paid by the son for his efforts.
“It is sort of ironic,’’ Gary Larson, now 65 and still working says. “Now I work for my kids.’’
“My Dad is our ambassador,’’ Jason said recently. “We hire him into special jobs that need a special touch. Our clients fall in love with him.’’
Jason describes his father as remaining a “tool belt on’’ craftsman, a contractor who keeps his hands directly in the crafts while executing a job.
“I was ‘tool belt on’ for many years too,’’ Jason said. “But I definitely found out there were people better than I was at that work.’’
Larson has focused on management, hiring good people and marketing his services through television. That generated more leads and launched more projects, but the increased scale demanded that he identify good employees who could help him execute multiple projects and sustain the larger business he was building.
“My Dad never really criticized me, but he would express concern about how much overhead we were taking on,’’ Jason said. Jason's team regularly handles between 20 and 40 jobs at any given time, requiring an attentive and cohesive team to make sure the jobs progress on schedule.
"We like to give the client a projected finish and then beat it considerably whenever possible,'' Jason said.
Gary Larson says he did watch closely as son’s business grew, but he never doubted his ability.
“I think you could just say I am proud of all of my sons,’’ he said. “I don’t know if I say it enough, but I am just very proud.’’
There are, in fact, three Larson boys. In addition to Jason, brother Michael has his own business, and younger brother Seth works for Jason.
The key to the Lars firm’s success, Jason said, has been adhering to principles his father would recognize from his own business.
“We make sure every client feels like they are our one and only,’’ Jason said. “We also like our renovations and expansions to look, when we are done, like it was always there. We don’t want something like a big box added on to something and sticking out awkwardly. We sit with people, understand what they want to achieve in their homes and then look for ways to achieve that.’’
The new 3-D technology allows Larson to offer his clients a virtual tour of the renovated space before any work is done. “The technology has taken a lot of the guesswork out of it from the client’s perspective,’’ he said. “Before it’s built, they’ve seen and experienced the new space. There’s no surprises at the end when it’s finally built.’’
The economic downturn after the 2008 market and real estate crash did strain the Lars firm. Jason had to let some valued employees go, but the market has rebounded and he has been able to hire back. “Our staff in 21 years has never been better,’’ he said.
The firm is once again straining to find the room to operate in its current facility and has considered adding a second or third story to the location but parking issues have made that difficult as well.
For now, Jason Larson said he will continue looking for innovative ways to market his services in a media environment that is becoming increasingly fragmented. He hopes to keep growing the business and is seeing enough recovery to consider adding to his firm’s personnel, but he is remaining conservative until he sees a few more signs of economic vitality.
“We like being in La Mesa,’’ he said, “and for now we’re going to stay right here and keep serving our clients’ needs.’’