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CRBJ Builder Profile: Rich Elstrom Construction

Raymon Bonney, owner

Published on April 13, 2018 4:58PM

Raymon Bonney, 53, has deep roots in the construction industry. His first job came at age 10 helping his father construct the Pacific Realty building in downtown Long Beach. “I worked with him until 1996 and we incorporated,” Bonney said. “That’s where the ‘R’ came from in B.J. & R.”

LUKE WHITTAKER

Raymon Bonney, 53, has deep roots in the construction industry. His first job came at age 10 helping his father construct the Pacific Realty building in downtown Long Beach. “I worked with him until 1996 and we incorporated,” Bonney said. “That’s where the ‘R’ came from in B.J. & R.”

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Bonney, bottom right, works alongside his crew during construction of a residential home Friday, March 30 in Klipsan Beach. “I’m on the job 40 hours a week,” Bonney said.

Bonney, bottom right, works alongside his crew during construction of a residential home Friday, March 30 in Klipsan Beach. “I’m on the job 40 hours a week,” Bonney said.

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The Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 took a toll on local building contractors. “I was one of the people that barely made it,” Bonney said. “I think we’re smarter now than we were then. It’s been steady growth since then. Now I probably get a one or two calls a week on a new house.”

The Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 took a toll on local building contractors. “I was one of the people that barely made it,” Bonney said. “I think we’re smarter now than we were then. It’s been steady growth since then. Now I probably get a one or two calls a week on a new house.”

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B.J. & R employs four to seven crew members on average. “We’re at kind of a boom now,” Bonney said. “Ten years ago, it wasn’t quite as strong and we were doing different things. My crew size would vary before but now it’s steadied and I’ve had guys working for me several years.”

B.J. & R employs four to seven crew members on average. “We’re at kind of a boom now,” Bonney said. “Ten years ago, it wasn’t quite as strong and we were doing different things. My crew size would vary before but now it’s steadied and I’ve had guys working for me several years.”

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Bonney primes the end of every board cut. “I think everyone has pulled off a fascia board where it’s rotten on the edge,” Bonney said. “Priming slows that process. It’s one more thing we can do to give it a longer life.”

Bonney primes the end of every board cut. “I think everyone has pulled off a fascia board where it’s rotten on the edge,” Bonney said. “Priming slows that process. It’s one more thing we can do to give it a longer life.”

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How long have you been in the construction business?

“I actually started as a kid working for my dad at age 10. He was building the Pacific Realty building down in Long Beach. I couldn’t make enough money off my lemonade stand so he said he could give me a job for a buck an hour. I rode my Stingray bike back down the next day and started working. I worked for him every summer through school. Then back in 1985, I got married and he asked me if I wanted to be partner. I worked with him until 1996 and we incorporated. That’s where the ‘R’ came from in B.J. & R. He worked until 2003 and semi retired. I’ve owned B.J. & R Inc. since 2003.”

What motivated you pursuit it as a career?

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I started so young that I got to be handy and could make decent money compared to other high school kids. The money, for being a teenager, was good and then I got to a place where I didn’t want to do anything different. I’m super fortunate to have a father that raised me in an industry that I can make a living at and I’m blessed to have a brother as talented as he is, and is also my ally.”

How many employees do you have?

“We’re generally around four to seven not counting me and my brother (Bob Jr.). Last year I had more than that and it was hard to manage. I think they are all good human beings with a good work ethic, and they truly care about the product.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned through experience?

“Patience and perseverance.”

Is there any particular wisdom you’ve obtained that you wish you knew when you started?

“Some of the better building practices that have developed have changed since I started. When I started, it was 2x4 construction and insulboard sheeting on the wall. Now things are different. Knowing the superior way to do things with products, like anything else, is evolving.”

How does your business today compare to 10 years ago?

“We’re at kind of a boom now. The variety of jobs I stay in are pretty much new construction. Ten years ago, it wasn’t quite as strong and we were doing different things. My crew size would vary before, but now it’s steadied and I’ve had guys working for me several years. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep them going.”

How is the industry overall since the recession?

“I think the industry overall is strong. The recession was a big hit. I was one of those people that barely made it. I think we’re smarter now than what we were then. It’s been steady growth since then. Now I probably get one or two new calls a week on a new house. On the Peninsula, we’re really a retirement industry. Most of the homes — 90 percent — are for people that are either going to retire or are retired. We do very few homes for new doctors or schoolteachers. The retirement industry is always going to be there, it’s just whether we can build affordably for what people have saved up for.”

What are the unique challenges or obstacles to building on the coast?

“The weather is number one, it’s the hardest thing to deal with. The weather has a huge impact on production and moral. It’s hard. We frame all-year around. We all look forward to the point where we can get a couple nice days back-to-back and don’t have to deal with it. Other than that, we’re very fortunate to be building in 20-mile radius.”

Are there things that are often overlooked by less scrupulous builders?

“I try not to pay attention to what anyone else is doing. We try to do the best job we possibly can from the ground up because it does show when you get to the finish and you know you have a quality house.”

What things should a customer consider when selecting a contractor?

“Referrals and experience would probably be the number one thing. I think they should consider someone that’s local too because there are different practices that are done in Portland or Vancouver that really don’t work here as well. Weatherization is big.”

How do you distinguish your business among others (that may offer similar services)?

“We try to be really efficient. I’m on the job 40 hours a week too. I work side-by-side with my crew, that’s one of our strongest points along with quality.”

What is your outlook for the future of the business?

“I’m planning on working another 10 years solid, then I will slow down to where I’m managing a couple guys. As far as the business goes, it will be here as long as I’m here.”

Do you have specific goals for the business?

“We’re not trying to meet any quota. We try to fit everyone in that’s ready to build. I’m asked all the time about my schedule. We tell people that, if you’re ready to go, we’ll work you in. You might have to wait a couple months, but we keep up with the workload because we’re a layered business. I work on the framing, exterior and finish side and my brother works on the trim side. I have a couple guys who do really good finish work. We can layer and take more jobs.”

Who are some of the local businesses you count on?

“I’ve had the same subs I’ve had forever — Nichols Concrete, Active Enterprises, Diamond Heating. Once you have a relationship and know they do quality work, you stick with what works.”

Is there a building or project you’re particularly proud of?

“The Lost Roo remodel. I worked with the owner from the design through what kind of wood to use on the bar. There are many homes I think are fantastic too. We’re just starting The Breakers pool building. I enjoy bigger jobs. I’m actually more relaxed on big commercial things than on smaller projects. They can be more challenging depending on what type of manpower you have, but I think that’s my favorite thing to do.”

How is the building industry and materials changing or evolving?

“Everything has pretty much leveled off to new design. The OSBs (Oriented Strand Board) are the same. I think you’re seeing more change in code issues. Things like granite are now Pental Quartz, there’s evolvement in man-made products. Overall it’s pretty much the same process.”

Have there been any trends that have come and gone?

“I had one request for an elevator three years ago, then we did two more this year. As more retired people plan for the future, they’re willing to spend another $20,000 to $40,000 for an elevator because they plan on being there. Colors and surfaces are often trends. Carpeting is just about gone, it has evolved to wood products. Pergo (a laminate flooring) used to be the thing 15 years ago. There’s products like that change and get better and smarter. Thirty years ago we did a lot of custom welding and made our own things.”

What part gives you the most satisfaction?

“At the end of the day when I get to drive by all the jobs and check on everything on my way home.”









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