Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm
When Brian Ganos took over his father’s company in 1992, he faced all of the obstacles every small-business owner faces. And then some.
"When I started this company, I could not even get a loan for $10,000. I pretty much started this company on credit cards and went from there," said Ganos, who was named the Region 4 Hispanic Businessman of the Year at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention held in Milwaukee earlier this month. Ganos received the award for his entrepreneurial spirit, his drive and the success of his businesses.
"It is tough to grow a company when you don’t have a lot of backing, so it just has to have a nice progression, and that is what we are doing."
Indeed. Today, Ganos operates Sonag Co. Inc. and Sonag Ready Mix LLC, and gaining access to capital is no longer much of a problem.
In June, Sonag Ready Mix purchased an 11-acre, three-parcel site at 2751 S. Chase Ave. on Milwaukee’s south side, where Sonag Ready Mix will build a new company headquarters, Ganos said. The current headquarters for Sonag Ready Mix is in Menomonee Falls located at N59 W14909 Bobolink Ave.
Two of the three south side parcels contain leased buildings that Ganos plans to keep as investments. Construction for the new Ready Mix plant will begin next spring.
Ganos hopes the $5 million project is completed within a year. The new headquarters will feature a Ready Mix plant, an office building and storage facilities, Ganos said.
The new plant will be winterized to produce concrete year-round. The company’s current plant on Chase is closed from December through January, said Nick Rivecca, president of Sonag Ready Mix LLC.
"It will be a bigger profile plant with more capacity," Rivecca said. "We are looking to increase our volume, expand our delivery area and at the same time increase our fleet size."
Once the new plant opens, it will become the new headquarters for Sonag Ready Mix. The company’s current Chase Avenue plant, which is on leased property, will be moved to the southwestern suburban area near Waukesha, New Berlin or Muskego by the end of 2008, Ganos said. The company will keep its Menomonee Falls location.
"We felt with three plants we could cover the entire metropolitan area," Ganos said. "We will probably have to add about another 10 Ready Mix trucks in the next year or two years, and when the third plant gets up and going, we will add another 10 Ready Mix trucks. And then we will be maxed out."
In all, the triangular placement of plant locations in the Milwaukee area will give Sonag Ready Mix the ability to get to more customers and be eligible for more construction projects because of proximity, Ganos said.
Proximity to construction sites is an advantage in the cement contracting business.
Sonag Co. Inc. and Sonag Ready Mix LLC also are certified minority and emerging business enterprises (MBEs and EBEs). Such designations can have some advantages in gaining government contracts, but the primary considerations in Ganos’ business are price and quality.
"It just comes down to your relationship and (producing) good products," Ganos said. "We just keep trying to build on our client base and look at the minority company (status) as more of an extra bonus if somebody needs it.
"Getting the cheapest isn’t always the best, and unfortunately with competitive bidding, that’s who gets the job," Ganos said. "It is a tight fence to walk, but we are trying our best to do it, and I think we are one of the largest minority companies in the state. It all comes down to our clients and the good people we have working for us."
Combined, Sonag Co. and Sonag Ready Mix reported revenue increases of 26.8 percent in 2004 and estimated additional increases of 21.5 percent for 2005, Ganos said. The combined employment of the companies grew from 70 to 91 over the past two years, he said.
Ganos is the vice chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce-Wisconsin, which is led by his aunt, Maria Monreal-Cameron, president and chief executive officer of the chamber. He has served on the group’s board of directors on and off for 11 years.
In the 2005 Hispanic Business magazine Hispanic Business 500, Sonag Co. ranked No. 165 on the list of the 500 largest Hispanic-owned companies in the United States, and Sonag Ready Mix ranked No. 290.
Sonag Ready Mix also ranked No. 87 in the Hispanic Business 100 Fastest Growing Hispanic-owned companies in the nation.
According to the magazine, Sonag Co. Inc. reported 2004 revenues of $29.49 million, and Sonag Ready Mix reported $13.57 million.
Sonag was founded in 1986 by Ganos’ father (Sonag is Ganos spelled backwards) as a snowplow company and soon changed its focus to demolition work. Ganos saw an opportunity in the marketplace for a minority-owned environmental company when he took over the company in 1992 and changed the company’s specialty to lead abatement and asbestos removal, he said.
Ganos’ flexibility and his eye for opportunity helped Sonag to gradually evolve into a general contractor construction firm after he received 8 (A) status from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
The 8(A) business development program offers support for growing businesses with government contract work. When Sonag was offered an opportunity for a construction project, Ganos left environmental work behind and focused on construction for government projects.
Sonag Co. currently provides construction services for many projects in the private sector, but some of his main projects are with the federal government. His clients have included the National Guard, the United States Property and Fiscal Office (USPFO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Once we got the routine down and figured out what the government wanted in terms of paperwork and submittals, we got pretty good at it, and so we stayed there," Ganos said.
Sonag works on projects that range in size from $10,000 to $25 million, Ganos said.
Sonag Co. was working with the former Milwaukee-based Tews Co. as a minority arm hauling Ready Mix concrete from the Tews plant to construction sites when Tews was sold to Virginia-based Lafarge North America Corp. in 1996.
Rivecca, who worked at Tews, and Ganos decided to create Sonag Ready Mix in 1999 at a Menomonee Falls plant that Ganos purchased and renovated.
"We made the decision to put money into (the plant) and start a company, and in five years we probably did seven times the volume we did in 2000," Rivecca said. "We now have 41 trucks and we have another plant on Chase Ave."
The joining of the two forces – a minority business owner wanting to grow a Ready Mix concrete company and an ex-vice president of a concrete supply company – created a synergy internally and increased interest from the marketplace.
Rivecca had industry contacts and general contractor relationships from his 16 years with Tews.
Ganos said he and Rivecca were able to practically hand-pick employees from Tews to join the new company.
As Sonag Ready Mix gained momentum, the employee to employer trust and comfortable work environment helped spur the growth of the company, Ganos said.
"Some of our advantages are that the owners of are here in Milwaukee, where our main competitors are in Chicago," Ganos said. "For me and Nick, everything is here. It is day-to-day, and you live it every minute. When a customer calls and there is a problem (he or she) will most likely end up speaking to an owner and not someone else."
With their employees in place, Sonag Ready Mix still needed to make some changes and increase their capacity. They needed more trucks and more investment, because the competition included large, established companies, Ganos said.
"We had to make it a full-service company," he said. "We had to make sure our company was diverse enough that we could service everybody."
Ganos and Rivecca opened the second plant in 2003 at 2929 S. Chase Ave. in Milwaukee to improve its dependability and better serve customers downtown, Ganos said.
"As we grew, we would go after some of the larger projects in the city with the general contractors, and our competition would say, ‘They only have one plant. What happens if it breaks down? What are you going to do?’ And they would use it against us," Ganos said.
Sonag Ready Mix’s reputation in the local construction business is solid, according to other companies that do work with the company.
Dick Zirbel, president of Milwaukee-based Edward E. Gillen Co., has done business with Rivecca for about 30 years and with Sonag since it was established.
"You assume that any construction material is of acceptable quality because otherwise the company would not be in business," Zirbel said. "We work with Sonag because they deliver a quality product at a fair price and are dependable."
Ganos is optimistic about the prospects for exponential growth when the new Sonag Ready Mix plant opens on Milwaukee south side, but Ganos says he does not want to get ahead of himself.
"It is just something we believe in and we would probably kick ourselves if we did not take the shot at it," Ganos said. "The odds aren’t probably great in our favor. There are companies out there that are failing. We are just hoping we don’t end up like that."
"We like the future. We like Milwaukee," Rivecca said. "We are Milwaukee guys, we love what we do and we will continue to grow and be profitable."
Sonag @ a glance
Companies: Sonag Co. Inc. and Sonag Ready Mix LLC
Leadership: Brian Ganos serves as president of Sonag Co. Inc. and chief executive officer of Sonag Ready Mix LLC; Nick Rivecca serves as president of Sonag Ready Mix Inc.
Locations: The companies have plants in Milwaukee and Menomonee Falls and branch offices in Madison, Tomah and Mascoutah, Ill.
Employees: 91 (combined)
– September 30, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI