March 26, 2024

Episode #133: Kourtney Zahn – Brick and Ember

Kourtney Zahn was Born and raised in Indiana. He is married to his wife Faith and they have 4 children; Bristol, Quinn, Shepherd and Story. He pursed pastoral ministry through his 20’s and out of necessity started his business at age 30.

 

 

 

 

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Transcript

you’re listening to the self-made is a myth make a difference together show with your host coach Tim campsa where we talk with successful business owners to hear the stories of their Journeys in building their successful businesses and more importantly we recognize the folks who help them Excel because we know that achieving business success is not something we can do on our [Music] own hello everyone this is coach Tim campel and I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us today something unique about my guest is that before starting his business he was a church planter in his downtime he enjoys taking trips with his wife and being with his children and the thing he’s most proud of is being a faithful uh father uh husband and follower of Jesus it’s my pleasure to welcome Courtney to the show today hello Courtney hey Tim good to be on here hey well let’s start with uh having you um introduce yourself tell us your your full name and a little bit about your personal story like where you were born and live and about your family sure um so name full name Courtney Arthur Zan is my full name I was born in Northern Indiana in the area called the region and so moved to Central Indiana when I was about 13 with my mom and two sisters and and then uh when I graduated high school kind of bounced around on different jobs here and there then I end up going to Bible college for two years and then pursued pastoral Ministry while I was doing that had kind of a handful of deadend jobs after another and then pursued church planning when I was in my late 20s did that for a couple years and then through a series of events I decided to start my own business in in 2011 fantastic and um in your intro I talk about your family tell us about them yeah yeah absolutely um so I’ve been married to my wife uh for 22 years I believe uh she was 19 I was 20 kind of high school sweethearts and then we have four kids her name is Faith and then four kids Bristol Quinn Shepherd and story Shepherd and story are nine-year-old twins Quinn is my 11y old daughter and then Bristol is my 13-y old boy fantastic and you you you enjoy spending time with you with them obviously but what’s what’s your goto what’s the thing that the the family all enjoys doing together yeah um so we like we like traveling uh so we’ve been blessed to be able to go out to Colorado quite a bit and do uh at at different times we found ourselves doing like extreme bike biking so I grew up BMX uh racing so we do some mountain biking dirt jumping we do a lot less of that now uh my kids have kind of moved into basketball and soccer and whatnot but we still find ourselves kind of being fairly adventurous so things like that very good hey Corney is there a funny story that you’re family likes to tell about you that you’d be willing to share with us today I mean a funny story I don’t know um funny story about myself I don’t know my kids maybe think I’m a little bit Reckless at times so uh you know a couple years ago we were in North Carolina and I was hitting some larger Siz dirt jumps with my son and shattered my shattered my elbow and walked off the third jump course with a brace from my neck and my kids thought I had broke my neck and my wife thought I was dead and so I may have uh chased a moose and a bear in Colorado once or twice in a jeep so they like telling those stories nice that’s why they’re sticking to basketball now right instead of being that’s right that’s right cordney tell us how’ the business come about and at what point did you have the confidence you could run your own business um so a couple years before I started my business like I said I was church planning at that time I had a full-time job working for a company that did similar to what I do now so we are a Mason Restoration company I was a lowle lowlevel project supervisor and um while I was doing that I was still church planning and involved in Ministry and my wife said at one point in time she said hey I think you should start your own business and I’m like absolutely not had no interest I’m a pretty faithful guy and was really happy with what I did um and wasn’t really interested in starting business this was just kind of an interim thing until I would be able to be a full-time pastor with the church that I was planning and a series of events happened one thing specifically it says in second it’s first Timothy I believe that if a man can’t Pastor his own household how can he Pastor the household of God and that verse really convicted me and I just realized that at that season of my life I just wasn’t in a position where should be trying to lead a congregation and so at that time I stepped away from church planning um actually started being a part-time youth pastor at the church that we started attending and uh during that time I had to figure out what my next step was so I didn’t have like a any kind of formal education I didn’t have a skill that I could rely on um with the exception is I had a lot of I tell people that hypothetically I’m a really good Brick Mason and so I had seen a lot masing restoration work seen a lot of fireplace work I wasn’t the guy doing it but I had seen the way it it it played itself out and so I felt like that was the only kind of thing that I could land on and I think a lot of entrepreneurs start because there’s a problem that they see and they think that they can solve it and selfishly my problem was that I needed a job I needed to figure out how I was going to provide for my family so I was 2930 at that time we had our first son on the way and I had to figure out how to make more 14 bucks an hour which is where I was where I was at so at that time I part-time youth pastor and then I worked at The Fresh Market stacking fruit and then I decided to start my business and basically once I went on my first sales appointment with my business I never stopped after six months the counsel given to me is that it seems like God is using you in business and I think you should pursue that instead of pursuing kind of formal Ministry so I decided to do that 12 years later I’m still doing it that’s awesome what a great story so tell us more about the company what what’s the name what do you guys do how do you help people yeah so we’ve had a couple reiterations of our name it started out as chimmy and masonry Solutions and then masonry Outfitters then chimy and masonry Outfitters and now we’re presently brick and Ember Outfitters so we did a brand change a couple years ago uh for various reasons but brick and Ember Outfitters we were firplace chimy and masonry company uh a lot of what we do is in the residential space but we do some commercial work and so if a customer has a fireplace that they want to service we can sweep it we can service a gas unit and then we also take care of the functionality of the fireplace making sure that it’s lined properly and then all the ma three on the exterior so we can work with anything pre-existing or we can build something new and then we do a lot of masonry work on the exterior of a home so tuck pointing brick replacement uh it’s not overly complicated overly fancy I suppose some of our fireplace remodels can get pretty elaborate uh when you’re building a structure putting a different type of brick or stone veneer and then running gas lines and different fireplace units and inventing it properly but that’s that’s primarily what we do fantastic So Courtney um share a story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you didn’t think that you could and the impact of that person had on you well my my wife was extremely um confident in that I could do something um I’m pretty resilient as far as overcoming uh challenges and so you know she initially said I should and then I said no I’m not interested and then I decided to so she’s always been really supportive and for me to start a business uh we had no money in the bank I remember taking any money we had to buy a $250 ladder my first sales appointment was in my wife’s 1997 Honda minivan you know that’s not very impressive when you pull up to a customer’s house but that’s how we started we eventually had to take out a loan for you know $9,000 to buy a truck and I did that and so I would say she’s been the one that’s been the most supportive that’s great I would also say just uh people that have come to work for me so I had a handful of friends and family that were willing to work with me and so for them to do that uh was a vote of confidence yeah and um yeah so there was some some guys that I had worked with previously that decided to join me in my endeavor so that was one of the main things and then you know I had a I had a bank friend that supported me early on and uh gave me some of the loans that I needed so that was super beneficial that was Elliott at Citizen State Bank so they’re a local Bank in Indianapolis so a lot of confidence there which I appreciated I felt like I’ve never had a whole lot of people uh challenge Me On whether I should do what I’m doing people have always been very um yeah very encouraging and seeing that I had the abilities to do what I was doing so they just kind of people oftentimes encourage me in that that’s fantastic having that that support group and that encouragement group is is a big deal especially when you’re starting out from nothing to to be able to to know that all these people believe in you that’s fantastic yeah so is what’s been the biggest learning that you’ve had as a business owner uh well let’s see here you know when I started a business I didn’t think I was an entrepreneur I didn’t think I was a business owner so when I thought about the things that I had done in my 20s or this who I was like when I was in high school if I look back on it I realized that I was somewhat of a leader found myself kind of taking initiative and people um kind of following the things that I was doing being somewhat influential never thinking of myself as a leader or an influential person but being in youth ministry I was starting starting things uh leading people communicating to people in various ways and so uh not until I started a business then that I started applying those things just because I had to didn’t realize that I was actually fairly good at sales um partially thanks to Aaron critical at Lucian he helped us a lot in our formal training but good with people uh good with sales and then had an eye for different ways to Market ourselves to get in front of people as well as an eye for Branding those were things that didn’t realize it at the time but as you start in you know start working within different aspects of a business marketing sales branding uh those all came fairly natural to me early on um primarily because I found myself wanting to set ourselves apart from other people in our industry and there was a time where the construction industry wasn’t overly attractive in the way that it presented itself online or carried itself in a sales appointment I would say the construction industry as a as a whole has has done better but I would say 12 years ago they didn’t do a great job at branding themselves on their trucks or having a website that was attractive to a customer so those are things that I just I’m the kind of person that if people are doing it this way I want to do it the opposite way I feel like I feel like I can do it better and I that hasn’t always proven to be true there’s plenty of failure uh but in the area of branding and marketing and in sales I would say that we’ve done that pretty well fantastic so um we know that and you’ve alluded to this already a little bit we know that uh business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about one of the biggest challenges that you’ve had uh in growing the business and maybe a a fellow business owner or a colleague who helped you through that um let’s see here so I always knew that uh there’s always people that most definitely are smarter than me and uh my goal had always been to kind of work myself out of a job my goal had always was the mindset of I’m not the smartest guy at the table surely there’s people better than me and so I always tried really hard to surround myself with people that were better than me now here’s the problem I’m not really good at vetting those people I have a I have a strong belief in people I believe anybody can become something and I don’t know that that’s always true um primarily um some people are geared towards certain things and because I’m fairly influential and when I talk to people I can motivate people to capture the vision that I have for our company or for them specifically and then they believe they can do something but they don’t actually have the skill set and then when they have to gain the skill set they don’t they’re not overly motivated to do that to become what I suggested they could yeah and so I found myself doing a good job of getting out of the way putting other people in charge but not really vetting those people of being the the caliber of individuals uh that I needed H and so uh one guy that really helped me kind of see how I can fix that is Mike Hudson he’s a he’s an implementer uh for Eos the entrepreneurial operating system and so they have one part that’s uh you know is called gwc get it want it in capacity and it’s just a process of lining everybody up with one what is your values and then um do they fit your values and then are they uh capable of do they get it do they want it do they have capacity to do it and whether you like the person it’s just a more of a factual way of of vetting people to do what you need them to do yeah and I still struggle with that to be honest so I try to remove myself I try to um we use Lucian for some uh assessments when we hire people we um we we use the EOS process which really helps it it gets me out of the way and says Courtney your intuition is not always right because you just tend to your intuition says anybody and everybody can do it yeah that’s not true so this helps kind of get me out of the way um and uses some tools that people have brought my way to help out with that yeah yeah it’s so key the there’s a a termote there that has been incorrectly used micromanagement and the the problem with the term micromanagement is now nobody wants to manage because we don’t want to be micromanagers so we all have or many of us have pulled back and said okay I’m just going to be a leader I’m going to inspire and motivate people and then and and some folks like you were just describing our internal optimist so we’re like hey if I if I paint the right picture and the vision and I Inspire and motivate people they’re going to you know grow into their role and be awesome and you know the reality is is that most people need to be managed to results and some people need to be to be micromanaged until they’re able to deliver results awesomely and so yeah if it’s not in your hard coding to to be able to you know to want to get into the weeds and really right really you know help people right to figure those things out and dis and discern whether they can do the job or not I love what you’re saying hey let me find you know somebody else on the team or a process that will will help you know pair down my optimism and and make sure we’re evaluating people on on what they’re actually going to be able to perform versus what I see their capability or or um or potential yeah what one thing that you’ll never hear me talk about as far as my strong suit is uh operations or uh finances um you’ll never hear me use the word sop in a good way right am I my opinion sop is a four-letter word okay yeah um I’m just not great at it and I and I fought against it for quite some time I just felt like we could all kind of live in Utopia and have this harmonious thing um and it just doesn’t work that way yeah and so that’s been a that’s been a very challenging piece for me um that’s the operations of a business so being the guy being that I was the guy that started it and then had done these different roles in for a previous company was very comp competent in doing the work as far as from a management standpoint but to manage people that are doing the work and then and then having to build infrastructure to manage them I’m just I I fail at it often and that’s I I honestly failed for way too long yeah yeah I I kept on I could read another book I could listen to another podcast and I would I would get it but at the end of the day I just hate it yeah um I hate managing I hate micromanaging and so what do I do I just uh I I I cast a bigger and greater Vision thinking that that will fix all the operational problems yeah and it just never does so for and this is common for people who have started their own business I think the EOS terminology are is Visionaries right a very common thing to happen where the Visionary is really good at ideating and motivating and inspiring but they can’t land the plane and so right so they need to hire somebody into that operations role who is awesome at detail and you know dotting the eyes and crossing the tees and can take and can translate what the Visionary is saying into okay what’s the actual 90-day plan and how does this you know who’s going to do what and buy when and and I’m going to hold them accountable so that you can stay in that that you know leadership ship and inspiration role and the and the other person can stay more in the operations management role and together right you’re the ying and yang to to have an awesome business correct I had a a friend who used to work with me uh Josh um and he said Courtney working for you is kind of like building a plane and pushing it off the cliff before you know before it’s built and then hoping for the best and I would say that’s that’s a fair statement you know so we’re we’re working really hard to to um to do more building before we kind of launch you know into new things I love that that’s a great analogy hey Courtney I’m gonna uh sort of put you on the spot here uh in a good way if I was to ask you to pick three people in your business owner Journey that you’re most grateful for them being there to help with the business’s growth who are those three people and how they help you three people um uh three people uh one is Aaron prickle I talked about him um I’ll bring his name up every time if if I if I’m going to talk about what got us to to certain uh growth points in our business and so been working with Aaron for about six plus years and uh he helped us kind of put a framework around um how we sell but more so more so why um you know not not just how not just the Tactical ways of what we do um but the but the mindset behind it and that’s been super helpful and if there that’s the only process that I’ve been able to lock into and that our company has done faithfully from day one of working with Aon now when I say Faithfully I mean we’ve we have not um shifted from that it’s a constant battle to always follow a process sure but we’ve not stopped from pursuing that so Aaron has been a huge benefit to our team and I think most everybody from our team that works with him would that would be the his name would be the first name that comes out of their mouth awesome yeah um you know I mentioned Mike Hudson as well Mike helped us Implement EOS which has been another one of those Frameworks that um you know I think about it this way my pastor says often he says bless it is the man who restarts family devotions all the time so it’s like there’s these things in your life that you always think you should be doing and it’s like if we could just be honest we’re constantly restarting good things that we know we should do and you know uh we all feel bad about it but it’s the truth right we all have to we all have to have get back on that workout program right we all have to get back on that diet or whatever it is it but but we’re always getting back on it which is better than not and so EOS is one of those things that we’re constantly driving to implement more and to hold to it more and Mike he helped us for a couple years and walked alongside Us in that and that’s been a a huge a huge piece and then I would say one other guy is um David Dickinson he’s a guy that uh he worked with me he was one of my first employees he was actually uh moved here with me from New Mexico uh for our church plant and then he decided to work with me as well and he worked with me for a hand full years now he’s his own business owner doing a great job but I would say in a couple one he was just he was faithful um he was committed but he also was willing to challenge me yeah um and he became a really good salesman and we refer back to him often in our sales team all knows him and so they’ll even we’ll talk sales together as well and so he uh he really helped the company grow um because he he became a great salesman and uh which helped the company grow and by default then us around him we challenged to become better as well so I’d say he’s one of those guys I love it so I I love that the diversity of the the different people that you referenced and you know some internal some external just a good a good well-rounded uh group of support to help you to to get to where you’re at so let’s talk about the future Courtney as you think about the next one to three years what’s your number one priority or challenge that you see in achieving your goals well you know I used to uh earlier on in business uh having vision and big big goals um some people call a beag yeah it was very easy for me and I would say to be honest uh business really challenges at at times it challenges the the hopeful Big Ideas that you have you realize that it’s harder harder to get to where you want to go and you have these markers it’s like oh if you can get past year five then you’ve you’ve arrived or if you can get past your year 10 then you know you’ve arrived and you see these uh markers or you have these dollar amounts that if you could achieve that yeah and then you realize for every dollar amount that you achieve there’s like another level of operational complexity that’s also been to it yeah that makes the money less profitable you know um and so you got to do this one thing and then you realize how hard it is to get there and you know so what we’ve really been focused on the last year too is we’ve constantly been at this ceiling and really been struggling how to break through it and the the typical method of selling our way out of it it doesn’t that doesn’t seem to be good enough um or having a a greater and bigger vision isn’t good enough I would say there’s no one uh silver bullet or there’s not even a couple uh there’s a handful of BS you know that that are that that that need to be dealt with um that will that will fix the greater problem and sometimes we’re you know we started uh paying our team off of uh uh gross profit and so we’ve changed the way our pay structure is a little bit um we’ve we started SC scrutinizing things like material cost and then uh applying some Lan PRP principles to like how efficiently we get the material from point A to point B uh you know so we’re doing little things like that uh we found that there’s a lot of value and having things shipped to US versus going and getting a lot of material so those are some changes yeah and um brought on a a partner um Jamie who’s really helping with the the operational piece in the of of the business so that’s a key component of fixing a lot of these challenges that we have yeah so when you say like what’s the next one to three years I’m really satisfied uh with what does it look like not to just be big but to be healthy and if out of Health if out of Health we can become bigger I’m happy with that but I don’t need it either um earlier on the first I don’t know five to eight years big was the thing that I identified with and the more trucks the more exposure the bigger the revenue number uh the better I felt as a person yeah and that’s tiring to be honest um I don’t know that me as a person has the bandwidth to just continue down that path and really what I would love to be is to be a lot deeper of a company yeah um with a lot uh B with a lot better bottom line yes versus Top Line and so that’s what we’re working on right now you know but as far as goals like uh you know we have some Revenue goals that would would say if we had if we had these Revenue goals then we’d also know that those goals would be because there was certain health and so those are the the rocks that we have and the things that we’re constantly working on I I love it um the the things you’re sharing are is very common um uh with successful businesses or or growing businesses typically what happens is you know in the first few years the the businesses you know the owner figuring things out and connecting dots and and having some ahas and then they’ll have a period of growth and then typically the the business will then plateau and but unbeknownst to the owner what’s happened is the business has outgrown the owner’s capacity right so really what’s happened is there’s this significant growth and then it goes a little above the owner’s capacity and then a little below and then above and below but basically right it’s flattened out and and the idea is you know what got you here won’t get you there and so the the next phase is all right how do I now create a business that has people in processes to run the Business Without Me So that I’ve set it up to to be able to scale and that that comes down to what you’re saying about health right because it it’s it’s now all about profit and being able to reinvest the profits back into systems and processes and procedures and team right to be able to set up this well-oiled machine that can run without the owner so everything that you’re talking about is is the natural next phase you know of a of a growing you know successful business that it’s now okay we’ve got to change where what the priorities are and what the focus is in order to now make this a you know a sustainable and healthy growing business so congrats on absolutely into that phase and and having that awareness that’s awesome well we’ve been there for a little while so we’re hoping to get over the hump or break break through the ceiling you know yeah hey last question here Jim ran an amazing H business Guru one of his quotes is we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with though as you think about that quote what advice would you have for other business owners that are listening to this uh and and are trying to do it on their own uh um what advice you know what I’ve always been a fairly self-aware person um but I’ve also realized that and how much there’s so much that I’m not aware of either it just it it takes some time there’s lots of there’s lots of wisdom that people that have been there and done that and been further along uh the advice that they gave me and if I could be honest I just thought that I well I’m just going to keep on doing what I do uh it’s working good enough we’re going to keep on working the process and it’ll work out um oftentimes my my eyes were were bigger than my appetite so I had a and it’s what helped us grow I had a big vision and I and I loved seeing her name out there I loved big numbers I love the the Pats on the back when people saw more of our trucks around town but it really blinded me to the things that we’re constantly struggling with um it made me yeah it made me blind to the things that we’re actually struggling with so if if you’re a younger person or if you’ve been doing something for a couple years you’re just not as good as you think um and you don’t you don’t know it all and you may have read a lot of books but there’s there’s a lot of blind spots and you ought to find a handful of people that are a few years ahead of you and if they say something you ought to do it yeah and you’ll find a ton of reasons as to why you know more than them right and and here’s what you’ll do is you’ll even be a you’ll be a good leader and a good business owner by way of asking the right questions with no intent of following through with it because you know more but you tell yourself that you’re doing the right thing because you’re being humble and you’re asking and you’re talking and you feel good about that and you give people lip service by saying oh thank you that’s good and then you don’t actually apply any of it that’s been my story um and if if in hindsight I could have done it different what whether we would have been a smaller company at this point I don’t know but no doubt we would have been a a healthier and more profitable company at this point and the ceiling that we experience right now probably would have been dealt with a handful of years ago and we would be we would have more growth actually at this point I couldn’t see it back then yeah you know I couldn’t see it but I thank you for being humble and sharing that that you couldn’t see it I I know in my own experience I’ve had a coach since I started and it’s what I do for a living is coach other business owners on best practices but every week my coach points something out to me right that I’ve missed or I’m not doing as well as I could because I can’t see it for myself because I’m too close to my own business so so yeah it’s it’s a natural normal thing to you know to to get tunnel visioned on certain aspects of the of the business and not pay attention to other aspects or think that we know better and yeah I appreciate you sharing and and and uh you know sharing your heart and and you know those who are listening are you know hopefully you’re internalizing that and and thinking about you know how does that apply to your business yeah sounds like you’ve been blessed with some uh some incredible people on your journey if they were all on the show here today what would you want to say to them well I would say uh thanks for always being encouraging to me um a lot of people have been yeah very supportive and they’ve been generous uh there’s been a handful of people where I’ve been in a situation where I couldn’t afford to do certain things um or I couldn’t give what I wanted or I was asking more than what maybe I should and I felt like they were always willing to help uh they were always willing to give more than what the check that I was writing them suggested and that means a lot right it’s like you can say a lot of nice things to people uh but when the things that they’re saying also impacts the money in their pocket and in a negative way uh that means a lot and so there’s been those guys have done that for me at various times so I appreciate that fantastic well thank you so much for being on the show today Courtney it was a pleasure speaking with you yeah thank you Tim I appreciate it thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show please help spread this Movement by liking and subscribing to our show and following us on Facebook and Linkedin to join our movement go to bad together.com okay folks that’s a wrap please pay it forward and be sure to tune in next time to the self-made is a myth podcast