At 31, Joe Yezzi was a construction guy trapped in the body of a cellular-phone tycoon.
After he finished high school, Yezzi started a pager company that grew into a chain of 23 stores selling wireless phones and services from all the major brands. “I had a street-smart education,” he says.
But the bigger his enterprise got, the unhappier he was.
“Being in retail, I was a prisoner in my own company,” Yezzi confides. “I had to be there from nine o’clock in the morning to six o’clock at night, Monday through Friday. There’s no life there. You’re stuck there unless you have employees who don’t steal.”
Liberating himself, he started Yezco — a company that, in just a decade, has grown into Arizona’s biggest concrete polishing contractor.
With Phoenix’s housing market booming 10 years ago, Yezzi looked around for a way to get into the construction industry, where his father had spent his career. He decided to enter construction through the garage door, doing floor coatings.
“My hobby was building Harleys and trucks,” he says. “I’ve always been interested to see what was in people’s garages.”
“There weren’t too many companies doing garage floor coatings, and it was a gratifying feeling when you were done. You were laying something down that you could be proud of.”
He spent the first year doing residential garage floors, working solo. “I was working out of my house, it was the perfect mobile business, there was no inventory to do, and nobody could steal anything from me,” he says.
“Then in ’06 or ’07, my cousin Robert came on, and he allowed me to work on my business instead of in it,” Yezzi says. “From that point on, we were able to blow up, really expand.”
Robert Yezzi does the estimates and manages the job sites, leaving Joe to handle the administrative aspects. “I stay on the computer, do the marketing, pay the bills and oversee it,” Joe Yezzi says.
Around that time, the Yezzis perceived that polished concrete was poised to replace the epoxy coatings that they’d been doing. “We invested heavily, purchased almost half a million dollars in equipment, and never looked back.”
They learned polishing by attending World of Concrete and learning from suppliers and “people we knew,” Yezzi says. As jobs came their way, they bought larger equipment.
“We learned quickly we didn’t want to be in residential,” he says. “I’d rather chase one check a month than 25. It was an accounting nightmare, going around collecting checks and signing contracts. Once you get a taste of one big job a month, you want to stay there.”
Yezco started winning bigger and bigger projects. Now, what Yezzi calls “the biggest of the big jobs” — military facilities, stadiums, schools and municipal facilities — are its bread and butter.
Yezco currently employs nine people. To fill out a crew, which may number as many as 30 on a big job, the company hires temporary staff.
Yezzi takes pride in his crews’ image. “They call us ‘NASCAR’ when we pull up,” he says. “We’ve got the 35-foot trailer all wrapped (in graphics). Everybody’s got the same shirts on, tucked in, real clean.
“You get a system going. They want you back. The relationships we have with these people are incredible.”
Super Bowl and super planes
One place Yezco will be coming back to for a long time is the University of Phoenix stadium in Phoenix, where Yezco is polishing a million square feet of concrete.
Seven years after construction, the stadium’s floor coatings had failed, unable to withstand the attacks of beer, jalapeño juice, harsh cleaners, and crowds of more than 63,000 at Arizona Cardinals games.
“They hired us to recoat it,” Yezzi says. “We did a sample with AmeriPolish and said, ‘This is a much better system for what you’re doing.’”
University officials agreed and hired Yezco to polish the whole facility with the goal of having it done by the time the stadium hosts the Super Bowl in 2015. Yezco’s crew leaves its equipment in the stadium and works on the floors between events. Section by section, they grind off the epoxy coating, polish the floor and dye. “We’ve been in and out of there for the past three years,” Yezzi says. “We have one year left.”
Another vast project Yezco is working on is a series of 30,000-square-foot hangars at Luke Air Force Base that will eventually accommodate 144 F-35 jets slated to replace the base’s contingent of F-16s.
“Years ago, we did all the F-16 hangars. But to put the F-35 in there they have to retrofit the hangar, because it’s a bigger plane and it’s maintained differently. So we literally have to redo everything we did three years ago, and they’re building a bunch of new hangars.”
Part of the project includes stenciling outlines of each plane on the floor to help maintenance staff position them. “We’re dyeing it with AmeriPolish, and it’s difficult to get the measurements laid out perfectly.”
Working in the hangars can be stressful. “We’re right off the runway where these things are taking off all day,” Yezzi says. “You’re smelling jet fuel, you’ve got earplugs in.” Employees need a security clearance and can’t use cell phones in the hangar.
Another project Yezzi is especially proud of is the rental car center at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. “It was a 40,000-square-foot area of concrete under awning that was just literally falling apart,” he says. “It was carbonated really bad on top, the aggregate was starting to come through, and the top was so soft it was like chalk. They were considering ripping it out and replacing it.” That would have cost more than a million dollars, Yezzi recalls.
“We said we could fix that. We ground it down, took all that carbonation off, exposed the aggregate, densified it like six times with lithium silicate, hardened the surface, and brought it up to 400 grit. Now it looks like dull terrazzo. We saved them a bunch of money, and they were super-happy.”
To keep its operations manageable, Yezco turns down work outside Arizona. “One of my friends told me, ‘Stay within a certain range that you can get to in an hour or two, and don’t get greedy,’” Yezzi says. “That proved true when we tried to go out of state. It was a disaster. Snow, ice, broken-down trucks — it wasn’t worth it.”
Franchising the business was another idea that didn’t pan out. “At one point, we were going to franchise out the coatings business, right before the housing market fell apart,” Yezzi says. “We were ready to go, and we had a bunch of clients who were interested in franchising it all across the country, and even in Dubai. Right before we pulled the trigger, I said, ‘It looks like the market is tanking, and if we get stuck with a bunch of franchisees, it’s going to be hard to satisfy them.’ We didn’t want to put franchisees in a bad market. So we canned the idea.”
Since the company turned its focus from coatings to polishing, it has benefited from an alliance with a Phoenix coating systems company called ZonaCo. “They do all the coatings and self-leveling products, and we do all the removal for them,” Yezzi says. “All our coating business goes to them. They are the only coating company we have confidence will do the same quality of work we do.”
Yezco now includes maintenance in its services. “We maintain the work we do,” Yezzi says. “Janitorial companies come in and don’t understand how to maintain a polished concrete floor. They put down an acidic compound and etch the floor and ruin it. So we prefer to go in there and get contracts to maintain these floors for less than what the janitorial companies are doing it for so we can keep our name looking good.”
When he envisions the future, Yezzi says he’ll be happy if the company just keeps doing what it’s doing. “We’re blessed,” he says. “We don’t go out looking for the work — it pretty much comes to us now.”
“Things really get easy in your 10th year,” he says. “Two years, you make it. Five years, it’s always a hump. But once you’re in your 10th year, there’s a huge difference.”