Company Looks at Fine-Tuning Operations Following Rapid Growth

Colorado’s C&L Water Solutions has expanded considerably since last appearing in the pages of Cleaner magazine and is now preparing for a more controlled growth approach

Company Looks at Fine-Tuning Operations Following Rapid Growth

Jason and Chris Larson have taken controlling ownership of C&L Water Solutions since the company was last profiled in the magazine.

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An important part of growth is knowing when to slow down and take stock — a concept exemplified by C&L Water Solutions of Littleton, Colorado.

The full-service water system rehabilitation company, profiled in the February 2017 issue of Cleaner, is taking a step back after consecutive years of 15-20 percent growth, a doubling of its employee base in 2017 and an increase in annual revenue from $3 million to an estimated $18 million over less than a decade.

Part of that growth was the result of expanding to new services, such as chemical grouting, lateral lining, manhole rehabilitation, pipe bursting and sliplining. As with any new service, there are costs associated with such rapid growth. That’s why Chris and Jason Larson, brothers who in the last year took over controlling shares in the company from their parents, are focusing on managing costs in the coming years.

“Cost control really is the name of the next game. We’ve purchased quite a bit of equipment over the past few years … and we’re looking to control some of our finer costs,” Chris Larson says. “Getting ahold of our equipment costs and things like that, because we’ve ramped up very quickly. … Moving forward we’re going to be looking for controlled growth.”

He says that includes a better equipment management program, and possibly hiring a fleet manager. Instead of continuing to add on services as they’ve been doing, the Larsons want to make sure they have a firm grip on their current array as they move forward.

Making the Right Hires

Despite what Larson describes as a labor shortage, C&L has nearly doubled its number of employees over the past year, from about 49 at the beginning of 2017 to 84 today. That kind of personnel growth doesn’t come easy in any economy, and C&L has gotten creative in hiring during a candidate drought.

“As far as people goes, it’s gone a little bit crazy,” Larson says. “Dollars-wise it’s been more focused. … Continuing forward we’re trying to base the growth on finding the right type of people, which in this economy is kind of a challenge.”

Their main method of finding the right people? Referrals. C&L offers incentives to their employees for referring good candidates — $200 for unskilled labor, $500 if the referral has previous industry training or experience, such as heavy equipment licensure or a CDL.

“It’s been referrals, that’s been the major way to find people that usually stick around,” Larson says. “A lot of staffing of technologies that we had added in-house, that had really kind of been using other crews to get it done — we were stretching really thin to get all that work done — so we decided to staff up. We’re not running heavy per se, but we’re actually finally right-sized. So it was more to staff the technology that we have, and staff the crews and the work that we have.”

Adding so many employees is a strain, especially when it comes to training, which led C&L to establish a new type of training program.

“It’s an ongoing process, and we’re cataloguing our entire company, essentially making a manual for our entire company, from administrative positions all the way down into the field,” Larson says.

The “manual” will take the form of a mobile app, which employees can make their way through at their own pace, as needed.

“The employee can log in, and he can use video work or PowerPoints, manuals, and he can self-train himself and take tests along the way to become at a certain certification level that we require, and they’re required to obtain those certifications in order to move forward in pay,” Larson says.

A Leadership Transition

In adding nearly 40 employees, C&L took double that many applicants. They try to be efficient in determining whether or not a candidate is going to last.

“We feel it’s unfair to someone to waste their time. So if they come in and they’re not going to work out, we’re upfront with them,” Larson says. “We don’t try to part ways with people like they’re numbers, but we do believe in not wasting their time, because that’s just not fair to them … and it’s not fair to the other crew members.

“You don’t really know until you put them to work, honestly. … Sometimes it takes a couple months, but you can usually tell, being out there and seeing how they work, and how they think. It takes a certain type of person, a certain type of personality to fit in here. You can tell within a very short period of time, but until you see them work you really don’t know.”

When it comes to growth, whether in personnel or in services, Larson recommends a pragmatic approach.

“I think the big thing for us was making sure our foundation was right,” Larson says. “Starting with our office and making sure that we have the right people in place to manage it, and utilize the technology.

The family-owned business also went through an important transition since the profile was published in February. A succession plan long in the making was implemented.

“It was a really smooth transition,” Larson says. “Things are going as they were before.”   

Larson and his brother had already taken over most of the executive responsibilities from their parents, the last step being a transfer of controlling ownership, which occurred without a hitch this past year.

“I would say that those are the biggest things to do, if you’re going to grow … is have plans, to have the program in place … so that when the growth does happen you’re ready for it, you’re not responding to it,” Larson says.

Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out on for more updated stories about companies that have been profiled in the past.


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