Success Comes Quickly, but New Orleans Contractor J.R. Lobo Keeps his Feet on Solid Ground
Though hopeful and full of color, the city of New Orleans has seen adversities like few others. José Ramón Lobo Jr., 38 years old, owner and manager of Southern Wolf Construction, LLC, remembers the reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as an intense time that preceded his entrance into the construction and painting business.
He had just graduated with a degree in Economics from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge when he started to work in financial management for a mid-size New Orleans remodeling company. In 2005, the arrival of Katrina brought such a demand for work that he switched from administration to working in the field, building and painting structures himself. “The work for our company had doubled and even tripled. I started to learn remodeling and construction and I liked it. Even better, I realized that there were good profits in it. Since then, I’ve focused on remodeling and construction.”
Things took a decisive turn in 2014 when the company owner decided to retire. “Suddenly, I was given the chance to buy an established business. I decided to go for it.”
Lobo turned his efforts toward sales, and the company soon saw a huge increase, going from $1 million in annual revenues to a peak of $7 million in 2017. “I think that our success is possible because we are from a younger and more aggressive generation,” Lobo says.
Strength and flexibility
A U.S. citizen by birth with strong Honduran family ties, Lobo is married to Nichole Valle, also of Honduran descent, and is the father of two children.
His company focuses on remodeling and painting mostly in multi-family apartments, often replacing exterior siding (typically wood for vinyl), removing balconies with maintenance issues or doing extensions. But new construction is rapidly becoming a key component in the Southern Wolf portfolio. “In 2015, we started with new construction, sheetrock, painting, molding and interior carpentry. Today, almost half of our work is new construction.”
Eight salaried employees, about 15 hourly workers and a group of dedicated subcontractor partners make up the work force.
Lobo thinks that one of his main responsibilities is to get to know the people he works with, not only their aptitudes and weaknesses but their interactive people skills as well. “A lot of what we do takes place in occupied apartments and we need people we can rely on, sensible and respectful,” he says.
The firm has plenty of work in the metropolitan area of New Orleans, and works in other cities mostly within a 50-mile radius. “One of the advantages of working with Sherwin-Williams is that we always have a store nearby, and any order, no matter how big it is, is ready in 24 hours. Last year we had a project that totaled 264 units, another one of 118, one of 209 and we started another one of 68 units. We faced a heavy demand, but we always had the materials ready for us,” Lobo says.
Expertise is needed
The expertise of the Sherwin-Williams reps is extremely valuable, Lobo adds. “Everything is easier and there are fewer chances of error with new construction, but things are totally different when you are remodeling and not even the customers know what products were applied in previous years. That’s when Sherwin-Williams experts come to check and make their product recommendations depending on the situation, compatibility with previous layers, humidity, etc. Later, if problems arise, even if it is due to our application, they help us to correct the issues.”
Resilience®Exterior Acrylic Latex Paint is Lobo’s go-to product for outdoor painting and, for interiors, his favorite is ProMar® 400 Zero VOC Interior Latex Paint. “It is not only us but most of our customers prefer Sherwin-Williams products,” he says. Also, due to high humidity and the threat of termites, his multi-family projects create a great demand for waterproofing products such as Sher-Crete® Flexible Concrete Waterproofer.
Despite the growth of his company, Lobo does not let his success go to his head. On the contrary, it brings new concerns. “What keeps me awake at night is the ability to have enough work for all the people that depend on our company to support their families,” he says.
“I know that if you do things right, if you treat your clients with integrity, everything turns out right. That’s why I tell my crews that humility is important, that you always have to be honest and treat people well.”
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