When Cynthia and Larry Ruggles were married in 1988, Larry decided to leave his job at EHV-Weidmann and try something new – the building business. What started out as L. Ruggles Building in Lyndonville, later became Ruggco Construction, Inc., now located in Barnet. The Ruggles have celebrated 30 years of marriage, along with 30 years of operating their successful business venture.
Larry always wanted to be an architect; it was his passion. When he was in high school at Lyndon Institute, his teacher, Norm Leggie inspired him to look toward that career path. Unfortunately, at that time it wasn’t a possibility, so Larry decided the next best thing was to be a builder.
When he started building houses, he found it wasn’t an easy thing to do. He hit the ground running, but did not have a lot of experience. Larry was fortunate to meet a lot of good people who would work for him – “they taught me a lot,” he said.
“I had a passion for business as much as building,” Larry said. “I was excited to be around big construction.”
For big construction, Larry knew he needed to be bonded. It was an involved process – you have to be financially able, so the bonding company can be comfortable supporting you. Once your business is issued a bond, if you don’t work out or can get the job done, the bonding company has to cover the bill.
Two of Larry’s first big projects were done at the Calvin Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth, Vt. Upgrades were done to the Plymouth Cheese Factory, which was opened by Calvin’s father, John Coolidge in 1890; and the historic porch at the meeting house was restored to its original condition. After these projects, Larry was inspired to do bigger and better things.
When the Caledonia County Fairgrounds Grandstand burned down, Ruggco was hired to rebuild the structure. This project didn’t require a bond, but it did open up more bonding potential. Larry also did a school project in Newfane, Vt., working there throughout an entire summer, meeting deadlines, etc. to get the job completed. This also expanded his bonding possibilities. When a business has a reputation for getting the job done, it becomes favorable to a bonding company, and adds security for the owner of the project, knowing that time, budgets, etc., will stay within the requirements of contract. After several projects he had the capacity to bond up to $15 million, opening up many more opportunities.
Larry explained that if you failed to live up to bonding contract, it would be the last time. It’s like the FDIC of the construction business; the customer needs to be protected. The worse thing is for a bonding company to have to pay off a project that isn’t completed by your business (deadlines, budgets, etc., not met) because then the bonding company can come back at you and take all your assets. “It’s one of the most risky businesses to be in,” he explained.
Larry has multiple contractors for multiple projects. For 2018, eight projects were taking place at the same time, with two carrying over to 2019; one project was priced at over $7 million.
Larry said he never really works much locally now – 99.9 percent of the businesses’ work is outside Caledonia County. Ruggco has had lots of military work, federal government and GSA contracts, including a project with the Social Security office in Montpelier. Ruggco has also done projects on three border stations.
Some of his larger projects in Vermont include construction work for the makers of Heady Topper beer (The Alchemist) in Stowe; Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, and Topnotch Resort in Stowe. Ruggco renovated Topnotch’s restaurant, registration and dining areas, restrooms and lounge, at a cost of $15 million, completing the project in 7 months.
Another big project took place just off Route 4 in Woodstock, Vt., building the high-end 506 On the River Inn for a family from Africa. The 60,000 square-foot building needed to look residential. It was designed in Nairobi, where everything was done in metric measurements. The project took Ruggco three years to build. The owners also have other resorts in Kenya, Zanzibar and Berlin. The owner and his partner established the first business which brought people to Africa on tours. The hotel was voted the #1 Best Hotel Resort in 2015 in Vermont by Condé Nast Traveler, whose readers rate the top hotels in New England. 506 On the River Inn was also rated #2 in the United States of all newly-constructed buildings. No other Vermont hotel was even considered.
Looking back over the years, Larry said, “There’s been a lot of great projects; I feel fortunate to have done them.”
He explains that 30 years later, things are a lot more complicated than they use to be. He said the construction business can be really stressful; “there are more money woes in projects; lots of cuts, cuts, cuts; the work is expected to go a lot faster, even though you can’t miss anything.”
Larry now controls all projects with a master program, ProContractor. The program is given all the information for a project — the blue print showing dimensions, materials to be used, costs, etc. ProContractor processes all that information and breaks it down so Larry can see all estimates, what kind and how much materials are needed, etc., down to the last detail. That information is then tied to the project. It also enables him to revisit the program over and over again, seeking information he needs as the project goes forward.
Larry tries to visit all worksites as often as he can. Plans for the future include installation of feed cameras on all jobs so he can watch the entire project being done, right from his Barnet workspace.
Larry would like to help other contractors make their contracts with their owners better. “If I ever slow down, I want to help contractors; make sure their project contracts with owners are solid.” Still, Larry is not sure if he’ll ever retire. Larry’s wife Cynthia and he are “on our sixth, five-year plan” for retirement.
“Most people don’t hear much about us,” he said. Larry was working with a contractor in Georgia who told him, “If you want to be successful, don’t ever play where you eat.” Sometimes, interaction can be difficult, which is why he takes on projects that aren’t close to home. “A niche market in what we do,” he explained. He likes to keep doing business with the same people he has been working with over the years.
“I’ve got good sub-contractors; good people working for me; and 99 percent of my clients are good people,” Larry concludes. “I’ve seen every part of Vermont; all the roads, met a lot of people in a lot of towns. I think back to all the people I’ve met. I couldn’t have connected with as many people as I have in 30 years.”