Chance Hardy never had an office. He was too busy doing everything in his fledgling replacement window business to ever sit behind a desk. Operating from the garage of his home in Placentia, Calif., selling by night and installing by day with the help of his three brothers, the business he started on the side, working for friends, had reached $1 million in annual sales in just two years. And then, everything changed.
In February 2000, Hardy and his brothers were spending the day off-roading in the San Jacinto desert. Chance took a jump on his Suzuki ATV, lost control, and tried to leap clear of the bike. He woke in the hospital with a broken back. He was paralyzed from the waist down and was told he probably always would be.
“The first thing you think is that you're going to lose everything you own,” Hardy recalls. “Then you ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do?' You can't go out to sell a job or install a job. Plus, I had to deal with [recovering from] the accident.”
Hardy had grown up in the glass industry. Before starting his window replacement business, he was a journeyman union glazier working on high-profile commercial jobs in the Los Angeles area. He remained friendly with many of the guys he had worked with back then. Hardy decided that, as far as he was concerned, windows were not just his past but his future, too. “I didn't want to get trained to work on computers and make $30 an hour,” he says.
Luckily, the entire time Hardy recuperated in the hospital, the phone kept ringing. “No one knew what had happened to me. The ads were still running. My brothers went out and did the estimating. They were still installing jobs and I was bidding stuff from the hospital room,” he says.
LEARNING TO MANAGE The accident that paralyzed Hardy also freed him to grow Hardy Window Co. to a size he'd never imagined. Since 2000, the company has expanded from four employees to more than 50 — many of them former co-workers from his days as a glazier — and as 2006 wound down, the company was on track to do more than $10 million in sales. The unfamiliar view from behind the desk gave Hardy a new, broader perspective. “I saw the huge potential of this business and what could be done with it,” he says.
To realize that potential, Hardy knew he had to do things differently. His self-taught management approach differs from that of many home improvement contractors, many of whom came into the business from sales and marketing backgrounds rather than, like Hardy, from the installation side. Hardy describes himself as “the type of guy who doesn't let a problem build up and fester.”
“A lot of managing the company is common sense and looking at it from the consumer's standpoint,” he says. “If you wanted something done to your house, what kind of company would you want to go with and what kind of service would you want to receive?”
Hardy's first management revelation was that he had to delegate. A self-described “control freak,” like many entrepreneurs, it wasn't easy for Hardy to make that leap of faith and trust others to do what he'd always done himself.
“A light went on in my head,” Hardy recalls. He realized that he had to surrender responsibility to other people, “so that they [can] become an extension of yourself,” he says.