Breege Zachary is among that 60% of American workers employed by a family-owned business—her family’s business. Her father, Norm Zachary, started Cobblestone Construction in McCall, Idaho, in 2004. The company installs hardscape surfaces—primarily pavers—for patios and driveways. “There was a real niche in the market,” Breege says. A niche created by freezing fall weather and a community attitude toward environmental sustainability.
But Cobblestone’s success can’t be attributed exclusively to climate. “My dad’s strength is people and relationships,” says Breege.
“He listens, he says what he’s going to do, he does [the work] to a very high standard, and he leaves a project site nicer than it was when he found it. People appreciate that, and I think they appreciate that he responds to their calls and that he takes the time to visit with them about what they really want.”Breege’s father loves his business, but like most small, family-owned firms, it’s impossible to attribute the company’s success entirely to one person—even its founder.
A personal relationship becomes professional
Since its conception by the American Payroll Association, National Payroll Week has been celebrated with a goal of raising awareness for employees and the payroll professionals who support them. At Cobblestone Construction, Breege is that professional.
“My mom handled the business side of things, including running QuickBooks and payroll before me,” she says. Then, in 2016, Breege and her family moved from England to Idaho, and Breege took over that side of the family business.
Breege brought with her not only a background in marketing and communications but a head for numbers and an affinity for self-teaching. But it wasn’t until her husband, Simon, took a new job that she began to change Cobblestone’s payroll system.
“Simon was hired [at TSheets] back in December 2015, and when he began learning about how it was good for contractors and the construction industry, we began to think it would actually be quite ideal for the family business,” says Breege. “Sure enough, it was, so we switched to TSheets time tracking software.”
Prior to using TSheets, Cobblestone’s employees had relied on paper timesheets. “It was a nightmare,” says Breege. “They were never on time, they were scribbled notes, you couldn’t read what they said.”
The best part about switching to TSheets wasn’t the elimination of illegible handwriting, however. It was the seamless integration with QuickBooks Desktop, which Cobblestone still uses to manage all the financials.
“I think that’s the reason why I can do it,” Breege says, referring to the fact that even without a payroll background, she’s been able to manage the business’s books, practically on her own. “I am not, by any means, a professional. I use the basics. And when we started using TSheets, everything was linked. The timesheets are linked to QuickBooks, and all I have to do is hit a button, and it populates my QuickBooks payroll.”
As a full-time mom of three kids, Breege says flexibility is one of her favorite parts of the job. But if managing payroll and accounts took more effort, she wouldn’t have the bandwidth to be both caretaker and a valuable employee to her family’s business.
Payroll struggles in the construction industry
If only every challenge could be solved by a software solution. Unfortunately, the construction industry as a whole is currently facing a few struggles. They weigh on Breege’s mind not just from a payroll perspective, but from the perspective of one tied to the business by blood.
“Labor shortages have massively played upon us, and that affects how we have been able to run the business,” says Breege. “Where we used to have employees that reported to us, this year we’ve actually had to transition to more subcontractors, just because we can’t get the workforce.”
Breege’s observation isn’t unfounded. In 2017, TSheets analyzed constructions workers’ timesheets to find they’re putting in more hours and longer workdays. While correlation doesn’t always imply causation, it stands to reason that fewer qualified professionals means more work for those on the payroll. And with more work comes more overtime, increasing payroll costs.
Another challenge is getting paid on time so the company can pay money out. Historically, construction companies have struggled to get paid, which in turn affects their own payroll and growth. “It’s hard in springtime when bills are being paid and people are still holding onto their cash,” says Breege. “We will always pay everybody on time, no matter what, even if it makes the bank account balance go down to nearly zero. But the problem is, yes, people will wait to pay us, sometimes for 30 days.” And for a company that has to pay its own employees, its own suppliers, and its own operating costs, that’s a tough position to be in.
Fortunately, Cobblestone Construction has always been a family business built on relationships with customers, partners, and other vendors. “Ultimately, it always ends up working out,” Breege says, thinking back on past challenges. “It always does, you know. My dad has good enough relationships with some of his vendors that if there ever were an issue, there might be a few days’ delay on getting somebody paid, but it would be okay. There’s that respect with other vendors.
They know that if there’s an issue, our company is good and reliable, and that’s the humanist part of it. [We’re] not some giant corporation or company that is just numbers and people paying out things—there’s the relationship element and being local, and I think that definitely helps.”
So what is a payroll manager?
A payroll manager is anyone who manages the books. And for family-run businesses like Cobblestone Construction, that doesn’t always mean a licensed accountant. Like Breege, payroll managers can be stay-at-home parents who use the time after the kids go to bed to finish up their work. Many wouldn’t even claim the title “payroll professional,” and yet, without them, the business would flounder.
For Breege, who—prior to joining the family business—worked with charities and corporate sponsors, Olympians, and even the Duchess of Cambridge, it’s not just the work that makes her life meaningful. It’s the people she can support. “This isn’t working with royalty, but in some ways, this is more. This is what’s needed—I’m needed,” she says.