Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: Chris LaBrie
Editor’s Note: In this month’s installation of our GEN NXT series, we sat down with Chris Labrie of Labrie Construction Inc. in Orlando, Florida. Chris is a young entrepreneur and brick mason who started his own mason contracting business at just 20 years old. With a grandfather and an uncle in the industry, it was only a matter of time before he got into the business too. We thoroughly enjoyed Chris’s story, and we hope you do as well! We would also like to thank Chris for talking with us and JagClamp for sponsoring this important series.
MASONRY Magazine: Why don’t we get started with you telling us a little bit about yourself.
Chris Labrie: I’m 23 years old and have been doing masonry for years now for several different companies mostly down here in Florida. After working with many contractors down here, about four years ago, a contractor was driving past a jobsite I was working on and he asked me if the company I was working for at the time was mine. I told him no and was going to give him the owner’s card but he told me he was a contractor who worked in North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida, and other states in that area. His business partner was in the process of building his home in West Virginia and asked me if I was interested in working on the home. I took his number and told him I would think about it.
About a month passed since we’d spoken and the contractor called me out of the blue and asked me if I was coming to West Virginia. I told him yes, packed my bags, and headed to West Virginia. That’s where it all started. So, that is where I got the idea of striking out on my own and starting a business, at 20 years old.
M.M.: Wow, that’s incredibly impressive, for someone to start their own business that young.
C.L.: It’s a struggle being this young, no one takes me seriously, no one thinks I have the knowledge, the experience, or the skills to get things done. It’s hard to get new work without word-of-mouth referrals. Down here a lot of the contractors I do work for are on the high-end, I’m not allowed to speak about the different jobs or contracts I’ve had because of contractual obligations. Like I’ve done work for Disney and cannot tell anyone what the project or job was or even show pictures because of the contracts we signed at the start of the job. So, it’s pretty hard to be able to say what jobs I’ve done because some of them are under contract.
M.M.: How large is your company?
C.L.: I have six employees, not including myself and my wife. I try to get in the field as much as possible, but I’ve noticed the more we grow the less time I have to get my tools out. But when I get out there in the field I truly enjoy it!
M.M.: Tell us a little bit more about your background.
C.L.: I competed in the SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500® last year. Other than that I didn’t go to school for masonry or anything like that. My grandfather worked within the masonry industry for many years and my uncle was a mason. Seven years ago, when I initially moved to Florida, I Ubered to work every day with my tools and equipment. But I had the will and made sure I was at the job sites every day.
M.M.: What are some of your specialties?
C.L.: We specialize in stone and brick, but honestly we will do anything masonry related. We’ve torn out and poured concrete, we do tile, precast, small stucco jobs.
M.M.: What are some projects you can talk about?
C.L.: I mostly stick with custom residential since we’re not that big of a company and we cannot produce massive numbers. We’ve worked on a lot of impressive houses, very large custom homes in Tampa to Daytona Beach to central Florida. We’ve worked on homes for people like Pat Sajak, Dolly, and other big names like that.
We’ve done custom stonework on an Amazon Warehouse. The newest Disney project we’re working on is a custom home, which is one of our largest brick jobs to date. It has 14 different arches, a hexagon chimney, stone and brick fireplace, and a diamond black brick pattern throughout the house. It’s going to be very detailed and really nice when it is finished.
When I have time I like to go to the local schools and talk to the students about masonry. To give them a look at someone in the industry who isn’t necessarily the traditional older guy. But someone who may be a little closer to their age who can relate a little bit.
M.M.: Can you walk us through how you and your company has grown through the years?
C.L.: The first job I had was the home in West Virginia that I was recruited to do. I went there by myself and stayed in a hotel for three months for the duration of the project. After the first home was completed, I was able to pick up four or five other jobs. Every contractor that I worked with loved my work, attitude, and hustle that I had to get the jobs done. Once all of the jobs I picked up were finished, I went back home to Florida and I met a contractor to continue working for myself.
M.M.: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
C.L.: I’d like to grow the company, have several jobs rolling, have at least a foreman or a project manager to help with quality control, and have at least 25 guys hired by then. To be completely honest, I just want to grow the company.
M.M.: Do you have a motto you live by?
C.L.: “This Too Shall Pass.” I’ve lived by that motto since I was about 14 and dealing with a lot of hard things. I found living day to day with that mindset has helped because if there is something rough going on, it will pass.
M.M.: Do you have any advice for anyone interested in getting into the masonry industry?
C.L.: Do it! There is so much room to grow when you’re learning as a laborer and working your way up from an apprentice to becoming a mason, you will never look back. It’s just so fun being able to work outside in the field every day on different jobs. The industry is amazing, there’s nothing else I would rather do. There are so many things you can do in the industry and different types of materials we can use. I love the industry.
M.M.: What is it like working with older guys in the industry?
C.L.: Honestly, I love it! I’m the youngest guy in the company, and I love working with the older guys in the industry. One of my foremen right now is 63 years old, and he teaches me things and I teach him things about modern-day advances in masonry. But, I’m very big on staying up to date on new tools, techniques, and technologies in the industry. I’m really into following MASONRY Magazine and the MCAA to stay up to date as well. The benefit of working with older masons is that they teach me different tips and tricks they have learned over the years, and tell me different things about the trade that I didn’t know before.
M.M.: What are your thoughts on growing the workforce?
C.L.: We need it, but the hardest thing is getting the older and younger generation together to train the new generation. Finding younger generations willing to learn and be receptive enough to be taught the trade by the older guys in the industry is the biggest thing. I was taught “old school” by my grandfather and guys like him, so I don’t mind being cussed at, or being chopped with the trowel. The same cannot be said for the younger generations, you have to teach them differently. You just have to get more guys to bridge the gap between the older and younger generations like me.
M.M.: What keeps you interested in the masonry industry?
C.L.: My passion, I constantly want to build the next best thing. Each job only gets bigger and better, and I don’t think there’s any place for us to stop. Even with the “bigger and better” jobs, there can be a slight variation, like adding some crazy masonry techniques or patterns to a wall and being able to be outside doing what I love.