Wild Heart Industries, LLC, a certified woman-owned, family-operated demolition company in Hillsborough, New Jersey, was formed during arguably one of the worst times in recent history to start a business—the financial crisis of 2007-2009. While there were challenges to endure early on, as there are with any new business, the obstacles were magnified by nationwide economic decline. Looking back on the origins of her company, Dawn Janho, Owner and President of Wild Heart Industries, reflects on the economy during the Great Recession and the impact it had on the mindset and welfare of families and businesses
“The collapse of the U.S. real estate market resulted in mass layoffs and salary freezes,” Dawn says. “The hourly workforce was being cut to less than 40 hours a week, and unemployment was the highest [it had been] since 1983. The economy lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Americans suffered badly, many homes were in foreclosure, and our family was affected by this financial crisis like everyone else. My husband lost his business and things went downhill for us. We were broke, and behind on our mortgage. Wealth was disappearing in the U.S. quickly and people were scared.”
Adding to the stress of a harsh and heart-wrenching economic environment, Dawn’s brother, who was fighting cancer, passed away at age 38. Dawn and her husband felt more compelled than ever to take care of their family. Timothy Jr., their 17-year-old son, and Nicole, their 16-year-old daughter, became their No. 1 priority.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
Starting a small business during these years was not only a risk, it was often a way to go deeper into insurmountable and unrecoverable debt. Many people whom Dawn knew lost their jobs, were underwater on their homes and were declaring bankruptcy. However, Dawn refused to go down that path, her outlook fueled by her belief and faith. Through that lens, she saw a way forward by starting a company in Hillsborough.
“I had tears coming down my face, not knowing what to do,” Dawn says. “I wanted to help my family, but I was at a complete loss and emotionally drained. Our hands were tied, and we were at the point of filing bankruptcy. We asked ourselves, do we take a risk and start a business when the economy was so awful? Why should I start a business in this personal and economic turmoil? I had peace and the Lord was directing us to move forward. We found a rental property on Route 206 in Hillsborough. There was an empty retail yard there. Everyone thought we were crazy. I remember looking out the window of my bedroom and making the decision. It was my faith and prayer that moved us forward to start the business.”
Dawn believes that “Nothing Is Impossible,” an affirmation that she put up on the wall of her retail store that would, in time, become the demolition, land clearing and grinding business it is today.
“It was a reminder that anything can happen if you are where you are supposed to be,” she explains. “That is my testimony. I want people to realize that everything is possible in the hands of God. It was the right timing, and we were where we needed to be. At the beginning I was scared to death. I don’t have a college education in business. Everything I was doing was self-taught. We went through trials and there was risk. I asked myself if I had made the right choice. I started reading a lot about other entrepreneurs and was inspired by Henry Ford, who filed bankruptcy twice before he made it.”
WOMAN-OWNED AND FAMILY OPERATED
It’s not lost on Dawn that Wild Heart Industries grew out of a recession. To make the business work, the entire family got involved. The company name was inspired by a book that her husband loves about a man raising his sons, “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge. The focus on family set the tone for how this business was run, with Timothy Jr. helping out in the field, and Nicole working as an executive assistant.
The familial bond extends to how the company cares for and guides employees. As a gift, the company provides married couples with a weekend getaway focused on marriage counseling. Dawn and her husband Timothy have been married for 31 years and believe in the investment of marriage, and they are grateful they can give this gift to their employees.
“They know we care,” Dawn says. “There’s a positive atmosphere in the office. When people walk in our door, it feels different here. No family is perfect, but we talk through our problems. We care about our employees’ marriages. We send married couples to a family life conference that teaches them how to communicate and respond to each other. We offer it to them to improve their marriages and communication. We invest in them and care about what is happening.”
A TURNING POINT
From 2009 to 2014, Wild Heart Industries sold mulch, topsoil, sand, rock, salt, propane and Amish sheds and provided lawn maintenance, retaining wall construction and snow removal services. In 2013, there was a shift in the company’s focus and specialty. The team was asked to knock down a garage for a new shed, and these staff members found out they enjoyed demolition. That was the turning point for the company.
“We sold Amish sheds, and clients asked us if we knew anyone who could get rid of the existing one,” Dawn says. “Some clients ordered two-story garages, and we put down concrete pads and started to get larger jobs. As we contracted more demolition jobs, we made the decision to move the business to another site and focus on demolition, hydroseeding, land clearing and now grinding. We can grind trees on-site and have created our own natural, brown and black dyed mulch. As a company we’ve grown each step of the way, including our bonding capabilities and increasing our opportunities as a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE).”
Field team members at the former ConvaTec property demolition site in Skillman, New Jersey.
In 2013, Wild Heart Industries applied to be a New Jersey Division of Property Management and Construction (DPMC)-designated demolition contractor and was the first company to win a bid for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Superstorm Sandy Blue Acres Program, a project where the state bought back homes that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. “We started our first demolition on March 13, 2014. There were TV and news reporters on-site, and it was a very sensitive time for everyone,” Dawn says. “The owners were there and together they yelled, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines,’ and my crew started their engines for the demolition process.”
The company has done multiple jobs with the state. Each bid won, Wild Heart Industries has earned. The jobs are often awarded to the lowest bidder with the necessary financial capabilities to perform the required work; also, the bidder’s past performances and reputation both have to meet the required standards. Last year, the company completed a demolition job for Somerset County—its largest demo project to date at a size of approximately 150,000 square feet. Wild Heart Industries also takes pride in the recycling process by gifting interior furniture and furnishings to nonprofits in the area.
“We’re able to recycle a lot during a demolition project, which makes us unique,” Dawn says. “We recycle the exterior wood, which gets burned for fuel, and we separate the plastic, brick, metal and concrete. They all get recycled, which makes for a greener and cleaner environment.”
QUALITY OF WORK
Timothy Jr. is gifted at running jobs and operating equipment, Dawn says. He, in fact, along with her husband’s encouragement, was part of the reason the company went into demolition.
Timothy Jr. led a team in demolishing parts of a parking deck for an active office facility in New York. “The parking deck was level with an existing road, and their parking lot went down into the back and went underneath the first-level parking deck,” Timothy Jr. explains. “The first level was floating on beams and trusses. We used our mini excavators to demolish the concrete and tear back the metal decking, and we had to do this in a series to allow the customer to continue working while we were doing renovations.”
That job took them almost six months. They updated the construction manager each week with progress, exceeded his expectations and finished ahead of schedule.
Timothy Jr. also managed and led the team in a land clearing job of 200 acres at the former Belle Mead Army Depot’s remediation project for a year. The team, including son-in-law, Jorge, cut trees down to their stumps using feller bunchers. “We accomplished 10 to 15 acres a week,” Timothy Jr. says. “We unloaded 10 to 20 loads a day on 100-yard trailers, resulting in about 40,000 yards of material. We stockpiled the stumps and fed them into our grinder, separating the rocks, concrete and metal. That was the hardest part of our job.”
Having a grinder on-site is a huge advantage for a 200-acre clearing job, Dawn says. “We’re a one-stop shop. We can clear your land or demo it and then recycle the materials, which can then be used to create new products and more jobs,” she explains.
The team relies on a solid work ethic, respect for its competitors, excellent communication skills with clients, and the commitment to quality work no matter the size of the job. These employees have also established relationships with civic representatives from New Jersey counties and townships by being easy to work with and doing everything it takes to get the job done within budget and on schedule.
“You do a job well, no matter what,” Dawn says. “When we win a low-bid job for the state or the county, they know who we are and the quality of our work. We have a good working relationship because of the work we’ve done with them in the past.”
The company also values relationships with competitors. “A lot of times we deal with companies that are 20 to 25 years older, and we’re considered the little guy,” Dawn says. “We don’t want to make an enemy of our competitors. We admire them and can gain wisdom from them. I know they sacrificed to walk this path. Our desire is to establish working relationships with our competitors; that’s one of the ways we have gained respect in the business.”
AN INSPIRATION TO MOVE FORWARD
Members of the Wild Heart Industries, LLC administrative team and field crew.
Through a decade of orchestrating the growth of Wild Heart Industries, Dawn has become an inspiration to her team and other small-business owners. She also contributes time and money to nonprofits that address human trafficking in her community. She expresses gratitude for the journey along with the appreciation of the valuable team that surrounds her.
“Wild Heart Industries resides on a spacious commercial property that we call home,” she says. “We have our office and warehouse located here. It’s a beautiful testament from where we started 10 years ago to where we are today. We’re strong and resilient. I have learned a lot about myself and about my inner determination and willpower. And today, because I have the ability to look back on the past, I stand strong in confidence as we face our future with continual growth, because I truly know that ‘Nothing Is Impossible.’ ”
She’s also thankful for the opportunity to share her experiences with other entrepreneurs. “I have new smallbusiness owners ask to speak with me when they are in the midst of hard challenges. Some are women business owners, others are not, but I am able to share what I have learned over the course of 10 years to bring hope and encouragement to their lives. I want them to leave my office knowing they can do what they were meant to do and to keep moving forward.”