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Polishing diamond helps small biz grow

Trent Haston calls it "polishing the diamond".

It's a phrase the 35-year-old company president and CEO picked up from a book by billionaire business magnate Warren Buffett. And it's the perfect metaphor for what he's done for the Andrew Roby name.

The work of the award-winning general contractor can be found all around North Carolina - from custom work on large lake homes, to remodelling at a senior living centre, to the current renovation of Johnson C Smith University's historic George E Davis House, where the former dean and education advocate lived at the turn of the 20th century.

The late Andrew Roby started the Charlotte-based general contracting company that still bears his name in 1950. The company focused largely on remodelling projects for residential properties, and Haston's grandfather, the late Glenn Haston, was Roby's first employee.

In 1976, Roby sold the company to Glenn Haston and his son Ron, Trent's father, who helped grow the company into one of the region's largest custom residential renovators.

But in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, residential jobs dried up, cutting the company's annual revenue nearly in half, from $US13 million ($A14.07 million) to $US7.4 million. Trent Haston started polishing in earnest, desperate to boost other facets of the Andrew Roby diamond if the company were to survive and ultimately meet his long-term goal: to work for top earners across the United States and the top two businesses in every industry.

What followed were a series of gambles that ultimately left the business more diversified and stable. Trent Haston now oversees the Roby Family of Companies, which includes the residential work they've always done, a separate entity that does electric work, and two new divisions overseeing commercial projects, and maintenance services.

And in 2012, the company launched and a sales division known as RobyCross to promote the company's specialty interior and exterior renovations for retirement and health care facilities.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2000, he returned to the family business full time as an estimator. His job was to take a project proposal, put a price on it and pitch it to the client.

Within three years, Andrew Roby had gone from $US3.5 million in annual revenue to $US7.5 million.

One of their biggest home runs was the decision to start doing their own electric work in 1998. They were tired of relying on electricians who weren't as invested in the projects as they were, so they took that operation in-house, calling it Roby Electric. It also gave customers a reason to maintain the relationship after the project was completed.

Later, the company expanded, taking on support staff to make the growth sustainable so the family could focus on further business development.

They created an official name and website for each of their nonresidential work arenas; launched Roby Commercial in 2009 and Robee Handyman in 2011 with different logos for each; then expanded geographically.

The diversification paid off. This year, the CFO for the Roby Family of Companies is projecting $US50 million in revenue.

"We're building our holistic brand," Haston said, "and polishing our diamond".