Drive 40 miles east from Bakersfield, Calif., and you'll come upon Tehachapi (Teh-HATCH-uh-pee), a town of nearly 11,000 in an area known for its four seasons, its wind turbines, and a railroad line that had to be laid in a loop in order for trains to climb over a nearby mountain pass. Here, Ken Vandeventer runs Tehachapi Lumber and Tehachapi Rock.

"How do I protect myself? Twenty-day preliminary liens and signed contracts. Most pay COD or cash." Photo: Dave Feiling Vandeventer, a 41-year-old former contractor, says Tehachapi Lumber got into installed sales with insulation, and now uses a five-member team of in-house workers to expand to other products.

Coming to Tehachapi "I've lived here since 1989. I was in the military, and one of my friends lived here. I didn't want to go back to Oregon because it rains too much there. Here, you get the mountains but not as much rain."

Why installed sales "Our lumberyard can't grow any more. We're a little more than $6 million, and I don't see it going beyond that. Our movement is toward installations."

Getting into the business "We started just under a year ago, doing only insulation. I was a contractor for a long time before buying the business in 2002. Doing installation pretty much played naturally in that direction. I prayed a lot about it and got direction. At first we picked up a lot of business; it was better than we thought. Then we got caught by the economy slowing."

Customer base "We're about 70% new homes, of which about 10% are tract builders. The rest are custom builders, though some of those do 35 houses a year. We put out 5,000 door hangers [promotions] on houses in December, seeking work. We got about 20 calls from that."

Serving customers "I don't think that contractors are in love with their insulation installers the way they are with their framing crews and other subs. They just want to get the best deal."

Fighting the downturn "We used to serve a 30-mile radius. Now we go out 100 miles in either direction. The fuel costs are killing me, but..."

What's ahead I've already worked a deal with a guy who'll install central vacuums for us. We also install Milgard windows now, and we're looking at installing siding and trim."

–Craig Webb