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Perseverance Personified

The underlying resilience that drives BossHogg Industries’ demolition dominion

 by Vicki Speed; March 2021

John W. Kahl’s introduction to construction, and specifically demolition, was more by chance than on purpose.

A military veteran with two tours of active duty and experience with multiple emergency response efforts, he was searching for a career in the civilian world. He found himself in Petersburg, Virginia, at the age of 23 taking on odd jobs to make ends meet—then a chance meeting with a man on the side of the road changed his life.

“It was the craziest thing,” John recalls. “I’m helping a guy change a tire and he starts talking about preservation work, where a company is paid to maintain a foreclosed property until it’s sold. It sounded interesting, so he gave me three contacts to get my foot in the door.” Out of those three contacts, only one responded.

 

Soon after, John got his first job caring for a property in Petersburg and, in 2016, he founded BossHogg Industries.

But that first job was just the beginning for a man and his company, a company that would soon become one of the fastest-growing commercial demolition, site development and excavation businesses in Virginia’s Richmond area.

 

The Low Point

Throughout 2017, John gradually built his company’s reputation for quality work, mostly doing jobs by himself. Home preservation is often more focused on landscaping, though interior property management is also required—including blowing out pipes, nonstructural repairs and cleanup. John performed enough jobs to buy some basic equipment such as a commercial mower, yard maintenance tools and air compressors.

Then he decided to take on a larger project that he admittedly says was too big for a one-man show. It required the cleanup of the inside of a house as well as the surrounding 2 acres of property.

“The yard alone was covered with tires, shelving from retail stores, oil tanks, misc. car parts, furniture, clothes, lots and lots of municipal solid waste (MSW), dilapidated outbuildings, etc.,” John says. “It took me a month to complete that job, but I would net about $12,000.”

Unfortunately, the company that hired him reneged on payment. “That was the lowest point of my life at the end of 2017. I put everything I had into that job,” he says.

After the fallout with that company, he started walking door to door putting flyers up and handing out business cards, offering to do yard work or cleanup, anything that would pay the bills.

The Demo Derivative

Another chance encounter pointed him to a local networking event for real estate investors and people who flip houses. At the first gathering, he met a contractor who asked if John could gut kitchens and bathrooms.

With the confidence of youth, he told him, “Of course I can do that.” Over the next few months, John demoed parts of six different houses. He says, “I made $2,000, which seemed like a fortune at that time—and I was hooked. This was a job that required some skill and opened up doors for growth. I loved it and decided that demolition is all I want to do.”

John would meet other contractors at other networking events, building his brand and his job backlog. While projects at the time were typically small—usually 1,500- to 2,500-square-foot homes—he was honing his craft, learning how to remove materials with care and leave behind ready-to-build spaces. He was also expanding his capabilities.

As an example, John says, “In those early days, I had never heard of things like asbestos abatement and lead removal. But, when one of our customers mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to start on a job until a specialist came in to remove the contaminated materials, I learned quick. I didn’t want them going to someone else for demolition services.”

John received his certifications for asbestos removal and lead abatement from the state of Virginia within a few months. He also invested in equipment including an excavator, dump trailers and a skid steer and moved to a 5,500-square-foot warehouse with office space by the summer of 2018—all with an eye on larger commercial demolition services.

 

Commercial Shift

Entering the commercial demolition market required a different network, specifically commercial general contractors and developers.

Enter Scott Keeven, Business Development Manager for The Blue Book Building & Construction Network’s (The Blue Book Network’s) Virginia region. John says, “He helped me take that one large step to the commercial side with not just opportunities but also the tools to help build the business.”

With help from The Blue Book Network, John utilized Vu360 and BidScope tools to find and estimate jobs, and then, through networking connections, began taking on selective and complete demolition projects that ranged from restaurant and retail to hospitality and health care. His company also added more services including concrete cutting and breaking, site work, erosion control, land clearing, grading, and site preparation.

Today, the company takes on selective demo, complete building teardowns, site work, erosion control, site preparation, land clearing and grading for residential and commercial projects. John and his crew are also skilled at concrete saw cutting, breaking and digging footings for buildings.

John attributes his expansion into the commercial market over the last two years to Scott. “If I hadn’t met him, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” John confirms. “About 50% of our income is on commercial work—work that we wouldn’t have without The Blue Book Network.”

 

Industry Pride

The expansion on the commercial side has also allowed John to build a trusted team.

His team includes Project Manager Amber Parrish, who takes care of estimates and project timelines or production and has been with John since March 2020, and Site Foreman Cliff Newman a recent hire, along with several equipment operators.

John says, “I’ve learned so much in the last five years. Demolition is so much more than just removing material. It takes some care and experience to understand how best to remove materials safely. I’m very proud to be a part of this industry.”

It’s that love of the business that keeps John continuously challenged and excited about the next opportunity. “There’s a lot of lessons learned and best practices that come out of every job, ways to do things better, safer and faster,” he adds.

He’s also continued to learn about codes, permits, utility markings and environmental reports. In addition to his asbestos and lead abatement licenses, he obtained his Virginia Highway Heavy Class A contractor license in 2019—further demonstrating his commitment to the industry and growing knowledge base.

Looking forward, John says he will likely always strive to maintain a combination of residential and commercial contracts. He concludes, “I love this profession. It’s skilled work that continues to challenge my mind and my skills. I never want to be in a position that I don’t have a backlog of work and no prospects—it’s a goal that we are willing to work hard to achieve.”

That perseverance and work ethic are a core part of the company culture—and especially its owner.

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