Trading Pizzas For Building
By Donnie Maione
Owner, Maione Builders and Aloha Glass and Mirror
Tell us about your business.
We are Maione Builders and Aloha Glass and Mirror. There are two separate companies, which includes four staff members plus myself. We offer a full range of construction and related services, including consultation, assistance with property acquisition, blueprints and design, planning and permitting, job costing, general contracting, glazing contracting and project management.
How did you get started in this business and how long has it been operating?
While waiting for the bus one day as a high school junior in 1980, I observed a young carpenter working with his Skill saw and tool bags and thought, “That looks like fun, maybe I can do that.” I had grown up in a family that was in the restaurant business my grandfather, father and three uncles all owned pizza restaurants and I already knew that I didn’t really want to do that. Cooking was something I enjoyed and was good at, but I didn’t want to make it my profession. So after high school I attended college for a couple of years majoring in construction technology, while at the same time working odd jobs for friends doing small renovations and the like. After those few years in college, I landed a job with one of my cousins as a carpenter. We ended up building a new home for one of my college classmates. Shortly after that I had an opportunity to join the Carpenters Union. I had already been working in the field for about four years and had those years of college experience, so the company I went to work for hired me as a journeyman carpenter. I ended up getting promoted to foreman shortly thereafter, and stayed with them for several years. This was in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s.
Where are you from originally, and if not Kaua’i, why and when did you move here?
In 1988 I was working at Los Angeles International Airport, at the Hawaiian Airlines terminal. Every day I would watch as people were getting on the plane to O’ahu. I was about to visit here. The same cousin who took me under his wing years earlier was living on Kaua’i. I visited him while here and I made it a mission to get back as soon as I could. The next summer, just after the birth of my first son, I was back on Kaua’i, but things didn’t work out as planned. It took two more summers, but in 1991 I was back on Kaua’i for good. At that time I was working for a local contractor named Bob Bentley (BZ Builders).
We did a lot of stuff all over the island, including the original buildings at Island School and some of the first rental car agencies at Lihu’e Airport and houses all over the island. Then Hurricane ‘Iniki hit in 1992. I was living with a roommate in Kapa’a at the time. We handled it pretty well, but the island really took a beating. Since I had been working for Uncle Bob for a while and had gotten to know a few people, I had a friend who hooked me up with another contractor who was looking for someone to run his crew while he focused on the clients. I went to work for Silver Tip Construction shortly after ‘Iniki and ran the field operations for about three years. Around that same time, I wanted to get going on my own, so I went down and got my G.E.T. license and essentially started my business from there.
What kind of contracting do you focus on?
Presently, we do all types of general contracting work.
We recently completed a new commercial building in the Puhi Industrial Park for Coconut Coast Electric, as well as a residence in Kapa’a for a return client. We have just started a new residence in Po’ipu for a client, as well as a renovation and photo voltaic solar installation for KIUC. Our clients range from local families that are blue collar workers like us, to the higher end corporate execs from large Mainland firms. We were recently in negotiations with a couple that is among the producers for Pixar Films.
How has business changed since the economic downturn?
It’s definitely become more competitive, as well as taken a step back. We had several clients who had signed contracts with us, or were in the process of signing, who cancelled as a result of tighter qualification requirements, job loss or simple uncertainty of future revenue outlook. Several went on to purchase a home instead of a lot, as it was easier to qualify for a home loan than it was for a land loan. As a builder though, it doesn’t matter to us if we’re doing new construction or renovation work, it just means we have to change our focus to adapt with the changing market. It means being able to do other things that we may not have considered in the past. Years ago we became a licensed glass and glazing contractor as a result of some information that came our way. It was rumored that several of the local glass shops were in trouble and might be closing. We had already been installing windows, mirrors, glass and similar items, and figured that since glass shops were going to be closing down, it might be an opportunity to get our foot in the door. Since that time, we’ve done glass work for Dollar Car Rental, Fun Factory, Kaua’i Nissan, MidPac Auto, Oasis Restaurant and Kukui Grove, just to name a few.
What sets your business apart?
We’ve returned to those roots of business experience that I learned as a young kid in my fathers’ restaurant kitchen: Customers are king they make paydays possible. If you work hard, provide a quality product or service at a fair rate, people will take notice. It takes a while to get that information spread around to others, but it happens. The other side is it only takes one or two bad experiences from former customers to give you a name that people will not consider. Since we are experienced in all phases of construction, we offer services that not everyone can. We are also considering licensure for roofing, cement and masonry, and painting to complement our current licenses. As a young carpenter, I would go early and stay late on a project so I could really “see” how it all went together. I’ve brought that attitude with me into this time in my career. I know that in order to survive today’s market, you need to have something extra, something different. I recently did a job for a client that involved replacement of windows and woodworking as well. Not everyone wants to do the peripheral work that occasionally is in need of being done. For instance: Say a customer wants to simply replace ‘Iniki era windows. They are going to undertake a rather large project, in most cases. In some instances, they will need to do woodwork, drywall, painting, replace siding, maybe even electrical work. As a general contractor, we would be a better fit for some since we could do the project from that standpoint. For the client, it makes sense to hire one company to oversee everything instead of hiring three, four, even more subs. That way, they deal with one company, one contractor, and leave the headaches to us.
Do you have a business motto or philosophy for doing business?
It’s more of a life philosophy, actually. “I get to.” That kid who quit the phone company job learned that life wasn’t about “having to,” but about “getting to.” I don’t always see it that way at first, but my experiences have shown me that I really do, in fact, get to. I know that there are a lot of people struggling to just get by today, and I don’t have to get up and go to a job I get to. So it applies to my business dealings as well. I don’t have to work for this customer or that one, I get to. I guess it’s about the attitude you put in front of you. If you always complain about what you “don’t get to do,” then you’ll never get to do anything you really want.
What is the most challenging aspect of your business?
Trying to balance it all out. Work, play, kids.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
As far as a career, I don’t really know. It’s all I’ve ever done. As for just doing, if I wasn’t working, I’d be surfing, skateboarding, playing with my kids.