It’s not hard to imagine how De Pere’s Keith Reignier qualifies as a craftsman. For him, training began very early.
“When I was 10 years old, I started working on a neighbor’s farm in Lena,” Rainier said. “I worked there for eight years – milking cows, picking up rocks, doing farm tours, baling hay, building farm buildings, welding, plumbing and learning all the trades.”
Although his family’s farm was small, the neighbor’s farm was huge. This meant almost endless learning opportunities. Over the years, Rainier discovered that he enjoyed fixing and building things and thought about using those skills in the future as a business owner. He didn’t mind the long hours and learned the value of hard work.
“I was also super motivated,” he said.
After graduating from high school and working for a handyman for a year, he was ready to start out on his own. In 2001, he started Keith’s Handyman and Tree Service. The business began by offering basic repairs, but as customers requested services, the list grew. If he didn’t know how to do something, he taught it. And learned it well.
He obtained a general contractor’s license and began advertising the business. When there was a request for landscaping, he added it. If someone needed a deck, he built it. Still, business was growing at a slower pace than he would have liked. Shortly after, a large breakthrough came in the form of a huge tree.
“There was a giant cottonwood that none of the other tree services would take down,” he explained. “It had a seven foot wide base with a root system coming up and it was right next to a house. Here I was, 80 feet in the air, wrapping cable and using a hacksaw. A huge crane was needed to support the tree. But I took a chance and the tree fell without damaging the house.”
It was not only one of his proudest moments, but also a $9,000 job that helped him make a name for his business. The marketing continued as he knocked on doors and asked people if they had work they needed done.
He was asking, “Do you need your roof replaced? Garage built? Windows replaced?’
These inquiries provided jobs, and along with the ads in the yellow pages and word of mouth, his business flourished. Real estate investors had him remodel homes and homeowners had him do just about any task you can think of.
“My business card says I’m a ‘jack of all trades,'” he said. “I can do everything about a house from chimney work to window cleaning to landscaping, plumbing, plastering; anything you can think of.
He is proud to say that the quality and affordability of the work is what has people supporting the business. Although he still does much of the work and oversees all the jobs, his business has grown to where he now has a team of eight other tradesmen. Since fall is his busiest time of year, he says his schedule is packed with clients who want to get work done before the cold hits.
You won’t find him on social media because his schedule is so full.
“My biggest weakness is that I can’t turn down work,” he said. “I’m currently booked for about 20 clients in the winter and spring and I don’t want to be too stressed. But I am a friendly person and I like to help people.
Although he has hundreds of handyman services, he says his business has grown because of his reputation for good work. He can’t imagine a time when he won’t own a business, but would like to expand into investment properties and fix the mistakes he made when he first got out.
These mistakes happened when he was working for other investors and thought he could go it alone. He noted that when he started investing, he made some mistakes. He failed to do background checks on tenants and says he was bad at managing money.
“I was young,” Rainier said. “I was focused on the money I could make, and that was a hard lesson.”
After accumulating properties, he lost them in bankruptcy. It was an experience he did not plan to repeat. He now looks at properties from a capital building perspective while managing them well. Eventually, he hopes to have a thriving real estate portfolio in addition to the current business.
This will mean more employees; it faces the same challenges as other businesses in finding qualified help. He wants to be able to keep prices and staff in the business affordable.
“I try to be honest in everything I do. I provide free estimates and prices are based on the job. There are many things that go into the bid, such as the cost of the permits and the distance we have to travel. For the same jobs, there’s an added element of danger,” Rainier said.
The danger is most often expressed in falling trees. He has one experience where a chainsaw slipped and went through his pant leg.
“I put tape over the injury and kept going,” he said. “I have a lot of courage.”
He also says he has found success by learning from mistakes, caring about clients, being very business-oriented and willing to take on almost any job. He was asked if there was anything he should not do.
“I don’t babysit,” he said.
Tina Dettmann-Bielefeld is the co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former Area Director for SCORE, Wisconsin.