Building on Success

Making home renovations easier: Jon Miles, CNJ Construction Services, Mamaroneck NY

In the rush to close on your “American Dream” you figured “charming” design elements (no vanity, avocado kitchen, plastic moldings) were worth overlooking. Time for an extreme makeover, your home edition, with CNJ Construction, a one-stop resource for taking a fix’er upper to sublime suburban home. Owner Jon Miles opened a millwork cabinetry shop thanks to a small business loan of $50,000 from Community Capital NY so he could become a one-stop shop for millwork, moldings and cabinetry and make it easier for diamonds in the rough not to stay that way for long.

construction (1)We caught up with Jon in the trailer he practically lives in, on the grounds of the Westchester Country Club, where his firm does both commercial (golf training facility) and residential (hundreds of apartments) work.

How did you get into the construction business?On a bet. My father was a homeowner. He liked to do things around the house himself and we disagreed a lot. He wanted to do it the easy way and I wanted to do it right. When I was 9 or 10 years old I won. I grew up in White Plains and built a deck off the back of the house, replaced all the windows, did all the siding, built a 250 square foot master bath for my mom. That was 12 years ago.

How did you get your business off the ground?For 20 years we had been busy doing interior renovations and interior trim, referred by word of mouth to architects and designers. Our piece was the window casings, crown moldings and baseboards, that was our aspect of any given project. Myself and the guys I employ are NY and Connecticut based and it made no sense to lose the millwork and the cabinet part of the project, which was outsourced.

How did your business evolve?We applied to Community Capital for a $50,000 micro loan to invest in a working shop. It’s set up to manufacture cabinets, drawers, door fronts, and we use it to fabricate what we need for projects. We can work with any species of wood, paint grade and stain. The loan was really important because it enabled us to buy all sorts of wood working machinery, a table saw, a wood shaper—it’s how we take a big stick and turn it into a piece of molding. Thanks to the loan, instead of a $30,000 contract it became a $100,000 contract for a relatively small investment of capital.

Wish you knew in hindsight?That it was going to be trial by fire. It would be very difficult for me to go work for somebody now because of the greater flexibility of working for yourself. On the good side, with the flexibility I can take a day off. The bad is that you have to pay for that day off. The buck stops here as one of my favorite president’s said—Harry Truman.

When did you know you’d arrived?We’re going to gross $1.2 million this year. As silly as it sounds I don’ t have that mentality: that I’ve made it. I do recognize that it’s important that we don’t overextend ourselves and take on too much. There are 5, 6, 7000 homes that are built or renovated in Westchester. A lot of wood goes into them. We want to do all the trim and tie it in with the millwork.

What’s next?Right now we’re still strictly a word of mouth business. We have an advertising plan in mind, ready to be put in place. But our work load is such that we’re addressing advertising in March or April of 2014, targeting architects and designers within a 50 mile radius of us. I have two to three cases of propaganda—brochures—to send to 100 firms. If we get five jobs we’ll be doing pretty good.

 CNJ Construction, 345 Fayette Ave, Mamaroneck, NY