by Jim Boyle
The humble beginnings of Chuba Co. had little to do with laying groundwork for the future of a construction and remodeling business or casting long-range visions of what that could mean for the building trade.
“It wasn’t really a thought to start a company,” said Denny Chuba, the founder, who began as a one-man operation. “It was about putting bread on the table.”
Chuba Co., based in Elk River, is now a full-service construction partnership and come Wednesday, Chuba and his three partners will celebrate 40 years in business by saying thank you to the residents of the community they have called home for much of its existence. The event will be from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Elk River Golf Club. The public is invited to come and see what the firm has been up to.
Chuba, along with partners Del Bauers, Mike Crank and Duane Kozitka bring more than 100 years of combined industry experience and expertise to serve the needs of their clients. More impressive than that, however, is that the business has hung together for so long through up and down economies.
These employee owners are invested heavily in the business. They do their own selling. Draw up plans, designs and quotes. And they manage projects, too. They do all this, they say, with the help of a great staff.
And when times are good they don’t trade their good lives for extravagant ones. They hang on to their tool belt. When times are tight, these conservative ways help them get through those periods.
“This thing has made it 40 years in up and down economies,” said Bauers, president of Chuba Co. “Most (companies) that were around back then are not in business anymore.”
One reason is the business has grown slowly over the years.
It no longer just feeds Chuba as it did in 1972, before the start of an energy crisis. The business provides a living for about 14 families, including Chuba’s and his three partners.
The key is diversity, according to Duane Kozitka, vice president for Chuba Co.
“That’s what attracted me (to the partnership),” said Kozitka, the last to join the group in 2006. The remodeling and renovation professional likes how they work together as a team.
“When one area is a little leaner, another area can help pick it up,” Kozitka said.
Chuba Co. has three distinct divisions doing business as Chuba Co. There’s a construction division, a remodeling and renovation division and an exteriors division (roofing, siding and windows).
“We feel fortunate. It can be a challenge to run three different divisions. We all have to justify our existence. For me, it’s a level of comfort,” Kozitka said.
The diversity makes the business appear bigger than it is, but then again so do the $1 million projects they do —like a recent one in Apple Valley for an architect who designed his dream home. Chuba Co. also does the little projects.
“We’re very high touch,” Chuba said. “We certainly don’t sell ourselves on price alone. It’s all service and value. We have learned to walk away from business that is price focused.”
About 90 percent of the business is referrals from happy clients. The younger partners can thank Chuba for a lot of that. And Chuba thanks them when he’s out and about and hears a compliment about one of his partner’s projects.
Early on Chuba teamed up with another fellow subcontractor from north Minneapolis. They did kitchens, framing and remodeling for businesses like American Builders and Garage Builders. Eventually the two formed Yentsch and Chuba until his first partner decided to retire.
Chuba took over and his business migrated to the Elk River area. He struggled to make a go of it on his own.
“There’s got to be an easier way,” Chuba recalls thinking to himself.
He started attending National Association of Remodeling Industry events and conferences. He learned how to work more professionally while combing the streets of a one-stoplight town called Elk River. He also learned he wasn’t in the construction business as much as he was in a service business.
“You’re taking someone’s greatest investment and hopefully making it better, and, in the process, trying not to make their life worse or alienate them entirely,” Chuba said.
Then in a NARI golf tournament, he played golf with a young salesman named Del Bauers, who approached him about a joint venture.
“We started another division with exterior home improvements, and that eventually eclipsed the remodeling business,” Chuba recalled.
Chuba got more active in NARI, including stints on the board of directors. In about 1987 he helped start a local builders association. It was at first going to be a marketing effort but was morphed into an association for builders. Chuba became president of that in 1991 and later got involved in the Minnesota Builders Association.
It was in 1999 that Chuba and Bauers stumbled upon Crank. Eventually the three of them incorporated this company that was looking more and more like a company Chuba never envisioned. Crank is a vice president.
Kozitka climbed aboard Chuba in 2006, first as an employee and then as a partner.
“We all share the philosophy of integrity and honesty,” Chuba said. “We know we’re humans and we all make mistakes but we try to rectify them as much as we can.”
Chuba Co. has become known as a leader in green building. An advantage they had is they were thinking “green” before the green movement.
They have been recognized nationally a couple of times in the last several years for their efforts. Their latest efforts have been written up in the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. They were also featured at the Minnesota State Fair inside and outside The ECO Experience.
“We’re proud of that,” Chuba said.
One highlight for the Chuba Co. came in 1996 when it received an Integrity Award from the Better Business Bureau. It was believed to be a nice pat on the back when they were nominated, but when they were one of four out of 300 still standing in the awards process, it was something different. “That was a big deal,” Bauers said.
Chuba has also headed the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce, just the tip of his community involvement which is highlighted by leadership of the Elk River Community Theatre.
His partners have followed suit and have gotten involved in the community, be it coaching, mentoring at Ivan Sand, taking part in career exploration days or volunteering at the American Legion. It’s all part of an effort to give back and be part of something bigger. That has been important over the course of the last 40 years of doing business.
“When I am in the aisle at Coborn’s or wherever it is, I want to be able to look at the people I’ve worked with and not have to change aisles,” Kozitka said. “We’re not just a business. We’re residents. We’re neighbors. I want to be able to see them, say hi and feel good about what we’ve done.”