Today it’s our pleasure to bring you the incredible story of Don Challis @don_challis He’s been building luxurious custom circular staircases most of his life. And recently he has taken up a new income stream carving 3D sound waves into wood. He’s a general contractor and has a passion for helping homeowners get the best quality for a fair price.
If you are feeling all alone in the contracting world, wondering if anyone else can relate… then you should listen to this episode. Don’s story is not hyped-up, but very relatable and inspiring.
Listen to this show today, and be inspired!
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Don Challis, born and raised in Utah, the youngest of seven children, came from a family of wood workers. From his Dad’s side down to him and his brothers, woodworking has been a part of their family. He started out working for his older brother making smaller stairs, until he developed his skills and built more complex stairs, like spiral stairs. Their main markets were Salt Lake city and Park city in the state of Utah, where they built stairs for vacation properties. Being in woodwork, specially in the stairs business for Don needs a different set of skills. “Its like teaching yourself how to play piano, sure you can do it on your own but it’s gonna take you a lot longer. You’re gonna make a lot more mistakes and If you have somebody there that’s guiding you along, and keeping you from making the big mistakes, then I think that`s necessary”. With the necessary skills under their belts and hard work, Don`s older brother`s business flourished.
In 2007 to 2009, the stock market plummeted putting the USA in a recession. Like everyone, Don and his brother’s company were affected badly by it. When the market crashed it hurt them. They struggled, up to a point where his pay was cut in half. After the crash, Don didn’t want to put his fate in somebody else’s hands again. At first, he didn’t want the extra labor of owning a company, but his struggles during the recession made him go out on his own. He bought a truck, started buying some tools and after a few years he was set and ready to follow his own path. The big challenge he faced in starting his own business, was getting a business license. To get this, he needed a degree. This was challenging to Don since he did not finish high school. Depression had caused him to quit school while in junior high. He was embarrassed to admit this, but still he pushed on to take the GED test and finally got the degree he needed. Then came the contractor license test, he needed to take a 20 hour course and for him, he did not really learn much from the course itself, but he learned valuable tips from his classmates. Most of them had been in business for a while. Some had even been in business for 20 years. With the help of those tips and Don’s wife supporting him, he started his business with big relief.
Don started, doing small projects with a couple who did remodel work. To get their contractor`s license, they needed to have experience working with a contractor. So, they worked with Don in hopes of getting their own license. In return they were giving him small projects. One of the remodels they did with Don was a contract of a month, at most two months, that was vastly under priced. The subcontractors did not materialize during this period, which made Don do almost everything himself. After a few conversations with the homeowners, Don and the homeowners decided to let go of the couple and let him finish the job. A split was necessary because of the bad situation in which everyone was involved. The project took more time than Don expected. Instead of a 3 month job, if everything would’ve been lined up correctly, it became a project that lasted for a year. He lost a lot of money but felt ethically inclined to do what he could to get the job done. “I think a huge part of contracting is being able to communicate with people and get them to understand really what the realities are. Not trying to be slick with them and try to pass things off to something they`re not”. Don`s advice to aspiring contractors is to keep your eyes open and not ignore the red flags. Stay objective and not be blind with potential bad deals.
For him delivering what you have promised as a contractor is a huge part of his work ethic and always wants his customers to feel like they got their money’s worth. That work ethic paid off well, when the homeowners, who also are owners of a huge marketing company, gave him referrals to other homeowners.
Being diverse is one thing that Don is very keen about. After a year of being in business, he decided that he did not just want to specialize in stairs, he wanted to diversify and do other things, like cabinets & trim which currently he is now doing.
For inspiration, Don listens to comedy podcasts. Inspiration comes in good and sometimes, bad times.Don’s 3D sound wave wood carving is a unique project that started from an unfortunate event – to comfort his wife’s aunt after her mother died. Don’s wife recommended the idea. At the beginning it was an idea that he thought would be impossible to do. But one day while at work, he finally found a way to make the sound wave wood carving. Using an old voice recording of his wife’s grandma, he edited it and made the first of it`s kind, the 3D sound wave wood carving. Now he is doing this in his spare time, pricing each sound wave carving without the frame, for $425 a piece, while also running his business.
Instagram, became a big part of Don`s woodworking business as well. Through this, he had a huge response from people and used it for building relationships. He’s met quite a few people locally through Instagram. Through this application, he has been able to meet many woodworkers and see their work all around the globe. He`s gotten many innovative ideas and learned from them. Instagram has become his main tool in improving his skills as a woodworker.
Some of the books that he recommends for a contractor, are written by Seth Godin, these books have changed his idea of how to market himself and who he is trying to reach. He also highly recommends Mark Milner`s Simply Stairs. A book which he wished he had 15 to 20 years ago and would have helped him a lot. Currently Don is not only doing high end custom staircases, but also home improvement projects of all kinds. Giving good quality for Don, shouldn’t be limited to higher class people. For him, good quality should be available to all social class.