How We Got Into Commercial Construction: Ryan's Story
Editor’s Note: We recently sat down with Ryan Lessard to hear the full story of how he got into construction, how he met Kendrick, and how he became an owner at Optimum. It was full of more twists and turns than we expected! Ryan, thanks for sharing!
Helping at a Young Age
Ryan wasn’t born with a hammer in his hand, but he came pretty close. From the age of 3, Ryan was tasked with helping his parents on their large farmhouse in Saco, Maine. His parents were mavericks who decided to buy a dilapidated 1812 farmhouse and refurbish it...all before the days of Youtube! So Ryan and his siblings were helping hands for the next 20 years of renovations. It started with holding tools, then holding the light for his dad (a difficult task indeed!), and ultimately working on the building himself.
The farm made for a fairy tale childhood: the ½ acre vegetable garden, and cows, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, turkeys are all straight out of Babe! The highlight of the year was the annual pig roast where 200+ plus people would come celebrate. Some of Ryan’s first building projects were building tunnels and forts with the neighbor kids in the hay storage barn.
Today, Ryan’s parents still live at the farmhouse, and now that Ryan knows the details of proper construction, he’s amazed by his parent’s skill as he reflects over the years. Although his dad was self taught, he was very detailed and thorough, and the work is all just about perfect. Seems like quality construction is in Ryan’s blood!
Straight out of The Notebook
When he returned to Maine after a stint in Florida and California, Ryan ended up buying a house nearly next door to his parents, and it seemed history was to repeat itself: the house also needed to be fully renovated. Ryan’s Dad warned him (over and over!) about how hard it would be, but Ryan is a dedicated guy and wasn’t going to let that deter him.
Ryan was single at the time and spent all his non-working hours rebuilding the 1850s house. The problems were endless: It didn’t have windows, Japanese knotweed grew rampant, and the kitchen drained directly into the backyard. As he says, he was “married” to the house.
His high school sweetheart came back into his life after 20 years apart, and even though he was in the midst of a full construction project, it didn’t scare her off. Ryan kept working to restore the home to its full glory: including the initial open layout, a 5’x5’ beehive oven, and all the original character.
Today, Ryan’s high school sweetheart is his wife, and they now have 3 kids in the house (all girls 8, 10, and 5 months). Ryan says it’s like his childhood 2.0, with a fixed up farmhouse and kids running around the yard. The garden and chickens are coming in 2019!
Before Ryan settled at home in Maine, reconnected with his now-wife, and built the house, he set out to explore what else was out in the world: California.
Ryan traded Maine’s wintry weather for sunny San Diego, and quickly got a job working for a high end framing company on Coronado Island. He worked on multi-million dollar homes that had technical elements to them, not to mention California’s strict building codes.
Within a few months he was promoted to foreman. At the same time he worked at a restaurant, and even though he had two full time jobs, he loved it! This season in his life built his knowledge of construction and he learned lots of complex construction methods, thanks to stringent structural requirements in CA due to Californias is inclination to have earthquakes. Oddly, the state also requires wall finishes to be perfectly straight and absolutely smooth.
During this time he made a friend/mentor who entrusted him with many big projects of his own. Keep in mind that this was all before the Youtube/Google era, so he loved having a mentor to teach him how to do things he had never done before. Ryan was tasked with many kitchen and bathroom renovations, including cabinetry, tiling, and full renos.
Back to Maine
After he decided he had enough of the sunny beach weather, he took off to Europe for six weeks before coming back to Maine. He picked up where he left off, working with a construction company locally, where he ran projects and continued to learn. No matter what he was working on, he always worked to find the best way to get things done. After two years, he knew he was ready to go off on his own.
The Email that Changed Everything
When he decided he was done working for anyone but himself, he sent an email to everyone he knew, telling them that he was starting his own company— and he ended up with two years of work.
He started with a custom bathroom, and it was the best tile job he’s ever done. Ryan got a reputation as a kitchen/bathroom specialist, but also did some siding, roofing, and additions. His primary focus was on doing things the right way, and making them last. EVERY client became a friend afterwards. And in that respect, not much has changed!
One day Ryan was at an industry meetup, where a mutual friend introduced him to Kendrick. They had heard of each other because of mutual friends in high school, but had never met (there’s more to this story, but it’s really better told over drinks!). They hit it off immediately talking about construction, and found that they both were ready to grow their businesses. So they decided to work together on a subcontractor basis, starting on a project in Falmouth Foreside.
Finding Their Strengths
The two quickly discovered something that would have long impacts on their business:
That Ryan is most definitely a details person, while Kendrick is a big picture person. They realized that their skills complemented each other well, and Optimum was born!
Building a New Kind of Construction Company
Kendrick and Ryan decided from the start that they didn’t want to have a regular construction company, that is, they didn’t want to have yelling and screaming, an all too common occurrence in the industry. They deliberately outlined how they wanted to treat their team members, and the “no jerks” policy was born.
Then they got to work building a new company: Ryan created the first logo (again, one best shown over drinks...he’s better at tile.). Their experience paired perfectly: Kendrick brought commercial construction experience, and Ryan brought residential construction experience.
From there things grew, and they kept meeting people, many of whom they work with still today. The business has grown from being 50/50 commercial/residential construction into being primarily commercial construction. They’re focused right now on fit-ups/build-outs for owners or tenants of large and mid-sized commercial spaces. Think dentist office up to brewery! Add in some industrial work and new construction and that’s what keeps them busy today.
But one thing hasn’t changed from the beginning: a focus on treating people well, and doing the job right. The values that made the company successful from the very beginning are ones that still drive Kendrick and Ryan today.
Optimum Construction is here to build better relationships, and as Ryan says, in the only way that he can, “the world keeps getting smaller and better”.