March 10--Steve Lebow once roamed Home Depot and area property management companies regularly, desperately seeking repair work.
The Annapolis resident has been in the field for nearly 30 years. But four years ago, he was unemployed after the coffee company he worked for folded. Desperate to start his own business, Lebow would load his tools in his Honda CRV and do whatever jobs he could find.
His contacts began recommending him and eventually, he was able to launch Appliance Guys LLC. Based in his Annapolis home, Lebow has a staff of four technicians and two office workers, including his wife, Dana.
They handle seven property management companies and five restaurants. He talked to The Capital about the repair field, and why he's in no hurry to grow.
How did you go from being unemployed to creating your own company?
"I'd been trying to get the word of mouth around. The Home Depot guy recommended me and a property management company liked me. I called the girl (at the property management firm) and said, 'Would you throw some business my way?" She said, 'Get insurance and give me a call.'
"I got the insurance, got liability and got incorporated and so on. I would go there and hand invoices to the property management company. I got busier and busier and eventually I got a used van.
"Me and the girl I started talking to, we hit it off and got real friendly. And sure enough, I married her."
What were the next steps?
"Hiring the first employee is always scary. I took this guy on. He was a salesman and I always knew he was a good mechanic, so I hired John (Keough) on.
"Then we got busier and busier. Now I'm up to seven property management companies that I do work for and five restaurant companies in town. Managers at restaurants don't have time to keep up with (regular maintenance), so I come in monthly.
"I hired another technician and (bought) another truck. ... This is just four years of being in business. I'm shocked."
Will you hire more staff?
"It's a family business. I want to keep it small and I want to keep it personal.
"I enjoy what I do, we all do. We come into work early and talk to each other in the morning. I only limit my technicians and myself to six calls, maybe 10. When you're working for big companies, they're pushing 13 calls a day.
"I just want my employees to come to work and be happy. Eventually, we'll do profit sharing and they'll have a piece of the company."
What have you seen on the job?
"I had a customer who had a refrigerator from the 1940s and he loved it. He was calling around and no one wanted to work on it and we decided to do it. We went online and did Internet research and found a door gasket.
"We worked on the boat for (Baltimore Ravens owner) Steve Bisciotti, The Winning Drive. We work on some big boats in town.
"We had one lady who said her dryer wasn't working. We found a birds' nest in her dryer vent and when we pulled it out, the baby birds had just hatched. She asked us to put the birds back in. ... We came back a month later and pulled it out after the birds had gone."
"I want to keep it a family and friend business. When we walk into your house, we all talk to everybody like they're family. I won't hire a technician who won't hold a conversation with a customer.
"I like what I do. I take my tools on vacation with me. I have to fix things. If the TV set is broken in the hotel room, I'll pull out my tools."