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Ely Cabin Builders diversify their business plan
Photo: Evergreen Construction’s approach is to give an overall service package to clients. Not only will Evergreen built a dream cabin, but the company will supply caretaking and maintenance services, such as snowplowing, as well. Photo submitted by Mat Roderick
If you’ve ever stayed in or rented a cabin in Ely, there’s a fair chance it was built by Evergreen Construction, Inc.
Established 17 years ago by owner Mat Roderick, 38, of Ely, the small residential building contractor specializes in new home construction and home renovation, but also offers general contracting services for additions, new homes and extensive remodels.
During the company’s history, Evergreen Construction has built 25 custom designs, ranging from 600 square feet to 7,000 square feet, with the average being in the 1,000 to 2,000 square foot range. Evergreen Construction’s clientele includes retirees, cabin owners, real estate agents and businesses. Roderick describes the scenario as typical when they “build the dream cabin or home for the folks who fell in love with Ely 20 years ago during a canoe trip and dreamed about moving up here ever since. On the other hand, we also did the local Dairy Queen renovation. We do anything from installing a storm door to major projects, as long as it’s related to construction.”
The contracting service has four full-time employees; two of them seasoned carpenters who have been in the industry for more than 10 years, and two apprentices. They each draw a wage of $20 per hour, and the business contributes to a small 401k and supplies company vehicles.
Initially, Evergreen Construction consisted of Roderick and his mom. Roderick’s parents had moved up to Ely from Minneapolis when he was 10 years old. He graduated from high school and earned a two-year degree in construction from Lake Superior Technical College. Roderick’s dad had been a real estate broker for decades. After spending a year “out west,” it was his idea to build a few cabins on land he had recently purchased – land that brought Roderick back to his hometown.
“My mom would do the books and work with me in the field. It was crazy, but she kept me and everything else very organized.”
After those successful first constructions, word spread around about Evergreen Construction’s “quality building with lifetime results.” They were continuously hired for more projects, especially during the booming years of 2002 to 2008, when Roderick remembers having had 12 employees on his payroll and eight cabin projects lined up down the same road. “The market was just wide open.” Then, the trickling effects of the recession hit Ely and business slowed down.
One of the derived business changes Roderick has noted is the customer’s need for cost transparency. Being a small contractor often meant that “a blueprint was on a napkin and a deal on a handshake. We used to give customers a roundabout number for their project and that’s what it was.” Now clients get inspired through television home improvement programs and expect those costs to apply in their situation.
“I think people often don’t understand at first that we are at the end of the road and it costs more money to bring the material up here. The labor is not more expensive but the cost of the material is. Also, the terrain we build on, with all its sledge rock, is not the easiest to work with.” As a result, Evergreen Construction, Inc. commits to total transparency. “If we get a bill from the electrician, we show it to the customer. They also see the bill from the lumber yard. We itemize our contractor fee and list our labor cost,” he said.
Meanwhile Evergreen Construction’s ownership has shifted from just Roderick to him and his life-partner Tracy Anderson. Together, they decided to branch out and added commercial and residential snowplowing to the company’s services 10 years ago. That customer base consist now of 250 clients, 40 of them being commercial lots.
“If my carpenters and I aren’t pounding nails, we’re pushing snow” Roderick said about his way of keeping workers employed all year. His fleet includes eight plow trucks, a bobcat and two dump trucks.
After 17 years of operation, Evergreen Construction is now an established business – one in fact that was among the 15 nominees in the mature entrepreneur category of the 2015 Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Awards, which were presented in April in Duluth during National Small Business Week. The awards recognize outstanding entrepreneurs and business owners form the Twin Ports area and throughout Northeastern Minnesota.
Roderick and Anderson further diversified their business portfolio four years ago, when the ambitious couple purchased Ely’s iconic Chocolate Moose restaurant. They are the third owners in the restaurant’s 31-year history.
Ely Shuttle Inc. is the latest addition to Roderick’s business plan. It’s a venture he started with his sister that brings visitors to and from airports and outfitters. Boy Scouts of America is among their bigger clients.
As for the construction business, the average annual revenue lies around $700,000. Building project costs are typically anywhere from $200,000-$450,000. Roderick likes to build one project each summer to keep him and his crew occupied for six months. In between jobs, he always has service work to fall back on.
The construction business had an office on Ely’s main street for eight years in an attempt to set them apart from competitors. Last year, however, after carefully evaluating the economics of that presence, Roderick and Anderson decided to close the office and to operate from home.
Roderick aims to give the customer an overall service package built on an excellent customer relationship.
“It’s not just about building the cabin. We hope to end up caretaking their place and plowing their driveway as well,” he said.
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