Erector Set

Paul Yandow and Jim Dousevicz launched their South Burlington residential and commercial construction company 12 years ago and have resisted the temptation to grow quickly, believing that bigger isn't always better. 'We know what our expertise is, and we stay in it,' says Dousevicz.

by Tom Gresham

Jim Dousevicz (right) says he and Paul Yandow started their South Burlington construction company, Yandow/Dousevicz in 1990, "right in the middle of a recession." They call their company a low-overhead, high-effort operation that relies on a strong working relationship with clients and subcontractors.

In the mid-1990s, Yandow/Dousevicz Construction Corp. earned the privilege to serve as the general contractor for a $19.5 million condominium project at the corner of College and Battery Streets in Burlington. They won the job despite their relative youth in the market and the fact that the firm consisted of only three people.

"We were working 70 to 80 hours a week to pull that off," Jim Dousevicz says. "It was an uphill battle. We had no staff at the time, it was just Paul [Yandow] and me and a carpenter that was Yandow/Dousevicz. The phone was ringing 200 times a day because everybody had change orders. You could do custom units.

"I remember one night my wife came into the office and I was throwing papers all over the floor. She said, 'What's the matter?' and I said, 'I'm quitting.' She said, 'You can't quit. That would leave only Paul to finish the job.' She was right, too. I couldn't have quit if I'd wanted to."

Yandow and Dousevicz say they started Yandow/Dousevicz in 1990 "right in the middle of a recession." In order to survive, the partners learned to keep their operation lean and their workdays long. Twelve years later, little has changed about the way they do business.

"They have been very successful in a short period of time, and it's because they work hard and they know what they're doing," said Rich Feeley, president of Coburn and Feeley Property Management Inc. "These are two local guys who have done very well. It's a nice local success story."

Originally the two-man operation consisted of Yandow, the man in the field, and Dousevicz, the man in the office. Since then, the firm has added five employees. The South Burlington business remains a low-overhead, high-effort operation that relies on a strong working relationship with clients and subcontractors to produce an efficient and reliable service. The firm has avoided the urge to grow by leaps and bounds. To do so, Dousevicz says, would be stepping away from what they do best.

"We've managed to stay relatively lean and mean," says Dousevicz, the president. "We've stayed the size we've stayed because we've chosen to. You see so many contractors get caught up in the idea that bigger is always better. Well, bigger isn't always better. Bigger means sometimes losing sight of the bottom line. We're concerned with the bottom line. With us, there's no layer of bureaucracy. If someone wants an answer, we give them an answer. There's no delay."

Yandow, the vice president, agrees: "It's a hands-on organization. We don't have many bells and whistles, but we make it work."

During its 12 years, Yandow/Dousevicz has completed a wide range of projects from residential to commercial to mixed-use varying in magnitude from a $14,000 yoga room fit-up to the College and Battery condo project.

Yandow/Dousevicz makes efficient use of subcontractors and keeps its staff "relatively lean and mean," according to Dousevicz. One of the company's seven staff members is Jay Svendsen, a project manager.

A quick glance at Yandow/Dousevicz's current projects offers an overview of its flexibility: 44 town homes and 15 single-family homes in Colchester; a 32,000-square-foot commercial/residential building on Pearl Street in Burlington; a 61-unit, assisted-living facility in Williston that includes an adult day-care facility and an underground parking garage; the renovation of a historic building; construction of a commercial/residential building on Main Street in Winooski; and a 16,000-square-foot animal shelter and office complex in South Burlington for the Humane Society of Chittenden County.

"We're really unusual," Dousevicz says. "We not only can do commercial work very competitively, but we can do residential work very competitively. So we can step back and forth from one aspect of construction to the other aspect of construction. There aren't many contracting firms that can do that.

"We find that because we use different subcontractors for various aspects of our business, it allows us to be flexible. And we normally keep our people in the field who are experts in commercial in commercial, or our experts in residential in residential, instead of trying to mix them. You can't build sewage treatment plants and put up housing.

"We know what our expertise is and we stay in it. It's defined. We know what we're good at and we know what we're not good at. We won't go beyond what we can do."

As Yandow put it, "There are certain horizons that we're sensible about."

Yandow/Dousevicz has led the construction of many major commercial projects in Chittenden County. Among them are three McDonald's restaurants, the Hoyts Cinema 9 movie theater in South Burlington, Olde Orchard Park buildings No. 2 and No. 3 in South Burlington, the Coburn Insurance building in Colchester, the Blair House in Williston and the historic preservation of the Vermont National Bank on Bank Street in Burlington.

Yandow and Dousevicz took a chance when they took on the College and Battery project, still the largest project they've completed. The construction displayed the strengths of Yandow/Dousevicz on a large scale.

The 80-unit residential structure consisted of 72 luxury condominiums and eight custom-designed penthouses. Commercial spaces were included on the ground floor and a 175-car parking garage was constructed on the very tight site.

"It was a mixed type of application," Yandow says. "It was all residential in a commercial type of construction atmosphere with steel studs and concrete slabs. It had a commercial flavor, but it was all residential except for a few commercial spaces in the lower levels."

The project required versatility to manage the countless details. The massive scale of the project tested the breadth and depth of what Yandow/Dousevicz was capable of accomplishing. As Dousevicz says, "In many ways, it put us on the map for some people."

However, the project convinced the pair that they had to allow room for growth. They hired Brenda Berandinelli as an office manager during the project. "We can't do anything without her. She runs the office and organizes us," Yandow says. They have since added J. Svendsen, project manager/superintendent; Jack Hyde, foreman; Brian Brisson, working foreman, and Rich Decker working foreman.

Business, solid from the beginning in spite of the recession, has enjoyed consistent growth over the years.

"We've been very steady," Dousevicz says. "We've been gradually building our business up every year. We've probably grown 10 to 15 percent per year. Once in a great while, we'll have a big bubble of larger volume, but then we'll settle back down."

As business partners, Dousevicz and Yandow manage to work together by staying out of each other's way. While Dousevicz manages the client contact and the business affairs, Yandow oversees the work in the field. The duo came together to form their business after both completed careers at Kessel Duff Construction.

Yandow, who started with Kessel Duff in 1975, served as a general construction superintendent before breaking off in 1989 to start Yandow Construction Co. A 1969 graduate of the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, he gained his earliest construction experience working for his father, Leopold A. Yandow, a developer and residential home builder in South Burlington. Yandow also worked for a pair of construction firms in Ipswitch, Mass., before joining Kessel Duff.

After graduating from Champlain College in 1971, Dousevicz served as a financial specialist for the city of Winooski and later held jobs for the Winooski Community Development Corp. and the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. He was hired by Kessel Duff in 1982 as a project manager and eventually rose to become a partner and member of the board of directors.

Bay Estates, a Yandow/Dousevicz development of 44 town homes and 15 single homes in Malletts Bay, is nearing completion, with only six duplexes and 10 single family units remaining to be built. The development stands on the site of a former drive-in theater on Bay Road.

Both were working on their own when a mutual friend recommended they join forces. They came together in 1990, and 12 years later, they've found that their talents still blend into what Yandow described as "a real harmony."

"We don't cross into each other's field," Dousevicz says. "I don't even pretend to know what he's doing, and he doesn't even pretend to know what I'm doing. It works out extremely well.

"My partner's great out in the field. For a six-story building or a four-story building that's all steel, it goes together like an erector set. You can't be off by half an inch on anything. So it's just phenomenal that he can make sure it comes out of the ground without any errors.

"On the other hand, I have to make sure we get it built and that it's not costing us money and that it makes a profit. That's why it's a good two-way street. He knows what he does best and, fortunately, I know what I do best."

A major reason Yandow and Dousevicz believe their streamlined working model has succeeded is that they always work with the area's top subcontractors and others in the building trades.

"We have an excellent relationship with the architectural firms and engineering firms in the area," Dousevicz says. "We pride ourselves on working with quality subcontractors. We pay everybody on time. Even if we haven't been paid, we still pay our subs on time. It makes a big difference when you go into a job and the subcontractors know that they're going to get paid religiously at the same time every month. Those guys always expect to be paid by us."

Another reason subcontractors are glad to work on Yandow/Dousevicz projects is that they never have to worry about paying travel time to employees. The company has largely kept its business inside Chittenden County, except for occasional forays to jobs in Barre, St. Albans and Swanton.

"Without having designed it that way, I think it does give us a certain advantage locally," Yandow says. "We stay here. We've got a good reputation with all the trades and the subcontractors and the clientele. It's just a matter of chance that we've been able to stick in the Chittenden County area. It makes sense because it's where the most work is. It's the most diverse work and it seems to have its own economy. It's a hub of what's happening in Vermont.

"We've been fortunate to stay right here and be able to diversify enough to meet the requirements of operating in Chittenden County. The economy is so different in different places. We know what to expect if we stay local. We can plan around it."

The partners say that Yandow/Dousevicz has been able to keep its business local largely because of its ability to please its clients. Repeat business has developed into its major source of work.

"The majority of our work is all negotiated," Dousevicz says. "We have an ongoing relationship with a lot of our clients. Even though that means we might do a $500 job that in the end is going to cost us money, we do it. Then we might also get a million-dollar job from that same client. He calls us because he's comfortable with us."

Feeley has not only worked with Yandow and Dousevicz on multiple projects, he has also recommended them to other developers. "I've had a very positive experience dealing with them," Feeley says. "They're very hard-working, very dedicated and very honest. They've had a lot of success, but they haven't gotten a big head about it. They're still very easy to get along with."

Yandow adds that there's nothing more important to a business than pleasing the client. "That's the whole game," he says. "It's really very important. We're really lucky to have some good clients that are successful and that are happy with our work and that are doing their thing in this area. We'll hopefully continue to do the work to fill their needs. It certainly fills our needs to be busy."

Yandow/Dousevicz took on this $19.5 million condominium project at College and Battery streets in Burlington despite their relative youth in the market and the fact that the firm only had three employees.

Yandow and Dousevicz clearly enjoy the opportunity to keep busy. In recent years, Yandow/Dousevicz has started to wade into the waters of developing and building its own projects. It's part of the progress of their business.

They say the job and its tasks, both minute and grand, continue to inspire their interest and passion. Construction work brings a sense of accomplishment that they relish.

"It's nice to see the end product," Dousevicz says. "So often you can work with individuals architects and engineers who have great ideas, but they ultimately only look good on paper and don't get built. It's a key element to get a contractor involved up front that can give you a reality check on what the costs are.

"It's fascinating going through that infancy stage of somebody's idea, going through the permitting process, even though it's frustrating as hell, and then getting it financed and then actually going through the construction. It's that end product. It's going out there and touching it. It's feeling it and saying, 'Yeah, it really came together.'" •

Originally published in May 2002 Business People-Vermont