All Wings Considered

Design and construction have always been part of Rabideau’s life

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

royal-lead0009In December, it was 21 years since Roy Rabideau ignored his father’s advice and opened his own construction company, Royal Design & Construction in Georgia.

When Henri de Marne recommends a business, you can be pretty sure it’s a good one. De Marne is a longtime contractor who has presented papers to the International Symposium of Researchers, and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist whose home improvement column, “About the House,” appears in the Burlington Free Press and around the country.

“I have been in the construction business for almost 60 years,” says de Marne, “so I’ve acquired a considerable amount of experience. I’ve known Roy for over 20 years and was immediately impressed with his integrity and business practices.”

“Roy” is Roy Rabideau, the owner of Royal Design & Construction Inc. in Georgia. De Marne states flat-out that he would not consider hiring anybody else. Rabideau and his crew worked for over four years on de Marne’s house — “a 1965 model that needed a lot of work,” de Marne says. “I’ve recommended him highly to a lot of my own clients.”

And Rabideau returns phone calls, he adds, “which I’ve found in my over 40-some years in Vermont does not happen very frequently.”

“We just try to do things right,” says Rabideau, a bit embarrassed by the high praise. “Nobody’s perfect in the world of being a contractor, but we still try in every corner to keep up the service and quality.”

Although he wanted to work in the building industry, Rabideau’s initial plan was to pursue architecture. Born in Burlington, when he was a year old, his family moved to South Hero.

“My dad was a contractor for the last 25 years of his days, self-employed up in the Champlain Islands,” he says. “I worked with him when I was a teenager, summers.”

He entered a two-year program in architectural and building engineering technology at Vermont Technical College and following graduation, worked for a Rutland architectural firm for three years. It was about that time — 1986 — that he attended his five-year reunion at Colchester High School and encountered Tina Tebbetts.

“We never dated while we were in high school,” he says, “but shortly after that reunion, we started dating and fell madly in love. We chuckle about it to this day.”

He laughs as he recalls that the two of them thought it would be a good idea to move to Florida. “We got a wild hair, I guess, and decided we wanted to try something new, so we packed up and went to Fort Lauderdale.”

He spent three months with a landscape architecture firm and another nine months with an architecture firm. “We found out Florida wasn’t for us: We’re native Vermonters.”

They returned in October of 1987, and Rabideau found work at Ashline Construction. He was there about five years, working in the office and in the field, even supervising the occasional job. “When I got done there, that’s when I took the plunge and did something my dad advised me not to do, and started my own construction company.”

That was in December 1992. He incorporated in early ’93. “I had a couple of bathrooms to renovate from folks my sister knew — that was my first job,” he says. “From there, a friend needed some work done on a camp. I started and stayed by myself until the following summer, then realized I needed people to help me. I hired a couple of guys that summer and got started.”

Rabideau worked out of his home in Georgia. He and Tina had married in 1988 and bought the house in July of ’92. “The office has been in the bedroom, at one end of the first floor, in the corner of my kitchen, and ultimately out above a garage I had built along the way. All three of us are up here tucked away in a corner,” he says with a chuckle.

The “three of us” includes Rabideau; his wife’s sister Karen Tebbetts, the office manager; and Corey Valyou, the project manager and estimator. “Karen’s been with me coming up on 19 years, and Corey will celebrate his 20th anniversary this fall,” he says.

As work picked up and the company became established, he says, “we added a couple of guys on. That grew into a little more growth. Corey came on board as a carpenter and worked his way up the ranks, and I branched off into two crews. We finally got established enough that I had to start spending more time in the office and less in the field.”

The equation of two crews with three to four workers per crew lasted a number of years, he says, “until we came to a threshold where the overhead expenses and insurances, primarily — the cost of running the company — were just too much and we had to increase the volume.” He found himself more and more in the office. The company was running three crews, with 18 people in the field one year.

“Then the bomb dropped,” says Rabideau, referring to the downturn starting in 2008. “The last five years have been tough. Our biggest volume here, we were pushing $3 million in sales, and it went screaming down to about a third of that. It’s been up and down since then — really tough, work coming and going, having to lay your guys off, and they have to feed their families and can’t survive on unemployment, so you lose them.”

Things may be looking up. He’s had five to six workers in the field all winter — a rarity even in good times. “And we’re going to be hiring,” he says. “I expect soon we’ll be back up to our three crews and have 10 to 11 people this year.”

Rabideau arrives between 5:30 and 6 every morning. “In the office a couple of hours to do paperwork, emails, work on quotes and drawings,” he says. “We have a CAD [computer-aided design] system, so do work on AutoCAD. Then various meetings to look at new work, at the projects Corey’s now managing. We try to keep the same head guy involved from start to finish.”

He tries to finish up around 5 or 5:30, when Tina arrives home from her job in sales and marketing for Systems & Software in Williston.

His residential work includes a lot of renovation and building custom homes. “But we’re not a developer per se, just garages and kitchens and decks and additions. We’ve jacked up camps and put foundations under them. Keeps me hoppin’. Whatever pays the bills, I guess.”

The company has always had a solid base of commercial work, he says. “We’ve always tried to keep our hands in both, because it seems like, economy-wise or cycles, one sector will be a little stronger than the other.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work over the years for the Merchants Bank — renovated branches all over the state for those guys. We do office fit-ups, stores, and new buildings, too.” Commercial projects have included an addition to Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, an addition to an AmeriGas building in Waterbury, work on the offices of Donald Hamlin Consulting Engineers, and projects for Green Mountain Credit Union.

“Roy is terrific,” says Ginny Fleischman, the past president of Green Mountain Credit Union. “He did our Rutland branch office from the walls in (and out). He did the drawings, the plans, all the construction on it, the layout, the outside and inside work, and the finish work is just beautiful.

“One thing about Roy,” Fleischman continues, “is his attention to detail. His honesty in dealings. When he gives you a quote, he quotes everything. You know you can depend on him and his crew. And all of his people are marvelous to work with.”

Rabideau confirms that he puts a lot of work in a project up front, “so when it starts, it goes smooth. We have happy customers. Up front is a hard thing to do, but I recommend it. Make sure you go through everything with a fine-tooth comb.”

These days, Rabideau finds himself spending a lot more time meeting regulations — “doing paperwork for permitting, for meeting the energy codes for commercial and residential buildings, for insurance things.” And the ever-changing nature of technology requires keeping up.

He and Tina still live in Georgia. Their daughter, Katrina Gauthier, lives in North Carolina and is married to a Marine who’s serving in Afghanistan. Their son, Keith, graduates from SUNY Plattsburgh this month with a degree in ethics and philosophy with a minor in coaching. He was just accepted for graduate studies at a school in Manchester, England, Rabideau says. “He’s my big thinking man — and he loves basketball.”

Rabideau and Tina are “outdoor people” and enjoy camping and hiking. “My basketball playing days are limited, but I still fool around with a ball, but ever aware of injuries at my age. I’m into old cars,” he says, “specifically Cougars, so I tinker.”

They are also involved with their church, the Georgia Plain Baptist Church where Rabideau serves on the board of trustees. And whenever they can, he and Tina sneak away on vacation.

He laughs as he claims that his work hours are down to around 55 hours a week now, adding that years ago his week was 80 to 85 hours. “There’s always some form of stress: either not enough work or too much; not enough employees or you’ve got to lay them off. But it’s been a good business really.

“It’s what I do and what I love, and I’m going to do it till the end. Corey and I say we’re going to go out together.” •