Tradesmen Share Their Stories and How to Get Started in the Home Improvement Industry

Trading Up

Heading off to college was once the default path to success, but with degrees flooding the market and traditional desk jobs dwindling, a new opportunity is emerging. In fields like construction, design and plumbing, there’s a shortage of skilled tradesmen, with 31 million job openings projected by 2030. We spoke with professionals who’ve transformed their lives through inherited businesses, independent startups or bold career shifts. Their stories illustrate how hands-on skills can lead to thriving businesses and fulfilling careers. Discover their journeys, what to anticipate and why they’re passionate about their work in the pages within.

Adam in grey shirtAdam Bardi, President & CEO, Bardi Plumbing 

For Adam Bardi, plumbing was the family business. Growing up, he helped out while learning the basics and gradually took on more responsibility. After learning the business and getting hands-on training, he purchased the company from his parents and continued to build Bardi Plumbing into what it is today.

“I stayed in this trade because of the satisfaction I get from solving complex problems and providing essential services to customers,” Bardi said.“The HVAC and plumbing industry offers a variety of challenges and opportunities to learn new techniques and technologies. Additionally, working in a family business provides a sense of pride and continuity.”

There is a high demand for plumbers. Homes and businesses constantly need maintenance, repairs and installations for their heating, cooling and plumbing systems. The potential for success is significant, with opportunities to specialize in different areas, advance to supervisory or management roles or even start your own business. Starting sooner allows individuals to gain extensive hands-on experience and develop a deep understanding of the industry, not to mention faster progression in their careers.

Bardi’s advice to adult learners is to research and choose reputable training programs, network, be prepared for physically demanding work and leverage any transferable skills from your previous career.

“I feel a sense of pride in how I started in the family business,” he said. “Working in various roles within the company helped me understand the industry from different perspectives and I’m grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow.”

The Job Pool

  • HVAC Technician
  • Plumber
  • Pipefitters
  • Service Manager
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Project Management

The Pay

An apprentice during their first few years can make $40,000-$60,000 annually. Experienced technicians can earn $80,000-$150,000.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Trade schools, community colleges and apprenticeship programs offer excellent training. Industry organizations such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) provide valuable information and networking opportunities.

Bruce in front of poolBruce Miller, Owner, Miller Landscape

Getting started in a trade isn’t filled with thrills and perks—Bruce Miller can tell you that. As a teenager, he was doing hard, manual labor for various landscaping companies from sunup to sundown to make a living. But amidst the dirt and sweat, he realized something: he was pretty good at it; and even though it was physically strenuous, he loved working outside and felt a rewarding sense of accomplishment building outdoor spaces.

“Once I opened my own business in 1985, I had a much greater sense of ownership and began to develop more complex strategies for longevity and success within the organization and personally,” said Miller. “It was critical that the simple day-to-day tasks be completed with excellence, but also important to think about the future. I tried to always keep in mind on hard, hot days when there were financial challenges, staffing concerns, equipment issues, etc. that there was a bigger picture and that each small decision was a drop in the bucket of what ultimately would build this organization.”

There are many ways to find success in the landscape industry. Some people spend years in school, have several degrees and remain in continuing education programs. Others have no formal education, but decades of experience.

“There are many positions within a design/build firm that one could consider and our team is very diverse,” said Miller. “Our architectural sales team’s day looks very different from our project manager’s or crew member’s day. They all are the foundation of what we do and synergize to achieve the turnkey experience we offer clients.”

“To me, success is defined in the profitability of what I’m doing of course …but also by the health of the organization in not quite as measurable ways. When I look back on how I got here, I remember that it was hard! Really hard sometimes. Hard does not equate to bad, though. Most often the good and rewarding things in life are incredibly difficult to achieve. I love what I do and I still have a lot ahead that I want to accomplish and many ways I plan to see my company continue to grow.”

The Job Pool

  • Landscape Designer or Architect
  • Project Manager
  • Maintenance Manager
  • Crew Leader or Member
  • Operations Manager
  • Director of Marketing and Sales
  • Field Supervisor
  • Seasonal Enhancement Sales
  • Project Coordinator

The Pay

The landscape industry usually starts out on an hourly wage basis, and you’ll earn anywhere from $40,000 and up. Once established, expert-level landscape designers earn upwards of $80,000, annually.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

You can graduate from a landscape program from many different universities. Students often lean toward land development and planning, corporate or commercial architecture. You can also apprentice under a professional to learn skills and work your way up.

Chris in front of truck holding handleChris Lalomia, Founder, The Trusted Toolbox

Chris Lalomia had a steady paycheck as a corporate professional for over two decades, but he hated sitting behind a desk making money for other people. He was itching to use his hands to create something that would allow him to support his family and make an impact on his community. In 2008, he left the desk behind and founded The Trusted Toolbox, a handyman services company that allowed him to exercise his passion for home remodeling and up the level of professionalism found in the industry.

“We’re all enamored with the computer, but you have to give your real passions a try,” said Lalomia. “Our guys don’t like sitting a ta desk or talking on the phone. They want to create things. They’re artists who don’t like to sit still.”

Lalomia encourages pursuing your passion as early as possible. Home maintenance isn’t a job that can be outsourced, and projections for success continue to climb as more and more homeowners are willing to pay other people to come in and help them take care of their biggest asset. He recommends getting internships in the field you’re interested in, enrolling in apprenticeship programs and learning several different trades. Unlike other career paths, you’re earning a paycheck working while you learn. It takes about two years to get licensed in a trade, so if you stick with it, you’ll know how to do so many things by the time you’re ready to be a home remodeler or full-time handyman.

Lalomia holds a general contractor’s license for The Trusted Toolbox, but his team holds certifications from welding to carpentry and more. You don’t have to be licensed as a contractor in Georgia, he said, but it’ll get you further than the average Joe.

“I love what we’ve built here,” he said. “We wanted to offer homeownersa better option, a job done well and right, in the time that was discussed. We’ve basically put a white-collar spin on a blue-collar profession and I am really proud of that.”

The Job Pool

  • Carpenters
  • Welders
  • Project Managers
  • Estimators and Sales Reps

The Pay

A handyman can start out making anywhere between $35,000 and $50,000, annually. Once established, the potential can be upwards of $85,000-$100,000.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Get an internship in the trade you want to learn. Seek out mentors and network. Build a business plan. Listen to Lalomia’s podcast, The SmallBusiness Safari.

Peter in blue shirt with hands in pocketsPeter Meer, Owner, Meer Electric

When the family business spans generations, it’s hard not to want to carry on that legacy—especially when you love the work. Peter Meer’s grandfather was an electrician for more than 20 years, and his father founded Meer Electric in 1984. With two success-story examples, Meer joined in and has been with them since 1989.

“I enjoy putting things together and making things work, and seeing the things that I install function,” Meer said. “I also enjoy teaching the next generation all of the skills and knowledge that I have learned throughout the years.”

According to Meer there is a high potential for success in this trade because of the shortage of workers able to do it. Well, and the fact that everyone needs electricity. Essentially, it is a job that will never go away.

As with most trades, the sooner you start, the sooner you can start making money. It’s also something you can start right out of high school, and this field does not require a college education; instead you can work while you’re in apprenticeship school. Another perk to starting earlier is the potential to move up faster in your position and make more money. “Trades are a full-time-job-and-then-some position,” Meer added. “To be an electrician is a nonstop job.”

“I wouldn’t change anything that I have done,” Meer said. “I have learned a ton and am proud of the company that we have built.”

The Job Pool

  • Every Position That Involves Electricity!
  • Residential and Commercial Apprentices
  • Technicians
  • Supervisors

The Pay

Based on their experience, an apprentice can start out between $15 and $20 per hour. Technicians can start earning anywhere between $20-$25 per hour.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Meer Electric offers fully paid tuition to the apprenticeship program with IEC (Independent Electrical Contractors). You will learn a ton — both hands-on and in the classroom—during this program.

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