There's always a learning curve, whether studying to be a doctor, training to become an Olympic athlete, or simply becoming a great general contractor. And, Rick Vargas, the Owner of DDT Home Transformations, took a path not unlike many successful entrepreneurs before him, where round-the-clock dedication, sacrifice, and good, old fashioned perseverance paved the road to eventually leading a highly successful construction company.
Rick is always a busy person with managing a myriad of projects from multiple decks to kitchen remodels to everything in between. But, we were able to take a few moments of his day to ask a few questions to get a little insight into his company and his decisions along the way.
When did you first become interested in construction?
It wasn't a specific point in time per se. But, I would say that, "It was in high school when I first became interested in building homes." When I was a senior at Lockport high school, I was in shop class. But, what was so interesting about it was that we actually worked on a miniature house; so, I had a chance to learn about installing shingles on a roof and framing a wall. It may not have been the highlight of high school, but I really enjoyed the experience. I definitely learned a lot.
How did you build on your interest in the construction industry?
Believe it or not, I actually worked in a Big Box store in the Millwork department. At the time, it was a job; I didn't place too much emphasis on it. But, as I stayed in the role, I became more interested in the building process. So, I took advantage of the learning opportunities by going to classes offered by the store and attending training sessions at manufacturer facilities. Honestly, with my enthusiasm, it didn't take long for me to become a leader in my department.
What was the next step in your career?
Well, I latched on to a career with The Home Depot. I was in my early 20's and I loved working in an environment that combined business and home improvement; so, I spent a lot of time honing my business acumen and customer service skills, which paid off when I was promoted to Area Store Manager at 23 for a $85M store. At the time, I didn't realize the accomplishment, but, looking back now, I realize how impressive it was for a young professional to be placed in charge of such a high-volume store.
I stayed with The Home Depot for a few years, eventually attaining the Store Manager position. But, I could only stay with The Home Depot for so long before my personal ambitions took the lead in my life and career path.
You decided to change your career path for personal ambitions. What were those ambitions?
Owning my own business. I would watch business owners of construction companies, restoration companies, and even 'chuck-in-a-truck' entrepreneurs enter my store everyday to blaze their own path and build their own company. Inside, I envied them. They had the ability to build something from scratch just the way they wanted to; they could make a decision without multiple levels of management approval; and, they determined their worth - the number of hours they worked, the partnerships they developed, etc. all led back to them and not just to a business that predetermined how much you were worth. So, with that being said, I started my own business.
How did you make the transition from employee to business owner?
I was working at The Home Depot as a Store Manager in a Chicago suburb store, working 70+ hours each week. One day, I arrived home and my son asked if I could go back to work because he wanted to spend more time with his grandma. That hurt because I knew that my job was taking me away from my family, which is the most important thing to me. So, the very next day, I was at work again and something just came over me that reminded me that no position or company is worth sacrificing time with my family, so I turned in my keys and went home. That was probably the best night of sleep that I had had in several months.
Then, I started my own small construction company. But, without going into too much detail, the company was built with just me and a couple of family members where we flipped homes. The truth is that I learned a lot of life and business experience during this time because I realized that working with the right team made all the difference in the world. So, about as soon as it opened, it closed.
After closing the business, what did you do next?
I went back to what I knew best - Big Box stores. But, this time, I didn't want a management position, I just wanted to work as a Sales Associate; so, I was offered a position in the Pro Sales department. While there, I worked with a variety of large construction companies. In particular, I managed an account that generated $750k in annual sales, which was huge for a $2M department. I developed a great relationship with Owner and he offered me the opportunity to become a Construction Supervisor for the company.
How long did you work as a Construction Supervisor?
For about a year. The company I worked for lost its main client, which caused the company to close. Unfortunately, I found myself without a job. This is where my life changed.
You said, "This is where my life changed". How so?
I came to a crossroads. I had to decide where I wanted to take my career - go back to working in a Big Box store, working for a construction company, or starting my own company. You have to understand that at this time, I had walked out on a career, ran a failed small business, and just lost my job. It wasn't exactly happy times or instill confidence in me. But, I realized that I have the experience, I have the knowledge, and I have the grit to make anything successful. The same ambitions that propelled me to an upper management position at 23 was the same that I had at the present time, I just had to forget about everything before and not repeat the same mistakes. With that in mind, on July 23, 2012, I opened DDT Home Transformations.
Before we go any further, how did you come up with the company name - DDT Home Transformations?
I racked my brain, trying to come up with something creative that would stick out to customers, but I just couldn't conjure up anything that I wholeheartedly liked. My wife came up with a bunch of ideas, too. But, it wasn't until I thought about the reason why I wanted to start the business, which was I wanted to build something that I could give to my kids. Then it hit me, the company isn't mine, it, metaphorically, belongs to my kids, so their names should be on the 'banner'. That is why it is called DDT. That stands for Dylan, Derrick, and Taylor - my three kids. And, I loved it! Plus, it's a constant reminder of why I do this everyday, why I continue to build a company and strive to build it into a successful institution.
How was opening this business different from the business you had opened before?
I was wiser than before. The first thing I wanted to do different is be selective about the people I surrounded myself around. I needed a team, albeit small, that would work as hard as I would and that would be willing to build something from the ground-up. Needless to say, I found a few great people. Unfortunately, there are always people that come-and-go throughout a business' life cycle, but I found that as long as you have a good core group, then it is always possible to be successful.
Besides building a good team of people, I knew that this time would require more effort. I tried before but I was so burnt out from working long hours that I didn't want to apply the time and effort needed to build a business. This was a mistake of underestimation that I wasn't going to do again. So, I set the alarm for 6:00 am, laced up my boots, and started the day, grateful for the opportunity to work for my own company.
Now that you have a successful business, what's next?
For now, I'm living my dream. The company is growing in recognition every year, which is awesome to see. We are one of the top Pro companies with our local Home Depot. And, we are becoming a bigger part of the local community, which was always the goal. Beyond being a profitable business, integrating into the local community with a reputation as a professional, upstanding, ethical business is the #1 goal.
For what's next, I want to start giving back to the community. Currently, we sponsor a local youth baseball team, however, I really want to become more involved in charitable construction initiatives. I would say that is what is next for me and my company.