About 10 years ago, Mike Agugliaro and Rob Zadotti realized something had to change. Their company was scuffling, and they were working around 80 hours per week. They’d finally had enough.
“A decade ago we were just an electrical contracting company,” Agugliaro said. “We were doing under $1 million and my partner and I were killing ourselves. We had no lives. We came to the realization that we couldn’t live life like that, so we made the decision to change things.”
Now, Gold Medal Service, East Brunswick, N.J., has gone from two trucks, four employees, and $1 million in revenue to 100 trucks, 128 employees, and an anticipated $23 million in revenue this year — with much of the credit due to the addition of HVAC services.
Agugliaro and Zadotti worked together for a local electrical contractor in the early 1990s. Although they formed a friendship, their working situation was less than ideal. Bounced and delayed paychecks became the norm, leading them to realize that the only way to relieve their reliance on a higher authority was to go into business on their own. Thus, they planted the seeds for what would become Gold Medal Service.
“When we first started the business, we knew we wouldn’t let anyone go through what we went through, with bounced or delayed paychecks,” Zadotti said. “When we really got focused on trying to grow the business, we said we were going to operate a place where people like us can have a career, and not a job. People leave jobs, but they stick with careers.
“We wanted to make this place a home,” he said. “We wanted to build a company where if someone lost their job with us, they had remorse. That has been one of the cornerstones that we built the business on. The other being we don’t lie, cheat, or steal from ourselves or anyone else. Mike and I felt we were lied to and cheated most of the time (at our old job). And that’s one corner nobody steps off of at this company.”
Something was missing, though. In 2003, Zadotti decided enough was enough. At 35 years old, he was sick of working 80 hour weeks, tired of operating tools from dusk to dawn, and fed up with the notion that he had to spend his late evenings in the office. And most of all, he was distressed that he had two kids at home who hardly knew him.
“I simply told him (Agugliaro) that I couldn’t do it anymore. That was the big turning point in the business,” Zadotti said. “Mike told me if I was leaving, to take the business because he didn’t want to do it without me. It was an emotional time for us. We looked at each other and agreed, we needed change. We needed to do something better for both of us.”
The two decided to expand the business. In addition to their base of electrical, the two added heating, cooling, and plumbing services to their portfolio within a year. Today, the company also offers drain and sewer service, waterproofing, and generator services.
Agugliaro said his goal was to become a one-stop shop for homeowners, much like a Target, Nordstrom, or Wal-Mart.
“When you start putting all those little pieces together, you create a really solid rocketship, one that can really go to the moon,” Agugliaro said. “We’re not just starting to figure out how to fly airplanes. We’ve figured it out, year after year. We’ve figured out how to make them better. We’re constantly looking ahead to the future while also looking and reviewing in the rearview mirror.”
When it comes to partnerships, 20 years is a long time. Somehow, Agugliaro and Zadotti have managed to not only remain good friends, but good partners. Why? They do what’s best for business.
“We’re so different, but we’re so alike,” Agugliaro said. “We’ve literally been together since before either of us were married, or had kids, and there was one fundamental thing that made us click: We’re the most trustworthy people on the planet. There was never a question of trust. A lot of partnerships have problems because there’s a level of trust broken and one person is working harder than the other. We both work extremely hard, trust each other with everything, and we respect each other. There’s maybe been a couple of heated arguments in 20 years, and even those were done after an hour. We learned to be open and honest with our communication.”
Shockingly, both men had almost the same thing to say about their partnership when spoken to individually.
“It’s like a marriage, a relationship,” Zadotti said. “You get out of it what you put into it. You have to respect the other person you’re with, and you have to realize it takes cooperation and consideration. It can’t be one-sided. Both have to do the same. I know when he’s working hard and doing something, I have to do the same. I can’t slack off — and vice-versa. We have kept great communication between ourselves. We might get into a heated debate at times, but in all my years and thoughts of bailing out in the early years, I never wanted to quit the relationship.”
Looking Toward the Future
Agugliaro said, since the company’s reinvention, they haven’t had a flat year, let alone a down year, adding at least $1 million in sales each year.
“It started to become such a blur,” Agugliaro said. “In five years, we were growing 30-plus percent. We were buying trucks and hiring humans so fast we couldn’t keep up.”
Zadotti said 20 years ago, when he helped start Gold Medal, in no way did he see it getting as big as it has. Now, he said they’ve surrounded themselves with good people — people they consider family — and like to promote from within.
“We’re trying to do things in a more controlled fashion now than when we first started,” Zadotti said. “We have a goal of around $50 million over the next 10 years, to double the size of the business. We’re trying to focus more on controlled growth and controlled profit. If we can maintain 8-10 percent of growth over the next 10 years, I think that’s healthy.”
Agugliaro said it took him 10 years to realize you have to learn to be a great business owner in order to be successful in business. He said there really is a success formula to building and growing a business, especially when it comes to adding additional services. He’s confident he could add dry cleaning to the business and have it be successful, as he recently did with waterproofing, which has exceded $500,000 in business in its first five months.
“We have a saying that we use here: We want to own the home,” Zadotti said. “If you own a home, then you want us, because we’ll be able to install, maintain, and fix whatever you need.”
Publication date: 3/3/2014