While many of the Sault’s millennials are skipping town to build their dream, Paul Caputo is keeping his passion close to home. For the past seven years, the Sault native has been steadily building a successful residential and commercial landscaping business in Sault Ste. Marie.
Caputo’s entrepreneurial journey began unexpectedly when he was studying social work at Sault College. To help fund his studies, he would clean snow off of vehicles in the winter and take care of lawns once the snow melted. In 2009, he was assisted by the Sault’s Economic Development Corporation (SMEDC) to apply for the Summer Company program which is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure. After writing a preliminary business plan, he received $1500 to cover the start-up costs for his first official business: Green Grass Lawn Care. He was awarded another $1500 after completing the program, and ended up winning the SMEDC’s Summer Company of the Year Award.
This strong start put Caputo on the regional business radar as he was eventually contacted by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) to apply for the Young Entrepreneur Program in 2010. He successfully qualified and was awarded $25,000 to cover business costs for Green Grass Yard Care, newly named to reflect his ability to provide more services to existing and prospective clients. With this new funding, Caputo was able to hire staff and focus on a broader scope than manual yard care and snow removal by delving into larger projects such as excavations, interlock stone, artificial turf, demolition, grading and landscape product sales.
Six years later, Caputo has moved from a residential garage to a full-fledged industrial space on White Oak Drive. Newly dubbed as PAC Construction, the name represents his initials and makes a mark in your memory with a clever logo designed by graphic designer Nicole Beauchamp. Now with office, garage and commercial space, he and his team of nine summer employees can take on larger projects that have extended to commercial locations.
“From pushing snow with a shovel, now we are pushing snow with loaders that we own, so it’s great,” said Caputo. “From digging a hole by hand, we are now digging with excavators.”
Despite the lack of snow this past winter, Caputo still has maintained a steady snow removal operation with six employees.
“Everyone thinks it was a challenge because we didn’t get buried in snow, but we got constant snowfall so it wasn’t too bad,” he reflected. “We go out with an inch and a half of snow. My guys that do the walkways are quite busy no matter how much snow or how little we get. We have to do a daily log sheet of all of our locations to make sure there is no ice buildup and snow coverage because we hold a lot of liability with our commercial properties.”
Now owning many heavy pieces of machinery, Caputo has been able to get creative in the summer. Stonework in the form of retaining walls and patios is now Caputo’s main motif. He takes pride in providing clients with a backyard oasis. The spaces he creates are typically surrounding a pool, barbecue or seating area and give people who may not be able to budget for a second home a sense of escape in the comfort of their own backyard. He maintains a close relationship with his suppliers and is able to customize product for just about any budget.
Caputo’s passion is on full display in his office, which features a retaining wall as the support for a desk that clients can sit at. With an eye for perfection, he admits that he rebuilt it three times before he was satisfied.
“One night I just couldn’t sleep and I was thinking, what would look awesome? How can I make my office the best office which everybody will talk about when they come in?” he said with excitement. “It just popped in my head. I woke my fiancé up at 3am with excitement. I’m going to build my own office furniture with brick; that’s what I do for a living.”
As no stranger to hard work, Caputo enjoys the challenges of sole proprietorship. However, a lot goes on behind the scenes to keep his operation going.
“Equipment maintenance is huge,” he admits. “I have two shops now; one shop is just for maintenance. It’s unbelievable the amount of time that goes into maintenance. I would say its probably 50 percent, and I have all brand new equipment. It’s mostly greasing, changing oil, filters, and painting. I like to keep my stuff in pristine condition. If there is a scratch on it, we paint it.”
Aside from his craft, Caputo performs multiple duties to stay competitive. He runs his own social media campaigns and creates his own advertisements.
“I’m the secretary, marketing manager, sometimes the accountant, laborer, owner and financial advisor all in one.”
Aside from focusing on his own successes, Caputo enjoys giving back. Young entrepreneurs who are looking for guidance are welcomed by Caputo, who enjoys mentoring those who are considering taking the plunge into business.
“If you want to start out, don’t be scared,” he advises. “I truly believe that anyone can do anything when it comes to business. If you believe in your product and you believe in yourself, you can do it. You’re going to have a lot of failures. You’re going to have a lot of ups and a lot of downs. You’re probably going to have more downs than ups in your first few years, which is okay because it costs money and it costs failure to succeed. It really costs a lot to succeed.”
Caputo’s next steps are to purchase two new loaders to accommodate commercial contracts for snow removal. However, his favorite machine to drive is no big rig.
“I still like driving around on a lawn mower, believe it or not.”
Possessing a strong entrepreneurial gusto, Caputo remains enthusiastic about the future of PAC Construction.
“I always want to expand more and be the best. I know it’s going to take time,” he expressed. “I started with a push mower and now I have quite a few pieces of equipment. I definitely want more. We have grown to be one of the best landscape companies in Sault Ste. Marie and will continue to expand into larger construction jobs.”
For more information about PAC Construction, contact Paul by phone at 705-255-4544 or by email at [email protected]