Leading the Old Fashioned Way

Midwest Construction named to Remodeling Big50.

The Despenas family has been in the home improvement business for nearly six decades thanks to the example and business philosophy of founder Alex Despenas. A Greek immigrant, Despenas went door to door to drum up business, and his willingness to work set the example for his children, who now run Midwest Construction.

Quality products and quality installation

The company was started in Mason City in 1958, focusing on “quality products and quality installation.” Now with operations there and in Des Moines, Midwest Construction provides remodeling and construction services focused on the outside of the home—from windows and siding to gutters and sunrooms. The majority of the work is done by Midwest’s own paid employees, not subcontractors, including carpenters and flooring specialists, which is key to the success of the company.

Everyone at Midwest Construction, whether descended from Alex Despenas or not, is part of the family. And his traditional values and old-fashioned business practices continue to serve as the foundation for the company’s growth.

“You gotta be able to sleep at night”

“Dad believed you gotta be able to sleep at night,” says son Paul, who runs the Des Moines operation. “You don’t do anything that would keep you from going to bed with a clear conscience.”

Midwest Construction, which provides siding, windows, and sunrooms, is more than a family business. It’s family-oriented, too.

“We’re a part of the communities where we work,” Paul says. “So our customers and our employees are part of that. And how we do business affects every one of those relationships.”

The company’s attention to good business practices has twice earned it the Integrity award from the Better Business Bureau, and it’s one of the reasons Midwest Construction was nominated for the Big50 award.

According to Remodeling magazine, each of the companies selected each year “have set the standard for professionalism and integrity through smart marketing, exemplary business practices, unique design, and extraordinary impact on their community or the industry at large.”

“We’re consumers, too”

Paul says, “He would remind us that we’re consumers, too, and we need to treat customers like we would want to be treated.”

He says he knows the business has done right by his dad—and by the customers—when Midwest employees run into customers outside of work and those employees are treated like friends instead of service providers.

Further proof of the company’s success is the loyalty of those customers. They’re the foundation for Midwest Construction’s entire advertising program.

“We don’t push short-term discounts or sales,” Paul says. “We rely on consistent radio and TV ads, including our partnership with Van and Bonnie from WHO, our sponsorship of the Des Moines Home and Garden Show, and on customer testimonials.”

Each year, the Midwest Construction sales staff recommends customers for the upcoming ad campaign. And each year, the staff has no trouble finding satisfied customers who are eager to share their experience working with the company.

“Our ads focus on the customers because it’s their story,” he explains. “And the reason they’re willing to share is because we did what we said we would.”

“Keep family separate”

This rule came from both Mom and Dad, and everyone in the family was expected to follow it.

“Early on, my brother was up in Minneapolis when we had an operation there, and I was here in Des Moines,” Paul explains. “But we were all expected to be in Mason City for church on Sunday a couple times a month and at home for family dinner. And if anyone mentioned work at the table, Mom would look at us and say, ‘Call him tomorrow. This is family time.’”
That attitude strengthened both the family and the business in a positive way.

“My dad had a succession plan for the business long before he retired,” Paul says. “And we continue to bring family in. They know if they’re interested in any aspect of the business, there’s a place for them here.”

Three of the Despenas children continue to run the family business, along with various nephews and cousins. The fourth generation of the Despenas family will be joining them soon, following the footsteps—and the philosophy—that helped them grow.

Remodeling Big50

Awarded annually to remodelers who demonstrate above and beyond business excellence, the Big50 inducts new companies each spring to the magazine’s growing list of top remodelers.

The magazine seeks nominations for the award from editors and columnists, as well as the NARI leaders and the NAHB Remodelers Council. Nominees must then complete an application process, including information about community projects, marketing programs, and photos of their work.

This year the magazine received nearly 200 applications. As Remodeling describes the winners, “Though they’re not always the biggest companies, most made more than $1 million in 2014. . . . The award recognizes excellence and leadership, and the companies who belong to this select group set an example for the rest of the industry.”

Preparing future generations

Just like Alex Despenas prepared and trained his family to follow after him in the construction business, the Midwest Construction family continues to guide the next generation of professionals.

“When I was a young installer, we always had a group of kids coming out of high school who wanted to become carpenters or learn the construction trades,” Paul says. “As the years have gone by, most kids want to work on a computer and not with their hands.”

To help ensure future generations of local skilled professionals, Midwest Construction has developed relationships with area community colleges and local veterans groups.

“We supply tools and materials for building trades classes so the teacher can give them a basic knowledge of vinyl siding installation,” Paul explains. “And now we are reaching out to veterans to help those well-trained veterans find employment in the construction trades.”

In an industry struggling to draw young people into the profession, Midwest Construction has done more than voice concern for the future. Midwest is providing opportunities and preparing the next generation.

Where to Find the Next Generation of Remodelers

Listen to an audio of Remodeling magazine’s Big50 Bites interview with Paul Despenas. The Big50 Honoree shares how his company finds younger tradespeople and installers.