Lou Pagnutti isn’t shy about letting you know what makes Decks Unique stand out from the crowd. “We’re the biggest deck builder in New York state, the biggest on Long Island, the eighth-largest Trex installer in the country,” he says.
Decks Unique builds decks and only decks. Pagnutti has another company that builds outdoor area projects, as well as a fence company. Six years ago he started Nassau-Suffolk Exteriors, which does roofing, siding, and windows. “I believe in specialty,” he says. His various businesses do nothing together except share a building and a showroom. He describes his operation as “a really big one-man band.”
Pagnutti’s been a designer, seller, and builder of decks long enough to watch construction go over 30 years from nails, bolts, and pressure-treated pine to the “jigsaw puzzles” his crews assemble today, with two or three different decking materials in different colors plus railings in various combinations. Homeowners “think a deck is a deck—until you show them the products.” Company salespeople offer homeowners a slideshow on a laptop equipped with a drawing program and materials list.
Homeowners can not only see what their deck will look like with furniture on it, but how it will look when it’s dark outside. If they like the design they come down to the Decks Unique showroom and select materials. “We want you to pick everything,” Pagnutti says.
The owner divides his time between the office and field, mainly because [he’s] “not an office-type guy. I like swinging a hammer.” He doesn’t swing a hammer that often, but he does get involved in designing projects and supervising construction.
Maintaining profitable growth is about managing productive capacity. “In this business, when it rains it pours,” he says. “One week there are 30 calls and the next week you’re checking to see if there’s a dial tone.” When the temptation to add crews arises, “you’ve got to know when to stretch stuff and when to bang it out,” he says. So if you get five jobs in February, you stretch it out. If you get five jobs in April, you bang it out.”
“The most important thing is the work,” he
says. “Quality work that people recommend. And it’s all in the details. There
are things you tweak and things you change. And if you’re not there then
someone else is deciding on the details.”
- Decks Unique is “big on certification.” Training in new products and installation isn’t just for the company’s 20 carpenters, it’s for everybody. Salespeople “should be able to go in the back yard and build you a deck,” Lou Pagnutti says. And installers “should be able to sell you one.” Not that he necessarily wants either of them doing that.
- Decks Unique generates substantial business from strategic partners like pool places and retailers selling hot tubs, which helps every business.
- Even with four companies to keep track of, Pagnutti tries to visit every jobsite every day.