How Douglas Gajda and His Team of Quality Craftsmen Restore One-Hundred Year Old Homes

Growing up in the Little Italy section of the Bronx, Douglas Gajda thrived as a student and, eventually, as a business leader.

His passion for great work, promise to deliver affordable rates, and intentional effort to provide quality craftsmanship led him to become one of the most beloved contractors in the Renovation and Restoration industry in New York. As he’s moved into retirement in North Carolina, he continues to consult on projects, provide insights, and ensure affordable solutions for his community.

After high school, he attended college to become a structural engineer. The selection of his major was intended to support the already growing business he had been developing. Once he realized that structural engineers were hands off, he opted to focus on the growth and development of his company.

Many days were spent sourcing the best materials for every project. In time he commanded a team of quality craftsmen capable of restoring one-hundred year old homes. This proved to be a niche the company thrived in. Focused on an area where old homes constantly needed revision, update, and additions, the team obtained the practice and skills to deliver on Doug’s promise.

Over the years, he found himself sourcing from small stores due to the quality. He discovered direct connections to quality, hand made materials and delivered even to people on a budget.

Even as he moved from New York, he brought his desire to help ensure quality results at fair rates with him. Helping people drives him forward and as an active member of his Home Owners Association, he provides advice to many neighbors, and community members. He continues to leverage his many years of knowledge and skill to be an asset to those around him.

What did you do for your company?

As the head of a restoration and renovation construction business, it was my responsibility to connect with clients, organize projects, and ensure the right people were on site. I also handled the books, spreadsheets, and paperwork along the way. It meant a lot of hours, but I have a great wife who supported me through it all.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

My grandmother inspired me to find my passion in restoration. She asked me to work on a project for her. Within time, I grew to appreciate the work and branched out to grow. I was still in grade school when I began working on my grandmother’s home. Neighbors, family friends, and eventually strangers hired me to do the work even as a young man. The business grew from there.

What defines your way of doing business?

Honesty is important. Quality work at a fair price impacted every decision I made. It was not uncommon for people to approach me about a quote on a project with an expectation of one result or another. By the time I came back to them, it was possible to demonstrate quality products, sourced at better rates, which led to better cost for the customer’s bottom line. So many of my neighbors were on a fixed budget. It just wasn’t in me to charge them something significant to get the work done.

What keys to being productive can you share?

Plan and organize ahead of each project and stick to the plan. Show up every day ready to work and to put the best you can into that work.

How do you measure success?

If the customer is happy with the results of the work we did for them. Each time a quality job is completed at a fair price people would recommend us to the next person they knew. I worked seven days a week and never had to advertise my business.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

Every customer is unique. A great example of this is Miss Anne. She was about seventy years old and wanted her money’s worth with everything she had done. I agree with that wholeheartedly. So, we sat down with a cup of coffee at the table and talked about the project. She showed me the floor tile she wanted and asked for my best price. I asked her to give me a little time. A week later, we sat down for coffee, and I showed her a sample. After asking if this matched what she was looking for, she confirmed. I explained that before I could provide a price I needed to go over a few things. I explained that the tile she showed was different. The one I bought back from Italy was significantly cheaper. I took a quarter and scratched the original tile, showing her that expensive doesn’t always imply quality. I gave her the price of sixteen thousand dollars. After verifying I wasn’t exaggerating, she took me upstairs to the second floor. She already had the same work done to the second-floor apartment she wanted done to the first floor.

Miss Anne knew what had already been done on that floor, so my price seemed out of place. After explaining how the contractor did the work from looking at it, I also told her she may be replacing them again at some point. She pressed me on price at which point I explained the job typically goes for thirty thousand dollars, but she asked me for the best price. She pulled out the receipt for the previous flooring work at thirty thousand dollars. She wanted to know if I knew what I was talking about. I explained that my labor and materials didn’t cost what they cost others, and it meant savings for my customers.

So you never underestimate a customer.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?

Have patience and don’t skimp on materials. Be honest. Love what you’re doing because it’s going to be time consuming. Always deliver what you promise, or better. Never overpromise and under deliver on anything.

Take care of the people who work with you. For example, if my people went on a job we billed eight hours for but they finished it in four, they went home for the day. Despite leaving early, they got paid for the eight hours. This gave my team the freedom to deliver great work and still see their families. It fostered enthusiasm and loyalty. They often identified issues before concerns arose. If someone wasn’t doing the work, my guys had the authority to send them home. I backed them up on their decisions. If you can stick to that you’ll have a great career.

What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

My computer, but really it was the spreadsheets. I used them to keep the books, keep track of every project, and inventory of the materials. Spreadsheets were really the best tool I could have mastered.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

Definitely my grandmother. In highschool I won a bunch of championships for bowling and my grandmother was always with me. Even when the odds were stacked against me she was always in the crowd cheering me on. Her support gave me a lot of confidence later in life and I always go after what it is that I want.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

When there’s a will there’s a way. There’s always a way you just gotta have patience to figure it out. This applies to anything, even test taking.