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Refreshing Work

Mike Gervais is in a fine fix

by Cindy Bernhardt

Mike GervaisMike Gervais launched Prime Constuction in 1991, but by ’95, he had left homebuilding behind to focus on full-service remodeling work. The purchase of a DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen franchise in 2000 and a name change last year to Prime Renovation Group completed the company’s transformation. The showroom is at 4735 Williston Road, Williston.

“Taking stuff apart and putting it back together” was what Mike Gervais loved to do most growing up on his parents’ farm in Enosburg. 

Back then it was tractors, machinery, equipment, and “anything that moved” that captured his attention. These days, as owner and president of Prime Renovation Group in Williston, he’s still “fixing things” by remodeling homes.

The Prime umbrella covers DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen in addition to Prime Construction. Together the businesses handle all aspects of home remodeling to provide clients with what Gervais describes as “full-service, one-stop shopping” renovation services. 

The multi-award-winning business has a stable of satisfied clients who have experienced the company’s credo of “dream, design, build.” Says Gervais, “What I love about this business is translating ideas into reality and making dreams come true.”

He inherited his work ethic from his parents. The family left their farm and moved to the village of Enosburg when Gervais was in junior high. His father set up a business selling, installing, and fixing farm equipment. 

His mother, Avis, owned a local IGA store, later started her own clothing store, and recently retired from the Legislature after serving eight years as representative from Franklin County.

Gervais did everything from stocking shelves at the IGA to helping his dad weekends and summers. Through him, Gervais learned — and fell in love with — carpentry.

Following a stint as a security policeman in the Air Force after high school, Gervais enrolled in Johnson State College. Two years later, he transferred to the University of Vermont, graduating in 1979 with a bachelor of science in vocational technology. His student teaching assignment at a local public school convinced him his original plan to be a teacher needed rethinking, as “teaching at that level wasn’t for me.” 

He began working for Farrell Construction Co. in South Burlington as a carpenter, and within a year was managing projects, he recalls. 

After a year, Gervais says, “My Vermont blood told me, ‘Hey, I can do this myself!’ and he started Casey Construction Co. in 1981. 

He built Casey into a sizable business with 50 employees, performing light commercial, residential, and renovation work. Casey went out of business in 1989 after a major investor pulled out of a development job to which Casey had also committed.

Gervais and his family left the area and moved to Concord, Mass. “I was humbled when the business failed and wanted to get out of town for a bit and try something different,” he says. For the next few years he was director of engineering for New England Deaconess Society nursing homes.

Kyle Gabaree, Daren McKenziePrime’s 17 employees include three crews — one for kitchens and baths and two devoted to remodeling. Kyle Gabaree (left) is a bath and kitchen technician, and Daren McKenzie is the lead bath and kitchen technician.

Gervais and his family loved being near Boston, but, he says, “we had two young children and decided to come back here for a better quality of life.” They returned to Burlington in 1991 and Gervais did odd jobs while trying to decide what to do.

A friend encouraged him to get back into business. He took the advice to heart and started Prime Construction in 1992, undertaking renovations as well as home-building.

In 1995, Prime left the home-building piece of the business behind. “I was frustrated with the quality of houses being built. We weren’t competitive because I wouldn’t cut corners and wanted to deliver quality.” 

Demonstrating his trademark visionary skills and willingness to reinvent his business, Gervais saw a need for a full-service remodeling company. “There weren’t any around, and a lot of homebuilders were only doing that type of work as a side business,” he recalls. “I decided I liked the renovation and remodeling end, focused completely on that, and haven’t built a house since.”

In 1999, Gervais added Prime One Handyman to his business family. The division handled projects small enough not to require an entire crew. 

The vision thing struck yet again when Gervais realized the need for a full-service kitchen and bath company. “Lots of people sold cabinets but didn’t do installation,” he says. 

“I started looking around and found DreamMaker, spent about a year and a half researching them, visiting franchises and the company’s headquarters in Texas, and felt it was a good move.” He bought a DreamMaker franchise in 2000 and opened a showroom in Williston’s Blair Park in 2001.

DreamMaker, which features branded products from cabinets to plumbing fixtures and countertops, offers clients buying clout via its franchise-volume purchasing power.

Reflecting Prime’s shifting focus, the company officially changed its name from Prime Construction to Prime Renovation Group in 2007. 

Having recently sold the handyman business, the company now consists of Prime Renovation design/build and DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen. The entire group is located under one roof on Williston Road.

“We’re a one-stop shop for any remodeling or renovation project,” says Gervais. “We have certified kitchen designers on staff, have our own crews, and do our own installation. Customers can get their kitchen designed and installed and be ready for their first dinner party without having to go anywhere else. We take care of every detail.”

Prime’s 17 employees make up three crews: one for kitchens and baths, and two devoted to remodeling. Plans are to add another kitchen/bath crew. 

Jobs are an 80/20-percent mix of residential to commercial work throughout Chittenden, Addison, Grand Isle, and Franklin counties; 70 percent of Prime’s business comes from repeat customers and referrals.

Hiring the right people, says Gervais, is key. “Unlike home builders, we’re working in people’s homes every day through the duration of a project. It’s so important our people respect clients’ personal space and belongings and have the utmost standards in client satisfaction and cleanliness.” 

Aimee Gadoyas, Rebecca JohnstonPrime’s jobs are 80 percent residential and 20 percent commercial throughout Chittenden, Addison, Grand Isle, and Franklin counties. Aimée Gadoyas (left) is office coordinator, and Rebecca Johnston is general manager of DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen.

“Mike’s a good fellow,” says Burlington attorney Sam Bloomberg. “He’s a craftsman who is solid, dependable, honest, and really tries to please the customer.” Prime restored the historic Battery Street building housing Bloomberg’s Burlington law offices and performed a major kitchen remodel at his home.

Joe Sinagra, executive director at the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont (HBRA), echoes Bloomberg’s sentiments. “Mike produces a quality product and is one of the best craftsmen in the state. He knows what he’s doing and is passionate about his work.”

The housing market’s slump has meant a marked increase in remodeling work over new home building starts. That need, however, has not led to a business boon for Prime. Increased competition means “every house builder with three or four carpenters has become a remodeling contractor,” Gervais says.

Energy costs are also affecting people’s monetary decisions, he continues, creating tough choices. Prime has taken steps to weather the economic downturn, including cutting overhead and “watching costs in everything we do,” says Gervais. That includes qualifying clients early on to make sure they have the financial means to do a project and are realistic about their budgets.

“Today people are looking at things a little differently and buying what they need rather than what they want.”

Prime’s work is well-recognized throughout the remodeling industry. Being named HBRA’s Remodeler of the Year twice; Remodeling magazine’s Industry Impact winner in its Big 50 Remodeler awards; and Vermont Remodeler of the Year through Cygnus Corp. were among Prime’s biggest honors, Gervais says.

Gervais makes room in his busy schedule to give back to the community. He’s served four years as an HBRA officer, most recently as president. He is a past president and on the board of Greater Burlington Rebuilding Together, which rehabs homes of low-income homeowners. 

Gervais shares what he loves by teaching remodeling courses for the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). He was the first in Vermont to become an NAHB-certified graduate remodeler and the first remodeler certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. He was also one of Vermont’s first ten Certified Aging in Place specialists addressing modification of seniors’ homes to help them live there longer.

“Mike’s one of the few people in New England who have completed the stringent national regulations to teach these courses,” says Sinagra. “The feedback is that he’s a phenomenal hands-on teacher.”

His love of learning led him to offer an education assistance program for employees. “Education makes people feel better about themselves, making them better employees,” he observes.

Gervais would like to see the kitchens and baths arm equal the design/build work in volume. He also hopes to create “more of our own work by buying and renovating our own buildings.”

When not on the job, Gervais, who is twice divorced, says he likes to play as much as he works. He skis, snowboards, plays basketball, and loves taking boat trips on his 32-foot cruiser, saying he “tries to live on it as much as possible in the summer.” He’s father of three daughters and has two granddaughters, and can be found traveling to tournaments with his 14-year-old all-star hockey player daughter throughout the winter. 

Life is good for this fixer-upper who, not surprisingly, has remodeled all of his own homes. “It’s a challenging business,” he says. “We’ve met many fascinating people and families along the way. You never know what you’re going to get when you open up a wall.” •

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