Sometimes unintended consequences turn out for the best. They certainly did for Damian Wells, whose ill-fated decision to enter a new line of work eventually led to the creation of his dealership, California Craftsman, which has become one of the biggest and best window and door dealers in the Sierra Foothills region of northern California.
After his father retired from working as a lifelong interior contractor, Wells, then a carpenter, found himself taking on a role in construction management. Turns out he hated the gig. After three years on the job, he persuaded his dad to come out of retirement and start California Craftsman with him and an uncle.
That was in 1999. Nearly 20 years later, the family business, of which Wells is president and CEO, is booming, from Truckee, north of Lake Tahoe, to Auburn down Interstate 80 to Sacramento, thanks in large part to a commitment to service, quality, and attention to detail.
“One thing that sets us apart is that aside from being a dealer, we are also a general contractor,” Wells says. “So on the replacement side, most of our competitors are just replacing square hole and square peg. With us, if you’ve got a wall that you want to add a door to it or add a window to it or shrink or enlarge the opening, that’s all done in house.”
And on the construction side?
“The benefit of working with us is our background in interior trim,” he says. “So our crews are well trained, and they go to painstaking lengths to make sure that the heads of the windows are planed and the spacing is equal, so when trim carpenters do show up, everything is the way it should be and they’re not trying to make us look good because we didn’t do our part.”
And in a region where high-end custom homes are cropping up big time, doing anything less than precision work isn’t going to cut it. Especially with national companies increasingly jumping into the mix in the region, Wells says.
“It’s super-competitive and the market in the Sierras is hot right now,” he says. “The big builders are trying to capitalize on what’s going on there.”
But California Craftsman may have a leg up on the big guys. For one, the company boasts a team of highly skilled and dedicated employees, many of whom have been with Wells for well over a decade.
Another reason for California Craftsman’s competitive advantage has to do with its nearly two-year partnership with Western Window Systems, with its quality aluminum construction and modern styling of its giant pieces of glass.
“It’s always been very wood-window-focused here in the Sierras,” Wells says. “But aluminum windows are gaining traction here, and we are seeing a lot of plans with Western Window Systems products.”
With the “mountain modern” architectural style growing in popularity in the region, architects and homebuyers are attracted to the clean, contemporary look of Western Window Systems doors and windows.
“Western Window Systems has given us a solution to compete in the mountain modern market,” Wells says. “Wood windows have limitations that a Western Window Systems product doesn’t. For the builder, in terms of the budget, if you take into account there will be no staining or painting, that budget goes into the windows, and suddenly we don’t look so expensive.”
Even with all the recent success, California Craftsman isn’t without challenges facing it, and not just from the national competitors entering the Sierras territory. Wells cites a manpower shortage gripping the industry in the region.
“The country places more value on a degree that may or may not do anything for you versus working in the trades,” he says. “There are a lot of kids with degrees who complain that minimum wage isn’t high enough. I say, ‘You’re not supposed to be doing that job, you know?’”
So to that end, Wells currently is focused on recruiting and doing everything he can to keep California Craftsman a place where employees want to stay. The company’s attention to detail and commitment to quality and service certainly helps efforts.
“We actually have a former employee who’s coming back, and he’s citing our craftsmanship,” Wells says. “He went to a competitor, an install dealer. At that job, he was embarrassed to put his name on the work he was doing. We were the first company he’d worked for and didn’t realize how good he’d had it.”