For four summers in Durham, NC’s Holloway Street, Ken Combs set up a lemonade stand. At the age of 8, it was his first taste of entrepreneurship. Business came naturally to Combs but was partly influenced by an “eat what you kill mentality” at the orphanage where he resided.
A few decades later, and less than 8 miles away from Holloway Street, Combs would open CQC Home. CQC Home has three offices, 25 full-time employees, and pushing $15 million in revenue. But that entrepreneurial spirit means there’s more out there for Ken Combs, who has a goal to become North Carolina’s largest remodeler.
“You want to be the person that gets to see how this plays out because it’s going to be extraordinary,” says business partner and wife Ericka Combs.
No Experience Necessary
Ken Combs’ entrance into the industry was all about “opportunity combined with timing” he says. The same goes for meeting Ericka.
She came from a similar background, being adopted at the age of 6. Ericka ended up at a community college, sitting next to Ken Combs, who decided to drop out a year later.
Shortly afterward, 19-year-old Ken Combs was searching a local newspaper for work. One ad stuck out: Carpenter’s helper. No experience necessary. He fit the bill.
He became a laborer for a custom home builder and quickly climbed the company ladder. But he couldn’t shake the entrepreneurial itch.
Not Just Average
Ken Combs admits it was pretentious for him at the age of 22 to think he could run a construction business better than his boss and mentor.
“It came from a moment where he had just finished a job, a beautiful house that we completed, and he sold it for $1.1 million. It took us about a year to build,” says Ken Combs. “He told me that he had lost money. Not only did he lose money, he also lost a year of his time and effort and energy into building this beautiful home.”
So he began Custom Quality Carpentry, working as a sub until it evolved into constructing staircases, screened porches, and decks. His right hand, Ericka, worked as his helper until two weeks before giving birth and general contractors worried about their liability. The family just celebrated their firstborn’s 15th birthday.
Those first three years were plagued with mistakes until 2013 when Ken found himself at the next phase with five contractors and 20 jobs. In one day, those five 1099 workers were employees, he purchased workers comp, and continued evolving.
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“The more I learned, the more I realized that I didn’t know. It made me hungrier to want to learn more. I started reading every remodeling-specific book or resource that I could find,” says Ken Combs. “The more I learned, the more I implemented things. I always had the desire to be the best, or to be great, not just average.”
Working for Each Other
Custom Quality Carpentry transitioned to a design-build model and rebranded to CQC Home in 2015 with nine employees and one designer. By 2017, CQC Home hit nearly $5 million in revenue.
The goal? Ken Combs says it will take $30 million to become the state’s largest, and he envisions getting there through more independently run offices.
Though the foundation of CQC Home’s success has been its leadership, its mission to further uplift its employees is what propels the company further. CQC offers an educational stipend, whether that’s for sending their office manager to accounting classes or enrolling their operations managers into peer groups.
“We have a hunger for learning across the board, and it’s part of our culture,” says Ken Combs.
“Kenny always, always says the rising tide raises all ships, and the better one person does, the better everybody does,” says Ericka. “I think everybody we have in our team right now is so geared towards, ‘How can I help my team?’ It’s not like we work for the client, we work for each other."