When Stephen Fanuka’s father Radenko first arrived in America from Croatia in 1967, he ate cat food by accident. “I swear to God, he thought it was tuna,” says Fanuka, CEO of contracting firm Fanuka, Inc. “When I asked him if there was a cat on the label, he said, ‘Oh, I wasn’t looking. It looked like tuna fish.’”
While he came to this country with very little money, with hard work (and slightly more conscientious label reading), Radenko eventually became a well-respected cabinet maker in College Point, Queens, opening a 20-by-50–foot shop. A few decades later, Stephen is CEO and has grown the shop to a business with 25 employees, a roster of 6,000 clients (he’s currently working with 16 at the moment), more than $6 million a year in revenue, and a new TV show on DIY Network called Million Dollar Contractor.
According to Stephen, he’s seen too many family businesses where the son thinks he can just coast on what the father built and he ends up running the business into the ground. “I felt like I had more of a responsibility to make sure that I was able to carry out my father’s legacy,” he says.
Stephen has been involved in Fanuka, Inc., now located in Maspeth, Queens, since he was 12 years old—despite a few years off for college and a brief foray into advertising— and has always pushed for growth. “The moral of the story is, not every father and son firm goes under when the son takes over,” he says. “I didn’t take for granted the fact that the business was already there. I actually said, ‘I need to modify it, make it better, and expand from it.’”
Stephen first got his contracting license after he was hired by Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines known for her sizable shoe collection. She had heard about his reputation as a good cabinet maker, but she contracted Stephen to redo her entire house. Once the job was finished, changing Fanuka, Inc. from a cabinet company to a full-service contracting firm seemed like a natural progression. “It was another way of expanding the business without making it a bigger cabinet company,” he says. After only a few years, they were operating as contractors as well as cabinet makers.
The transition was a smooth one and Fanuka, Inc. grew naturally. “I thrive on repeat business and word of mouth,” says Stephen. He stresses that the only way to guarantee repeat business is to treat each client the same, regardless of size or cost.
Despite only taking a short amount of time, making the big leap from a tiny cabinet shop to a prestigious full-service contracting and renovations firm—with a celebrity client list that includes Lindsay Lohan, Beyonce, Tony Bennett, and Good Day New York’s Rosanna Scotto—was not a decision the business took lightly. So how does Radenko feel about his son working on the homes of celebrities? “He can give two sh**s,” says Stephen. “All he cares about is that I’m honest, I’m on time, and I give a sh** about the work I’m doing.”
Focus on Client Retention
Today, Fanuka has different priorities. Fanuka, Inc. doesn’t advertise, and aside from his upcoming TV show and occasional guest appearances on other TV shows, has relied entirely on word-of-mouth marketing.
“I truly believe the bigger you get, the less money you make, and the harder it is. I would love to stay moderate,” he says. “It’s always nice to have business. It’s always nice for people to call. But at the end of the day, I do not want to be a 200-person firm. My advice is, never get too big. You’re going to lose the personalization that you’re giving your clients. Stay small, moderate. You’ll make more money, and you’ll be better for it.”
An Ambassador of the Industry
With Million Dollar Contractor airing on Sundays at 10pm on DIY Network, Fanuka, Inc.’s level of recognition will undoubtedly increase. Stephen was careful to ensure that filming wouldn’t affect the work he does for his clients. “The one thing I was afraid of was that I could very well go out of business because I wouldn’t have time to do my real job,” he says. But Stephen and his team are working on the homes of actual clients on the show. “These are my real jobs, and this is my real life,” he says. “For the first time ever, you’re going to see how those rooms you see in magazines were created before fancy people came in and put curtains up. You’re going to see how the high-end industry operates.”
So, why do the show? Fanuka is hoping that Million Dollar Contractor will raise the reputation of his whole industry, not just his company. “A lot of people have a misconception of contractors. They’re crooks, they steal. They take the money and run. And you know what? They’re not far off. It’s unfortunate. My job is to straighten out the industry and make this industry what it’s supposed to be—honest.”
It’s a sentiment that undoubtedly makes Stephen’s father proud, as does his dedication to his company and his craft. However, being number one often comes at a price. “I’m a workaholic. Too many contractors leave at five o’clock and they say, ‘I’ve got family.’ We all have family. But I’ll tell you one thing, if you’re going to stop being a contractor at five o’clock so you can take your kid to the baseball game and stop thinking about what you’re doing, good luck. Good luck. I wish you the best.”
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.