BUILDING A BUSINESS

OWNER SAID, 'HEY, I COULD DO THIS,' AND PROVED IT

When Paul Jenkins joined the military right after graduating from high school in Flatwoods, he thought he'd make a career of it."I was a third-generation soldier," he said. "My grandfather retired from the military. He served in the Korean War and he and my dad served in Vietnam. "But after seven years in the Army, the Eastern Kentucky native decided he wanted "roots.""I was moving around a lot and I wanted to settle down, so I moved back home and started working for a cabinet company," he said. With the discipline he gained in the military and the skills he learned while working for other companies, Jenkins has built a thriving countertop business of his own that is expected to double its customer base, open a new plant in Louisville and reach $1 million in revenues, all in the next year.

Nicholasville-based Top Service makes and installs countertops for builders, cabinet companies and home improvement stores. The company's roster of customers includes Barlow Homes, several Lowe's stores, Designer Kitchens and Kentucky-Indiana Lumber. Jenkins, 36, who moved to Lexington shortly after getting out of the Army, learned the ropes on the job.Not long before he opened his own shop, he helped two other men start a business that included a countertop fabrication shop. Jenkins was offered a partnership, but the owners and Jenkins could not work out the details.

"After that, I thought, 'Hey, I could do this. I know this industry inside and out,'" Jenkins said.Jenkins turned to a counselor at SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, for help getting started. Eugene Straus helped Jenkins with his business plan and put him in touch with Community Ventures, where Jenkins got a loan to purchase equipment.Straus, a SCORE counselor for 10 years, said Jenkins was "one of my brightest clients."

"I knew almost immediately that he was going to be successful." Using his personal savings, credit cards and the loan from Community Ventures, the Lexington resident and father of two bought saws and drills and hand tools and a few work trucks.He found a building with two work bays in Nicholasville and opened his shop there. "I was pretty blessed that I had been in the business for so long that I knew who the best craftsmen were and some of them came to work for me," Jenkins said.

"And I'd been in the business long enough to establish a reputation for my work that landed me some nice contracts."Those first customers, some of whom contacted Jenkins as soon as they heard he was starting his own business, have kept the company growing, he said.

"My customers have hung in there with me from the beginning, through all our growing pains, and that's what has kept us going," he said. "By word of mouth, a lot of other big-name companies started calling on us, too." In the past two years, Top Service has met and exceeded projections for growth in its customer base, sales and facilities. It now has about 36 regular customers. Among the bigger accounts is one with Lowe's stores in Lexington, Nicholasville, Winchester and Danville. The company makes and installs countertops for the home improvement stores. Other big clients are Creative Kitchens, Brock McVey and Cabinets & Design.

Top Service is hiring new people to handle the company's growing workload. Longer term, Jenkins plans to expand to Louisville in the next year and Cincinnati in the next few years.Jenkins said the home-building boom has driven a lot of the company's growth. But it also "has a lot to do with our customer service.""It's easy for a company that is growing as rapidly as we are to sacrifice services for volume, but we haven't done that and our customers appreciate that."Becky Crook, office manager at Cabinets And Designs Inc., agreed."He's a real go-getter," she said of Jenkins. "He's very customer-service oriented. We enjoy working with him."

Lexington Herald-Leader
April 22, 2003

Author: Risa Brim, Herald-Leader Business WriterEdition: Final
Section: BUSINESS, Page: C1

Copyright (c) 2003 Lexington Herald-Leader
Record Number: 0304220176

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