The Path to Becoming a Successful General Contractor with Maintco Corp's Inna Tuler
October 6, 2021 | Episode 12
The Path to Becoming a Successful General Contractor with Maintco Corp's Inna Tuler
October 6, 2021 | Episode 12
Maintco Corp’s Inna Tuler is our special guest for this episode of Becoming Legends. As always Eric starts off right away with getting into Inna’s business and how she created Maintco Corp, a general construction company.
Unlike a lot of the companies that have been featured on Becoming Legends, this company isn’t really involved in tech or marketing and business services. Instead, Maintco Corp focuses on building restaurants, which just goes to show that there is an incredible range of opportunities for entrepreneurs out there.
Construction might not seem like an industry an entrepreneur would love, but Inna talks about how she transitions from being a concert pianist to working in the construction industry. And she loves it.
Construction gave her the opportunities she wanted in the United States, which was an opportunity to get away from teaching piano and being a concert pianist.
Sounds like quite an origin story doesn’t it?
Trust us, this interview just gets more interesting from there.
Inna’s story is all about making the most of unlikely opportunities and finding things to love in a wide range of jobs and occupations. A Russian immigrant, one of the big lessons of Inna’s story is that anyone can succeed with the right attitude and approach to jobs and life.
If you’re looking for a success story that teaches you how to get past life’s left turns, and maybe how to embrace those left turns, this episode may just be what you’ve been looking for.
Eric: All right, and we are back. I’m your host Eric Grundhoefer with Becoming Legends. Today with me I have Inna Tuler. Is that Tuler is how you pronounce it, right? With me today I have Inna Tuler. You can find Inna at M-A-I-N-T-C-O.com. Inna, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate you and your time. This is absolutely amazing. Really excited to have everyone hear about you, learn about you. So, if you could, just please tell everyone, introduce yourself. Tell everyone who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
Inna: Hi, everyone. I’m Inna Tuler, CEO and owner of Maintco Corp, which is a general construction company. We are located in Burbank, California. We’ve been around for 30 years. And we do many varieties of general construction. But also, we do repairs and maintenance and service and preventive maintenance, and big projects and small projects for the 30 years for the community. And our niche is fast food restaurants and convenience stores and supermarkets. So, we are really much into food services, locations throughout California and surrounding states.
Eric: That’s amazing. How did you — Okay, so I like to go — I always use the analogy everyone wants to know how Bruce Wayne became Batman? And so obviously, like, slightly different scenario. Tell everyone how you got into this? Like, when did this start? Have you always been in this industry? Is this what you love? Do you love what you do or is this just, hey, I’m doing this to do this?
Inna: I love what I do. I became to do what I do now by chance, by opportunity, actually. My first career I was a concert pianist.
Eric: Oh, wow.
Inna: Yeah, I was born in Russia and raised in Israel. My mom was a piano teacher and she decided I am going to be playing piano no matter what. So, at the age of four, she put me in front of the piano, hired a teacher and said play. So, I did. I did for many, many years. And I got my degree from the University of Tel Aviv in performing arts playing piano. And I had my piano school back in Israel. I did everything to do with music, piano, kids, teaching and performing myself as well for many, many years until I decided to have family children. And then at some point, when we decided to come to the United States, I made this huge declaration saying, I have no idea what I’m going to do in the States. But I know what I’m not going to do in the States, which I’m not going to be teaching piano, I’m not going to have a piano school. I’m not going to be a piano player. I don’t want to hear about any of that. But I really had no idea where life was going to take me in America.
So, after coming in March to New Jersey and freezing in snow with two little kids, we finally got tickets, and after three weeks in New Jersey, flew to California. And at some point, I got into property management. The building that we rented an apartment at, I walked in one day and the assistant manager wasn’t there. And I kind of asked where is Cathlyn or whatever her name was. And they said, well, she’s no longer with us and we’re looking for an assistant manager in the building. And I was like, that could be me. You know, I didn’t want to play piano. I can be the assistant manager. I have no clue about property management or anything like that. But I said I put my best looking boots and came in the next day and I talked to the owner of the management company saying I speak Russian and we had Russian speaking people and tenants and Israelis and everything. And so I said I speak Russian and speak Hebrew and English and I’m nice. Yeah, I didn’t have a resume or anything like that. That was my resume.
Eric: That was it right there.
Inna: Yeah. And I have two kids to feed and a husband that doesn’t have a job. So, he said, well, I don’t see any reason not to hire you. So, I started as an assistant manager in a 200 unit building in Tarzana. And apparently I did well. They liked me and I actually stayed with them for, I think, four years or so and became a supervisor after that and so on and so forth. But in the meantime, my husband was home and he was a stay at home dad and the kids were going to school and he was kind of looking for an opportunity as well. He was an entrepreneur from the get-go in his blood. He never worked for anybody. He could only manage people and he was great in doing that way, ahead of his time and people liked him. But he just needed the right opportunity.
So, opportunity came with someone suggesting he might do some apartment [inaudible 00:05:35] because we lived then in a residential building. I said well, why don’t you just get a carpet shampoo machine and start shampooing the carpets for people. When people move out, you need to kind of clean it out and then prepare it for new tenants. Of course, we didn’t have the money because we came into the country with, I don’t know, $200. But we took out a loan, somebody cosigned a loan for us and we got that $2,000 carpet shampoo machine and he did it two times. He said I can do this. So, he found some tenants that lived in the building and he said you know, you shampoo the carpets, here’s the machine and we split. You get 70%, we get 30%. And this is how the company started.
Inna: And so we started with the carpet shampoo machine and then the company came and said well you know if you’re shampooing carpet, why don’t you also do the painting and then the repairs and you know get the whole package of making the apartment ready. And we started there and then with years he did a little bit more and added some more trades and incorporated in 94 and went into doing more commercials and offices. And the company — we incorporated in 94, but we’ve been around for 30 years, since 1991.
Eric: That’s absolutely amazing.
Inna: So, that’s how it started. And I always say yes to an opportunity.
Eric: Yeah, I love it. Wow. That’s amazing. So, when did you come over from Russia to the US?
Inna: I came from Russia to Israel first in 1976 as a child. And this is where I met my husband. And with two little kids we came to the United States in March of 1991.
Eric: March 1991, okay, very cool. And then from then on just the empire. And then you were only in Jersey for, you said a short time, right?
Inna: It was snowing. It was cold. The kids had [inaudible 00:07:39] jackets on. They couldn’t even clap their hands. It was [inaudible 00:07:42] We came to California into the T-shirts and the flip flops.
Eric: Oh, yeah. That’s fantastic. I’m originally from Buffalo, New York which is even more cold than Jersey, like more months out of the year. So, the first chance I had to move to Florida I was like I’m doing it. Let’s go. So, that’s absolutely amazing. But, wow, I love this story. This is absolutely amazing. So, you were the one that made the jump first and then you kind of were like, even though your husband has a more entrepreneurial spirit, you were just like hey, let’s do this. So, you were kind of like guiding, but you were the first one to take that step.
So, then how do you make the jump from a loan and a rug shampooer as like starts like your legacy which is absolutely amazing. Now you’re doing 7-Elevens, I see a Starbucks on here, a Taco Bell which is phenomenal. Your portfolio looks amazing. What are some of your favorite buildings that you’ve done? And here’s a second question off of that though. How do you go from managing property? So, this is like where my brain went. How do you go from managing property and kind of just doing that to then getting these contracts for these really big name places? And like, that to me is fascinating because that’s like scaling the business up times 20 very, very fast. So, like if you can shed some light on that, obviously, don’t give away the secret sauce, and like, you know, whatever. But I think that that’s one of the most fascinating parts about all this.
Inna: Well, we kind of organically went from doing apartments into let’s try to go after office buildings or something bigger than just apartments. Because at some point it got to be a little boring, and really not much opportunity and it was very repetitive and everything. But outside of that, what we did we did well. And it goes a long way. Before any advertisement and before any you know, definitely like commercials and anything or publicist or — you just basically do a good job. And then they hear about you and then they move you to another building and there’s another 40 apartments out there that needs to be taken care of. But my whole thing is I like to see a — I like to take something broken and fix it into something beautiful.
Even on property management, when we went through this whole era of time when landlords were just walking away from buildings back in 92, 93, 94 and banks would take the properties back and didn’t know what to do with them and they usually were destroyed and in really bad shape. You know, I would take a building with 40 units, 50 units, whatever there is with, I don’t know, five remaining tenants, everything else is they can — in really bad shape and just make it into a new jam. And fixing it and painting it and putting it back on the market. So, that transformation, that wow effect, from bad to good, really got me going. It’s still getting me going. I still like to see something broken turning into something beautiful.
So, we did that for a while, and all of those buildings went back into the market and were sold. We were just fixing that. And then a phone call came in one day, after a recent couple of flyers. A phone call came in and a person on the other side was, “Hi, this is Bob. I’m with 7-Eleven and I just received your letter and it’s kind of nice and we’re looking into splitting our markets. We’re getting some more stores. Would you be interested to do work for us?” And I wasn’t even aware of who 7-Eleven was and how big they were. That was back in 1997. And I said yeah, sure. Let’s meet.
So, we started with, you know, we went and interviewed and they were extremely nice. And we started with very little. We started with painting some graffiti and fixing a piece of tile. But consistency, I guess consistency, and quality and making sure that the work is done the best quality ever and the reporting and the communication with the customer. We basically babied that account from nothing to more and bigger projects. And now we could build a 7-Eleven from the ground up. And we can also repair it and remodel it from nothing to something. So, I guess perseverance and good quality and the name goes in front of you. We expanded just that way. You know, year after year after year, every four o’clock in the morning, wake up, do your work, go in the field, meet with the clients, and delivering good quality work.
Eric: Over and over and over again, that’s amazing. [crosstalk]
Inna: Over and over. And then somebody knows somebody and really, up until about a year ago, right before COVID we didn’t do any active marketing.
Eric: Oh, really? I was going to ask you about that because you said that 7-Eleven had called. So, I was like, whoa, where did that lead come from? Do you know?
Inna: There was one time back in 97 we sent a price menu and a small description of who Maintco was back then to, I don’t know, I think it was 100 different clients or 100 different companies, and 7-Eleven called back. [inaudible 00:13:48]
Eric: That’s amazing. That’s absolutely amazing. So, 100 handouts, [crosstalk] best ROI you’ve ever gotten, right?
Inna: Best one ever. There’s a lot of work and a lot of nights and a lot of four o’clock in the morning emails and nine o’clock at night and often emergencies. But I enjoy it. When they need me, when they call and they need our services, it’s a win. It’s a gift that doesn’t stop giving. But you know, I always take that, never take it for granted. So, if they call me and they need my service, no matter how urgent that is, for me, I take it as a compliment. They need me so that means I am, you know, essential
Eric: Yeah, exactly. You can help them.
Inna: The company is essential and that’s where we excel at.
Eric: That’s fantastic. So, you do great work through consistency, you’re making these connections and things like that. My question is now then so you said, pre-COVID you really didn’t do much marketing. Now you. Because for my viewers listening, you know what I mean, it’s about becoming legends, your reputation and things like that. Obviously, the hard work, it shows itself. Like, you make your reputation because you’re doing good quality work. But through your marketing and stuff, how are you getting your name out there that way now versus how you were doing it before COVID?
Inna: When COVID hit, we were, you know, as everybody, stopped and stopped breathing. It’s like what’s going to happen now. So, fortunately, we were essential but everybody were panicking and a lot of projects stopped and put on hold and everything. And so we sat in my backyard, all my key management and said okay, we need to come up with a plan and we need to pivot the business to where we survive and we do through this time, which wasn’t known, and how long it’s going to take. So, we created this new program for reopening LA for safety and the sneeze guards and the filters and their high-touch cleaning and everything that has to do. We had a six step certification that we came up with a plan that we can help businesses to continue operating, continue having their offices open and continuing, you know, making sure that there’s anything, we had a crew that will go out and clean the surfaces.
But it was something we haven’t done before so we needed to come out and tell the world that that’s what we do now as well. So, I said okay, we need to market. We need to come out and we need to show our faces and we need to tell people what we do. And this is when we started recording our YouTube videos and this is where we started to said okay, we need to get into the, you know, LinkedIn and Facebook and all the rest of the social media and basically, put our face in front of the world, in front of people that need our help in this situation. [inaudible 00:17:18] And so this is when we started marketing.
Eric: I love it. I absolutely love it. And so you adapt or die, right? Like, you kind of came up with this six point certification system. Now, when you go into 7-Eleven now, so you’re saying you’re the people that invented that glass shield and everything that’s out there?
Inna: We didn’t invent it, but we customize it to whatever the needs are. You know, we started with our own office [inaudible 00:17:48] so one of them needed to hang and one of them needed standing, one of them needed to cut out on the bottom, one of them needed six feet, one needed 20. We did call centers, banks. So, we customized it per what the client needed, and we did it ourselves in our shop.
Eric: That’s absolutely amazing, adapt or die. I love that. I love that message. That’s so fantastic. [crosstalk] What’s that?
Inna: Never die.
Eric: Never die ever. Our 30 minutes is up. I want to cut it there for everyone that’s listening. I think that’s a great note to end on, adapt or die. But thank you so much. I really appreciate you being here. I hope everyone got a lot out of this. I think they absolutely will because that story is like — I have goosebumps. Honestly, it’s like such an inspirational story of everything that you just said. It’s so amazing. So, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate you.
Inna: Thank you for having me here.
Eric: No problem.