Industry Standard - Liverpool, NY
Since returning home from Iraq, where he served as a Marine patrolling the border with Syria, Chris Dambach has made it his mission to continue to serve his country and give back to his fellow veterans. Through his facility maintenance company, Industry Standard, USA LLC, Chris provides a full range of services, including general construction, grounds maintenance, and custodial services, to national veteran cemeteries, veteran hospitals, army bases and military reserve centers throughout the US.
After being awarded a five-year contract to restore and maintain the Memphis Tennessee VA National Cemetery in December 2018, Chris applied for a loan through Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) to cover the costs of equipment. Through EGF’s Veteran Loan Program with Bank of America, Chris received a $50,000 EGF SmartLoanTM at a reduced interest rate of 5.75%.
We spoke with Chris to learn more about his story, his business, and how his EGF loan helped his company grow.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur but it took me a long time to realize that I was one. From selling candy on the back of the school bus to selling crayfish out of the ditches of Virginia, being an entrepreneur has always been a part of me. I’ve always loved selling things, finding a need and filling that need with a product or service. Whether on a small scale or a much larger scale like I’m doing now, this has always been a passion of mine.
What inspired you to start Industry Standard?
While I was stationed in the desert in Iraq in 2009, me and the guys were going around in a circle discussing our plans for when we returned to the U.S. Everyone seemed to have a plan or some idea of what they were going to do. When it got to me, I had no idea. When they asked me what I knew how to do, I really wasn’t sure. I’m not a college graduate and felt like I had no applicable skills. They kept on encouraging me to think of some skills or experience I had and that’s when I thought “well I know how to mow lawns.” I mowed lawns in high school with a company I owned called the Yard Monkeys. They encouraged me to start a lawn care business and even came up with the name Veteran Lawn Care.
When I came back from Iraq, I was on unemployment for about seven months. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and thought, “You know what? I think I’m going to start that lawn care business.” So I took the money that I’d saved from Iraq and I spent it on some used equipment. I then took out an ad in a local penny-saver for $30 and I made a bunch of flyers and put them around the neighborhood. Overnight I had 30 to 35 clients.
You received a loan through EGF’s partnership with Bank of America for Veteran-Owned Businesses. Can you tell us about how you found out about the partnership and your experience throughout the process?
I found out about the partnership through the organization Vet Met Network. The people at Vet Met encouraged me to apply and told me about the work EGF does with veterans. They worked with me and championed me throughout the entire application process.
I have taken many loans throughout the nine-year span of my business. This was by far the easiest application and loan process. I‘ve even joked that I’m still waiting for the paperwork to show up because it was so easy to do. It really was painless and the speed was amazing. As business owners, we have enough paperwork that we have to deal with on the day-to-day. The last thing we want to deal with is another stack of paperwork on our desk. I want other business owners to know that there are organizations out there like EGF that make getting a loan pain-free.
How have you used your EGF loan?
So I used my loan to purchase equipment for the Memphis Tennessee National Cemetery contract that we were just awarded. This is a cemetery for veterans and their families and is administered by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s a five-year contract that’s a little under $1 million. Basically, our job is to keep the cemetery in pristine condition so that those that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country have a beautiful and respectful place of rest. I’m a landscaper and groundsman by trade. I’m also a veteran. So this is the ultimate job I could ever do and it’s truly the highest honor for a veteran groundsman.
With this contract and our EGF loan, I’m now able to hire four new employees who will be stationed in Tennessee. I’m also going to be able to bring a full-time executive manager onto my team in Syracuse, NY. This new hire will bring us to the next level and will help free up my time so that I can go out and sell our services.
Do you have any other upcoming projects?
Yes! In fact, we plan on using EGF again for our next loan to fund our contract with the Long Island National VA Cemetery. This is a $6.6 million project that will also last for five years. This specific project will allow us to hire 14 New Yorkers to raise and realign all the veteran headstones in the cemetery.
How have you applied the skill you learned in the military to your work at Industry Standard?
Not to sound cliché but one thing you learn in the military is that failure is not an option. We’re taught that there’s always a way to accomplish our goals, and if we do fail we’re taught to find another way to accomplish them. In the military, failure is not called failure. It’s called education. I think this mentality has helped me in my business and is part of the reason why veterans are often successful and exemplary business owners.
What advice do you have for other veteran business owners or entrepreneurs?
Once you start to find success, it’s important to give back. Of course, we all want to use our success to buy a new car or a bigger house, but I’ve found what really keeps me grounded is giving back. As veterans, I think we owe it to those that didn’t come home to spread as much good as we can. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a rich man. But I will tell you this: I’m the richest man I know because I get to continue to serve my country by helping those who fought for it.
EGF is honored to have played a part in Industry Standard’s mission. We look forward to supporting Chris as he continues to serve to his country by giving back to his fellow veterans.