Claudio Valenzuela didn’t know how to speak English fluently when he came to America in 1980, but he did know that he wanted to be a contractor.
It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually, he achieved that dream.
Claudio was a tennis club manager in his native Chile and pursued a similar role when he arrived in the U.S. in his 20s. A friend introduced him to a fellow tennis player, Kathy, and their love for tennis soon led to a love for each other.
Claudio had experience back home in the chair-making industry and knew he was good with his hands. The duo eventually decided to use their talents to become entrepreneurs and create Kathy’s Kapers General Contractors, LLC.
The arrangement was ideal: Claudio did the heavy-lifting while Kathy handled the important administrative tasks. As if learning a new language wasn’t difficult enough, Claudio also contended with the process of becoming a licensed contractor in America.
“I didn’t realize how much effort there was just to build a house. Nobody told me that I would need all different types of insurance and workman’s compensation,” said Claudio. “And I needed to pass a writing and driving test just to get a driver’s license. Then we had to get a truck. I just thought, ‘Oh man, this is crazy.’”
In the end, the husband and wife team withstood all the hurdles, finally starting their business in 1982. The company started small before expanding in scope and manpower.
While many entrepreneurs envision growing their business, Claudio reevaluated and decided to do the opposite.
“I tried to get bigger, but it didn’t work out for me. I’m very methodical. I’m a good finisher. I decided to go with just two or three guys, and that’s it,” he said. “Another reason I went smaller was because it wasn’t always cost effective to have so many people working for me.”
One of the benefits of maintaining a small staff is the personalized and friendly service customers receive from Kathy’s Kapers General Contractors, LLC.
His hands-on approach is something Claudio has maintained throughout the years. In fact, one of the reasons why he joined the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and H.I.C. (Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island) 25 years ago was to network and show others how he was different from some of the larger contractors.
“People began to know me,” Claudio said, “and they soon discovered my attention to detail and that I would be the one to do their kitchen and bathroom!”