Q&A: Juan Cardona
By J. Chambless
Sometimes, the passions that ultimately
lead us are the ones we have put aside for decades. For 25 years,
Juan Cardona worked in sales and marketing for the telecommunications
and computer industries. When he left his corporate life 11 years ago
to begin Archadeck Outdoor Living near West Chester, he was looking
for a position where success could easily be measured by beauty and
quality. For Cardona, it was like returning home -- back to his
childhood in Spain -- when he watched his father and grandfather
practice the fine art of carpentry.
West Chester & Chadds Ford Life: Talk about what got you to Archadeck Outdoor Living.
Cardona: I had been looking for business that was going to provide for my family but also provide me with some degree of satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment. Building beautiful spaces just seemed like the right fit for me. The combination of the technical aspects of construction with the aesthetic aspects was the thing that attracted me to the business. Being able to design as well as build presented a terrific opportunity for me.
Where did you grow up?
Cardona: I grew up in a small fishing village on the northwest corner of Spain, near the Atlantic Ocean. I was actually born into a family of carpenters. My father was a carpenter, and his father was a carpenter. When I came to the United States with my family, at the age of eleven, the idea was not that I would be a carpenter, but to go to college. But after 25 years in corporate America, I just got tired of that world. That's when I decided that I wanted to start my own business, and through a whole series of events, I ended up here at Archadeck.
Talk about the marriage between your role as the owner of a nationally-known builder of outdoor living spaces, and your overall knowledge of building that you absorbed through your father and grandfather. That's an added comfort level, sort of an additional tool you've got.
The fact that I'm familiar and comfortable with the technical aspects of carpentry and building is one less thing for me to worry about learning. Someone coming in to this business without that knowledge has a much steeper learning curve. Having Archadeck’s technical and marketing resources and training behind me makes it that much easier and makes me that much more effective at providing design services and the rest of the services we deliver to our customers every day.
You were recently awarded a design excellence award from Outdoor Living. That has to be a badge of honor for you and your team.
It is. I’m quite proud of what we do and how we do it, so it is nice to get recognized by both your customers and your peers. The design process that goes into our projects is what differentiates us and provides impetus to our business. Outdoor Living Brands puts a lot of emphasis and effort into incentivizing all 50+ local offices to do the kind of work that everyone can be proud of. That's the reason I entered this business. I came from a place where I was pushing paper around and, in the end, there was very little to show for all my efforts. Now, I ride around Chester County and see the things that my team and I have built and there is a great deal of satisfaction in it. The award is really secondary.
There is a growing trend -- really a phenomenon -- in outdoor living. People are changing the entire dynamic of home living by bringing their homes outside. Talk about when those trends first began, and why they began.
I came into this business right around the time when that was starting. Originally, the business was more just fixing decks or adding a deck when there was none there. Ever since the economic downturn of 2007-08, people have begun to look at their homes as places they want to fix up and stay and live in. Home owners are now more likely to upgrade by adding amenities rather than moving to a bigger/better home. There's a trend toward staying where you are, rather than moving.
By 2009, homeowners began to focus more on the back yard and outdoor living spaces. That trend continues today and represents a major shift in the business in the past ten or 15 years.
Outdoor kitchens, gazebos, sunrooms, decks and porches. Each of them begins with the ideas and needs of the customer. Take me into that first meeting, where those ideas and needs are shared.
Outdoor living is much more than just chairs on the lawn or the deck or the patio. Customers are telling us that they not only want to be outside more than they used to be, but that they want to have those spaces be more like regular living spaces. So, they begin to look into what options and concepts may be available to them. One of these concepts, for example, is an exterior fireplace, which allows you to have a living room, outdoors. It's a way to extend that feeling of comfort to the outdoors. And we are building more of those types of spaces now.
Take me into the nuts and the bolts of the design process. Is the finished project a melding together of the customer's ideas and yours?
Almost always, the process includes both our ideas and the customers’s input. In the end, what they want and what they end up buying is a combination of a) what they wanted and b) the ideas that we bring to the design process. Sometimes, people call and say they only want a deck. We begin talking, and then they rattle off a wish-list of other things they would love to have done. They may not know that a small pergola, for example, would give the design a different look. They may not know that we can put an outdoor kitchen in, because they're wired to think that they will simply buy a grill. We show them photos and give them ideas they may not have thought of. In the end, everything is driven by the customer's budget. The imagination can go in many different directions, and we help them with that, as long as it fits their budget requirements.
With the advent of home improvement shows and magazines and media, there is a lot more knowledge in the hands of the consumer these days.
There is no doubt that all of those things create demand. It becomes the art of the possible. Customers today are much more in tune with and much more knowledgeable about the available materials and other options that may be available to them. Today, unlike years ago, most of our deck projects include composite materials. Customers now visit the web sites companies like ours or of the various manufacturers like Timbertech, for example, to get ideas and facts about the materials and options that are available to them.
How much does the landscape of the Brandywine Valley play into the design of your outdoor living spaces?
You have to take everything into consideration -- the landscape, the construction/style of the home and the location of the home, and come up with a solutions that fits within that space or surrounding area. The architecture of the houses we work with is taken into consideration – whether it is a contemporary style house versus a Chester County farmhouse look, for example. If we're working at a 300-year-old stone farmhouse, we have to design within that space and the look that fits the area. We have a lot of new construction homes in both Chester and Delaware counties. They all seem to have a very similar look, so we use different materials, styles, amenities and sizes and shapes to try to differentiate one from the other.
Every builder has a bad weather story. What's yours?
I recall in the last couple of winters, having to start major projects where the first step was to bring in a snow blower and clear out two feet of snow that had been sitting there the day before. So the first eight hours of work, rather than have nothing to do with the building process. Because we work strictly on outdoor projects, weather can be an issue in every season and at any time.
Our planet is getting hotter, to the point where our summers are beginning to get unbearable. How does this influence your customers' needs?
If you look back at July of this year, when it was really hot, the typical deck or patio, particularly those facing in a southerly direction, became almost unusable during the day. This type of weather reminds our customers that they have made (in some cases) some large investments in spaces that they are not using as much as they’d like. So they call us with the request to work with them on changing that. So, lately, it's driven a greater demand for shade structures, and creating shade areas where there were none. Things like, gazebos, pergolas, awnings, screened porches, etc.
A couple is considering the idea of creating an outdoor living space. What should they be asking themselves?
They have to first ask themselves, 'How do we want to use this space? How much time are they going to spend out there? What kind of activities do they plan to have out there? Do they do a lot of entertaining in the form of large parties a few times per year, or will it just be you and your spouse sitting outside, enjoying a quiet dinner and a glass of wine?' Obviously, budget comes into play also. How much is what you want worth to you? My experience is that very few people have a solid idea of what they want to spend, until we help walk them through it.
What is your favorite spot in the West Chester and Chadds Ford areas?
I really enjoy places like the Chaddsford Winery or the Four Dogs Tavern. I enjoy listening to live music and tasting their wines at some of the festivals they have throughout the year. I also enjoy the outdoor dining possibilities in West Chester. It adds a little European flair to the town, and it reminds me of my native Spain. Sitting at an outdoor café or restaurant relaxing and watching the world go by.
Who would you invite to your dinner party?
I would love to get the entire family together once again, if I could. We have four granddaughters, and I would love to have my father and father-in-law meet their great-grandchildren. They never met any of them. It would really be fun to get my current family and some of my past family together again. If we're just making a wish, that's what I would want to do.
What kind of food is always in your refrigerator?
It would have to be something related to fish or seafood. It's always in the refrigerator, or about to be.
・ Richard L. Gaw