By Mike Lewis
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — During the past 30 years, Craig and Berniece Collis have built buildings and a successful company.
“I started off as a laborer, then a carpenter. … I’ve been here since I was 21,” said Collis, who owns Minghini’s General Contractors Inc. of Martinsburg, W.Va., with his wife, Berniece. He is the president and she’s the vice-president of the firm, which dates to 1860.
Minghini’s has won a host of awards in recent years. Most recently, it was named small business of the year by the Martinsburg-Berkeley Counrty Chamber of Commerce.
There’s a decades-long family connection to the company. Craig Collis’s father, Boyd Collis was a supervisor there. When Boyd died unexpectedly, Craig was promoted to supervisor. And in 1988, Craig and Berniece bought the company.
“We’ve come a long way since we started out,” Berniece Collis said.
When they bought the business, she said, “seven or eight” people worked there. Now they have more than 18. Among those employees are their two sons. Jacob is project manager, and Morgan is a supervisor. And the family has started work on a succession plan to carry the company into the future.
The company has stayed busy with a variety of buildings, from Domino’s Pizza structures to large commercial projects. Off the top of their heads, Craig and Bernice point to projects like an addition to the W. Randy Smith Recreation Center and a medical office building in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. The company has done work in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The Collises also have been honored for their contributions to the community and have received awards from organizations such as the Girl Scouts, the Rotary Club and the Red Cross.
Craig said he’s been giving blood since age 18 and estimates he’s donated 20 gallons of blood over the years.
Berniece said attention like that is “humbling.”
“We were both born and raised here,” she said. “This is our community. … If everyone does their part, your community can thrive and be successful.”
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you face at Minghini’s?
Our biggest challenge is finding skilled carpenters, supervisors and willing-to-work laborers. Finding quality subcontractors is often an issue, as well. We have had to get creative in finding ways to cover our projects from the supervisory aspect.
What do you wish more people understood about your business?
With all of the inclement weather we have had this year, scheduling work is the most misunderstood aspect of our business. After a week of unending rain, when we have one day of sunshine, the expectation is that work resumes. (Also), permitting has become a factor. It can take several months to receive permits to even begin a project.
You have owned the company for three decades. What have been the biggest changes in that span, and how have you successfully negotiated them?
We have seen a tremendous increase in the value of projects. Our first “big” project was $80,000. Now most every job is over $1 million. Technology has changed the speed of the information shared in construction. We have gone from doing everything by hand to everything being computer-based. We remember when the fax machine was the greatest thing since sliced bread on bid day, and now bids arrive by email. The speed of communications and the expectation of responses is overwhelming sometimes. (Sometimes you just need to think about your response.) Having our two sons, Jacob and Morgan, join the company has been a blessing. We not only get to share our knowledge with them, but they bring a wealth of knowledge to us, as well. Having them and a new chief financial officer and project assistant from the same generation working with the folks of our generation has given Minghini’s a balance. We have been able to progress while staying true to our core operating principles.
What do you think the next decade will bring for Minghini’s in particular and for the region in general?
We have been extremely blessed with work for several years. We are optimistic that there will be continued growth in our community. This region is attractive to bigger manufacturing firms positioning for easy distribution on the East Coast. We feel that the country is moving in a positive direction as far as the business climate is concerned. Minghini’s will continue to thrive as the company transitions to the next generation of Collises.
How do you juggle your responsibilities for a “work/life” balance?
We balance work and life by being vigilant in separating the two. Even though we are married, we work really hard at not sharing business on family time. Growing up, our boys never had to compete with the business. Weekends and weeknights were reserved for family.
Personally, outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?
We look forward to family time. The grandchildren are our focus along with other family members. We are content with what the Lord has provided. We are blessed to have the opportunity to do what we enjoy. What do they say, that if you love what you are doing, you never work a day in your life? Although we can be weary sometimes, we never work a day in our lives.