Matt Larson was a chef, nurse and event planner for a large pharmaceutical company. But from an early age he knew how to fix things, and when the pandemic writing was on the wall a year ago, he decided to make a change.
Life is made of pivots. He started Finlanded MKE, a home repair and renovation business from his home in St. Francis at a time when starting a new business couldn’t be riskier. Except that, in this area, his timing was perfect.
“I always tried,” says Larson, 48, who lives in St. Francis with his fiancée and business partner, Wren Solares, but learned how to move around a construction site thanks to his mother and uncle who have grew up in Madison. “In the events industry, we have noticed that our jobs are drying up fast.”
It was time to dive in and turn his passion into a full-time job. And now Larson is getting busier every day, to the point that he’s already been hiring assistants for just a year. (The extra “N” in the company’s name is a tribute to its Finnish heritage, as well as its clean and simple design aesthetic.)
“The exchanges seem to be going pretty well…as long as you answer the phone and show up,” he says with a smile, because even though the owners have reallocated their funds from the vacation to improving the house, one point major stumbling block in the industry remains: too many contractors are still too unreliable.
“It says right in my tagline – honest, professional and reliable – and I live that mantra,” says Larson. “And if something goes wrong as we go along, I address it right away. I answer phone calls, I return phone calls and I answer text messages. I introduce myself, I arrive on time. If I’m late, I’ll let you know. If I have to reschedule for any reason – because in this industry things happen that are not always in your control – I let everyone know. Communication is a big key.
These weird times have also allowed Larson to focus a little more on his business, shifting from simply problem-solving to serving as a creative advisor in the process. Raw materials cost three times as much as they did a year ago, he says, so Larson is looking for ways to stretch his clients’ budgets. This means working with local partners whenever possible. He avoids large areas if he can.
“My vendors are right here in Milwaukee, they live and breathe the way the community lives and breathes. You can’t always expect Home Depot and Menards and Lowe’s to have all your answers, because they don’t. So you have to have alternatives, and if you’re not supporting small business, those things you need are no longer available.
Luke Lynch of Hallman Lindsay Paint, a Wisconsin-owned paint company, says “buy local” loyalty goes both ways. “I referred him to potential clients and he recommended Hallman Lindsay Paint for all of his paint jobs,” he says. “I had it at home for work. It is easy to work with him.
And tighter budgets mean Finlanded MKE can focus on recycling, working with unique materials and finding solutions beyond simple repair. Clients spend so much time at home now, he says, that looking at the same unimproved projects every day keeps them busy. Larson now does more bathroom and kitchen renovations than just handyman jobs, but he’s definitely a jack-of-all-trades, and his start-up costs involved all the expensive parts like licenses, insurance, tools. and equipment.
“I am the organizer of this partnership,” says Solares. “I bring the style. The finishing touch is paramount, and I love the final detail in every job. My priority is always the customer, providing them with the solutions adapted to their lifestyle. I push the boundaries of style to bring joy and balance to their home.
But, she says, solutions transcend style. “We are changing people’s lives, not just renovating homes.”
However, the Finn MKE does not increase its prices. Larson says he’d rather have a conversation and bid on a project than charge travel or hourly rates when some projects are easier than others.
“It’s a tough time for everyone, so who am I to sit here and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to charge you $150 an hour to show up and $200 an hour to work. ? “”
Lauren Schramka is a first-time home buyer in Shorewood and found the trust part of the Finnish MKE equation very important. She used it for a kitchen renovation.
“Since I recently learned how to mow the grass, I wasn’t able to begin to discover the issues of buying a house that was built in 1901,” she says. “For me, trusting your contractors with you is paramount. I work long hours and couldn’t be home to oversee projects. Matt took care of all of this for me and made sure I I was happy with the results.The excellent communication and trust in Matt is invaluable to me.
A year into his business, Larson admits he graduated from cooking school and worked in the emergency room as a nurse. But, he says, his time in the service and healthcare industries taught him valuable lessons about customer service.
“I try to fulfill my own expectations when I’m there, and if I disappoint myself, how can I leave a job satisfied?” he asks. “You can’t disappoint your customers…because they won’t be your customers anymore.”