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One-on-one with Larry Chavez

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If Larry Chavez’s life had a soundtrack these days, it might be full of those fist-pumping anthems popular at stadiums and arenas around the country.

And that’s not just because Chavez spends so much of his free time at sporting events. He’s been to the Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA Final Four and even the Olympics.

It’s because at 66, the Springer, N.M.-born CEO feels more energetic than ever – in part because he’s on a serious professional roll with his Albuquerque-based Dreamstyle Remodeling. A retailing company that sells name-brand windows, spas, sunrooms and other home products, Dreamstyle has started construction on a new, $4 million-plus headquarters building, seen its workforce more than quadruple in 10 years and earned enough industry clout that Chavez now sits on a Harvard-based remodeling trends committee with the likes of Home Depot executives.

But things haven’t always been so rocking.

Chavez himself describes his life circa 1989 as “a country-western song,” having had one of his earlier ventures implode.

“I lost everything,” the Valley High and University of New Mexico graduate says from one of Dreamstyle’s Albuquerque offices. “I lost my business, lost my house, lost my wife.”

Before Dreamstyle, Chavez had a near-catastrophic professional failure. A licensed CPA, he’d sold his firm in 1982 to pacify the entrepreneurial yearning he’d felt since his high-school job at the McDonald’s on 4th Street. (As a teenager, he thought he’d one day buy his own McDonald’s franchise.)

In the late 1980s, backed by venture-capital financing, Chavez started a sunroom manufacturing and distribution business. Everyone involved soon realized they had miscalculated the resources necessary to build a thriving enterprise and, two years in, it was still far from turning a profit.

Investors grew impatient, and when Chavez traveled to California to solicit dealers, they took it over.

When he returned from California, he says the venture-capital group had literally packed up the business, moved it elsewhere and taken all the employees.

“I had put everything I had into it, so I lost everything I had,” he says.

Chavez managed to stave off bankruptcy – his wife refused to sign off on the documents – but his life was in near-shambles. In the aftermath, he lost his home, and the chaos contributed to his divorce. (Interestingly, he now calls ex-wife Joyce his “fiancée” as they have remained close and plan to eventually remarry.)

Humiliated, Chavez contemplated leaving town altogether. He temporarily moved to California, where he’d developed a network of business contacts. Some part-time accounting work helped him make ends meet as he devised a new plan.

“I was several squares behind square one,” he says. “I would’ve been happy to start at square one.”

But he’d soon signed on as an Albuquerque-based dealer for a California manufacturer.

Within six months of losing his business, Chavez was laying the foundation for what is now the thriving Dreamstyle operation.

Hitting the bottom, he recalls, left him with “extreme motivation to succeed.”

“It was like getting knocked down in an athletic event,” he says. “When you knew you could win, but you had to start over.”

Chavez developed a winner’s mentality long ago.

As a Little Leaguer, he once pitched a no-hitter in a city championship game. At Valley, he played for the Vikings’ 1965 state championship basketball team.

Growing up, his life revolved around sports, friends and work – first selling sodas at Dukes baseball games and, later, at McDonald’s – but his father, a dump-truck driver, insisted Chavez make education a priority. When Chavez married at 18 and contemplated taking a break from his UNM studies to get a job, his dad refused.

“I was the first one of all of my family to graduate from college as far back as I’m aware of,” says Chavez, whose two younger brothers would also go on to finish college.

Work, though, remains one of his greatest passions. Chavez says he has no plans to retire and will work until the end.

“They’ll haul me out of that new building feet first,” he says.

Q: What did you learn from the failure of your first sunroom business?

A: I learned all the fundamental business matters of being properly capitalized, doing proper planning, having the proper management team … being in an industry that you could succeed in in the proper market. We would’ve never had the proper supply chain (to manufacture sunrooms) here in Albuquerque. And just the basic fundamentals of starting a business.

Q: To what do you attribute your rebound after that experience?

A: I think (it’s) some of the things I feel are personal characteristics: drive and energy and creativity and just an absolute intent to make it happen. I was bound and determined that I was going to succeed in this business after that. But it was without any money, without really any help. I mean nobody’s going to help you when you’re in trouble like that. There certainly weren’t any family resources or anything like that.

Q: Did you imagine this kind of success?

A: No. When I was out in California, I met a guy there who was very successful. This is in 1989, and I was at his office one night and the salesmen – must’ve been six or seven of them – came in and brought a contract in. I said, “Wow you’re doing great.” In August, 1989, he had done $800,000 of business. I left there and I said “I’ll never do $800,000 in a month, but gosh if I could do $200,000 in a month, that would be great.” Yesterday (alone), we did $240,000. … And my hope at that time was that one day we’d get to $200,000 a month. No, I didn’t imagine it getting to this level and we’ve got a ways to go. I thought we’d sell sunrooms and I’d have eight or 10 employees and we’d do pretty good.

Q: What are your pet peeves?

A: My biggest pet peeve is the lack of follow-up with anybody I have interaction with, whether it’s an employee, a supplier, a friend or relative, or particularly my kids – who follow up pretty good. It’s just real irritating. I have lots of people I’m highly confident in, and then I have the yellow-sticky situation, where when we discuss something, I have to make a note so I follow up.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: I think I have some musical talent that has never come out, so when the time comes, I’m going to – now it’s not going to be a secret – (but) I was going to secretly learn how to play the piano and then show all my family one day. … I’m going to do that, (but) it may not be as big a secret. I’ve never done anything relative to music or anything, but I just have this hunch. I can follow along at church singing a hymn I’ve never heard, and I can anticipate it and know exactly how it’s going to go and be right there with them. So I think I have a hidden talent. I’m going to find out. (Laughs) I may have an entertainment career.

Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures?

A: Fast food, I guess, would be one. Hamburgers and french fries. I’ve eaten at McDonald’s all three meals occasionally.

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