The entrepreneurial itch for Larry Janesky started as a second grader in Bridgeport, when he would go door-to-door selling packets of garden seeds to neighbors. The springtime venture proved profitable; young Larry began thinking of expansion.
A few years later, he took over a newspaper-delivery route. That enterprise was also a moneymaker and he eventually bought out two other carriers, growing his business to 140 papers a day. He used shopping carts to deliver the news.
"I learned pretty early that you've got to make your own way. You can't wait around for people," said Janesky, 48. Reared in a modest, working-class home, the second of four children knew early that "if I wanted a baseball glove or new sneakers, I had to come up with some money. So, I sold things."
Today, Janesky's business sells things totaling more than $100 million a year. He is founder of Basement Systems in Seymour. The 2012 Connecticut Small Business Person of the Year is widely considered one of the state's more innovative entrepreneurs.
His expansive 50-acre, five-building, 210,000-square-foot wet basement-repair enterprise in Seymour employs 265 and serves 375 dealers. While Basement Systems was established 26 years ago primarily to fix leaky foundations, it has evolved into what is described as an international network of wet basement contractors who purchase equipment and materials from Janesky's company to repair wet basements. Janesky owns 27 patents on basement and crawl space products. His company's main mission now is to provide comprehensive customer service — sales training, internet marketing, management training — to its dealers.
"Our goal is to make our dealers successful in their marketplace,'' Janesky said. "If they're successful, then they're going to need more (Basement Systems) materials."
Only about 25 percent of Basement Systems' revenue comes from the Seymour company actually fixing basements. The bulk of sales come from the distribution of products such as drainage and dehumidifier systems, sump pumps, basement flooring, windows and wall panels.
Under the Basement System umbrella are five other companies, including Clean Space (which fixes vented crawl spaces); Total Basement Finishing; Dr. Energy Saver and Morehouse Finance, a new company. Janesky said the finance company is starting to do well, recently loaning about $2 million (at an average of about $6,000 each sale) in one month to folks trying to finance their wet basement remedies.
Janesky's multimillion-dollar operation is quite remarkable, particularly because he never went to college. He is however, a voracious reader, devouring anything that has to do with personal development and business. He is also an avid listener to books on tapes and counts personal development gurus Tom Peters, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Steve Covey, Tony Robbins and Les Brown among the motivational speakers he respects.
Janesky, a sought-after motivational speaker himself, is a man of eclectic interests. This motocross bike enthusiast has also authored five books, including his latest "The Highest Calling.'' It is a business novel about a young entrepreneur who begrudgingly learns to take the counsel of a wise spirit who comes to visit. The book earned recognition from the Indie Excellence Book Awards as a top business-motivational book.
"When I was 18, I never envisioned this,'' Janesky said. "No one could possibly have envisioned this. It's like driving at night and you can only see as far as your headlights. You have to have faith in yourself. I love being underestimated. I love being the guy that nobody bet on… Time is going to pass anyways. So, you might as well do something great while you are here. Because pretty soon we're all going to be dead. You know what I mean."
The roots of Janesky's rise to prosperity in wet basements can be traced to his teenager years. After the paper route business, he decided to be a carpenter. In 1983, Janesky put an advertisement in the local newspaper: "Carpentry. No job too small. Call Larry.'"
He started getting calls. Eventually, he started his own home building and remodeling company. In 1987, the housing bubble burst. The last home Janesky was working on — a colonial — was found to have a crack in the foundation."
Janesky did some research on the problem; discovered a special epoxy and materials that solved the problem. Basement Systems was born in 1987.
If there is a secret to his unquestioned success it's that Janesky believes that entrepreneurs cannot work on growing a business until they first work on improving themselves. Personal development and accountability is an enormous part of this Eagle Scout's personality and management style. If managers and employees work every day on improving themselves personally and professionally then, he believes, that will permeate the company. His business mantras would be: Work on improving self. Love what you do. Wow the customer with service. Keep things simple. Expect and embrace change. Integrity.
"The key to management is not focusing on people's weaknesses,'' Janesky said. "You focus on their strengths. You build their strengths — and you put them in a spot where their weaknesses don't matter so much."
He believes individuals should pursue their passion with vigor. "If you're doing something you don't enjoy, that's telling you something. You're in the wrong place."
Janesky, married and the father of three children, is a free spirit who believes strongly in the free enterprise system and has great disdain for what he perceives as big government intrusion. His hard-knocks Bridgeport background is a badge of honor.
Formal education, unless you are seeking a corporate job, is overrated, in his estimation. "That being said, I am a huge believer in education,'' Janesky said. "But it's the right kind of education. I'm a lifetime learner; an adult learner. I think everyone needs to be an adult learner. I consider myself one of the best educated people in any room.''
He defines "success" as "not just about money, but making the most of what you've been given.''
For Larry Janesky, those seeds of success were planted years ago.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.Foxct.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FoxCT). His 'Faces in Business' column appears monthly. Know someone who'd make a good subject for 'Faces in Business'? Contact Simpson at email@example.com