By Sarah Hall
Chris Dambach, Owner, Industry Standard USA, LLC.
As an infantry Marine in Iraq, Chris Dambach learned about the three B’s.
“They say on every mission, you’ve got to have the three B’s: the beans—accommodations, lodging, food—the bullets—tools and materials—and band-aids—PPE and safety equipment,” said Dambach, owner of Industry Standard USA, LLC. “You can apply that same thinking mentality with construction. If you’re working out of town, do you have hotel accommodations? Do you have all the tools? Do you have all the material on site the day before? Are you outfitted properly for the work you’re going to be doing? So, you’re always thinking ahead being proactive, and always anticipating what’s around the corner.”
Industry Standard USA provides facility support services—lawn mowing, snow removal, janitorial, window washing, tree removal, and the like—on government projects. For the last two years, the company has also been providing construction services, including excavation, backfilling, grading, demolition, interior demolition, exterior demolition.
Industry Standard USA, is a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, a certification it carries at both the state and federal level. The firm is also a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise-certified contractor with the United States Department of Transportation.
“New York State and the federal government say, if you are a service-disabled vet, you qualify for this certification,” Dambach said. “In every New York State contract, there’s a small requirement that says the prime contractor needs to subcontract or buy from a supplier X amount of percent from a service-disabled company. So, in New York, on all the contracts, there’s quite a bit amount of work out there for us to go ahead and supply as a subcontractor or supplier to these large prime contractors and then the federal government, they will go ahead and set entire contracts aside for service-disabled veterans. So, only we can bid on them.”
The firm recently made the Inc. 5000, a list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States that ranks companies by overall revenue growth over a three-year period. Industry Standard USA came in at No. 1728.
It’s a long way to come from its beginnings as a small lawn care endeavor, which itself grew from a casual chat among fellow grunts in the Iraqi desert.
“When I was overseas in Iraq, me and the guys were going around the circle, asking each other questions, saying, ‘Hey, what are you going to do [when you get back home]?’” he recalled. “Then it came my turn, [and] I said, ‘I have no idea. I don’t have any real trade experience.’”
What Dambach did know was that he wanted to work for himself.
“I didn’t want to work for anybody anymore,” he said. “I didn’t want to be told, when I can eat, go to sleep. I was done taking orders.”
His fellow Marines pointed out that he used to mow lawns in the summer and suggested he start a lawn care company. He jumped on the idea, and in 2010, he started Veteran Lawn Care. The business got its first government contract two years later. By 2017, Veteran Lawn Care had become Industry Standard USA.
“We started teaming up with larger companies that had more experience than us, but didn’t have the certification,” Dambach said. “We also could perform the work, but we couldn’t win it because we didn’t have the past performance. So, what comes first? The chicken or the egg? How can you win a bigger job if you can’t show the past experience? How do you show the past performance if you can’t win that bigger job? So, you have to team up with larger companies. And then we started winning larger contracts, multimillion-dollar contracts with the federal government. And now, a lot of those contracts, we can self-perform on our own. We don’t need to team up anymore because we have the past performance.”
A couple of years ago, Industry Standard USA expanded into construction. Just as they had done with grounds maintenance projects, the firm teamed up with larger firms in order to obtain bigger contracts. Now Dambach says his business has a great relationship with local giants, like Global Urban Enterprises LLC, also a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, and Heuber Breuer (HB). In particular, Industry Standard USA worked with both on a $24 million project at Western New York National Cemetery, the veterans’ cemetery between Rochester and Buffalo.
“We provided the landscaping and the irrigation services on that contract,” Dambach said. “It was pretty cool because Al [Urban, owner of Global Urban] assembled a team of I think six or seven service-disabled vets and Heuber-Breuer.”
Dambach feels particularly connected to this project.
“The cool thing is, I’m so proud of it, as my grandfather’s going to be buried there,” he said. “My father is going to be buried there and I’m going to be buried there. So essentially, I helped build my final resting place and my father’s and my grandfather’s.”
He is also grateful for the opportunity to work with mentors such as Global Urban and Heuber-Breuer.
“I cannot tell you enough about these guys,” he said. “Anytime I have a question or I need help or I don’t understand something and I need explaining to, they will not hesitate to get on the phone with me and say, ‘All right, Chris, we’re going to explain this to you and teach you.’ I could not ask for two better partners and they understand because they were here in my shoes once. I would like to be them when we grow up.”
Dambach hopes to fill a similar role in the future.
“I want to be able to, down the road, mentor a young company like we are in construction or in grounds maintenance,” he said. “I want to be able to go ahead and work with the younger company and say, ‘Hey, now, it’s my turn to go ahead and help you guys grow.’”
That’s not all Dambach hopes to see in Industry Standard USA’s future.
“I have four young sons ages 10, 6, 5, and 3. I’d like to see one of my boys get involved with the company,” he said. “It’s just such a great time to hang out with them, even though I’m yelling half the time. At the end of the day, I know they’re going to grow up so fast because I’m watching it happen in front of me. So, I’m hoping I can hold on to a little bit of it by bringing one of the kids into the business. So, on the weekends, we have a couple of four-wheelers here at the shop. I bring my sons in. We ride four-wheelers. I have them push the broom a little bit, get them familiar with the shop, let them know it’s a fun place.”
It is one of the perks of owning his own business, Dambach said, but it’s far from the only one.
“[I really enjoy] being able to give back. That’s a big thing,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I started the company. I was done taking orders. I wanted to be my own boss. But also, I know if we grow this thing into the machine that it can be, we’re going to be able to really make changes locally and in our communities; donate back. We like to donate to Vera House, to the Boy Scouts, to the Building Men Program in the city of Syracuse—that’s young inner-city males that might be needing more of male influence. If I were just working for a company, I wouldn’t really be able to donate that much to some of these groups.”
The job isn’t without its challenges. Like many other companies, Dambach said COVID has impacted his business, most noticeably in terms of finding employees.
“That’s the biggest problem I think most companies across the country had, and they’re still having,” he said. “When you bid the contract, you didn’t anticipate COVID. You didn’t anticipate the country being shut down and let it open back up. Finding labor would be nearly impossible on top of that.”
Dambach said it is especially difficult when dealing with federal projects, when there’s no wiggle room in the budget.
“We were in a real tight spot over the course of this entire year [trying to] staff our contracts at 100 percent,” he said. “We spent $45,000 on Indeed running ads this year alone, just trying to fill positions, when our estimated budget for recruiting was $4,500. We’re just getting to the point now we’re able to start finding labor again and get all of our projects fully staffed.”
Fortunately, he said, he has a great team.
“I work with a really, really, really great team here in the office, and we have a great team on the field,” he said. “Everybody gets along, everybody likes to have fun but work hard.”
That team is dedicated to providing the best customer service possible.
“We’re extremely responsive, and one of our sayings here is quality over profits,” Dambach said. “We try to give the best quality we can. We’re easy to work with.”
But for Dambach, the biggest reward is being able to see the tangible results of his work.
“That’s one of the reasons I started mowing lawns,” he said. “I don’t know what projects you’ve done, maybe at your home if you build a raised bed garden, or build a front deck or a walkway. Isn’t it nice to be able to look at the project when you’re done and get the instant gratification to say, ‘Wow, I did that. Look how beautiful it is.’ It’s very satisfying.”