American Dream Achieved
IBA, as an approximately fifty-year old business brokerage firm serving the entrepreneurial community of the Pacific Northwest, has been uniquely positioned since before the American Bicentennial celebration of 1976 to witness and hear the stories of thousands of people who have lived the American dream through entrepreneurship creating beloved businesses by employees, customers, and communities while finding personal fulfillment and financial prosperity through execution of their ideas, hard work, perseverance, and ability. In an effort to share these stories heard throughout the years by our team of business brokers, who are commonly regarded as the “best listeners” in the M&A industry, IBA has retained highly regarded freelance writer, David Garfield, to tell their stories. It is our goal to share one story a month. It is our hope that you will find the stories as inspirational and motivational as they are to us and the buyers who bought the businesses in IBA facilitated transactions in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
The Story of Justin Wicks (Patio Cover People)
By David Garfield
Justin Wicks’ story is about hard work, overcoming extreme adversity, perseverance, triumphing over the human spirit, strong faith, and becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Long before he built a multi-million dollar per year revenue business with Patio Cover People, Wicks’ story began in South Dakota, where he was born and raised on a dairy farm.
“We worked seven days a week, morning and night, and everything in-between,” Wicks said. “We put out hay in the summer, hauling square bales, walking through the field, milking cows in the morning and at night. There was never a day we didn’t work.”
Wicks, who carried this tremendous work ethic throughout his life, worked a multitude of jobs after high school, including starting his Amway business, which he continues running to this day. He opened a construction business in about 1995 with 18 employees and five to eight subcontractors. Wicks did siding, decks, windows, roofing and patio covers for many years until the construction bust in 2007.
Suddenly, Wicks’ life dramatically changed for the worse.
“I couldn’t support it,” he said. “I kept everybody as long as I could. I maxed out credit cards, I basically spent money that was supposed to go to quarterly taxes to keep guys going. I spent a hundred thousand dollars on advertising and didn’t get anything from it. So I ended up becoming homeless (he never, though, lived on the streets). I lost everything. I couldn’t even pay my thousand dollar rent on my house.
“… I literally could not function,” Wicks added. “I didn’t have any money. I had nothing.”
“He did his best to keep the company going,” said Stephen Cohen, IBA’s lead business broker in the sale of Patio Cover People. “He hit rock bottom financially.”
Wicks had liens against him, his bank accounts were frozen, and owed money to the IRS. Workmen’s comp came after him for $48,000 dollars.
“They took everything,” he said. “While I’m still trying to do business, they crucified me. That was local government that had no sympathy, they didn’t care. I had paid them almost one million dollars in six and half years.”
He emotionally spoke about driving to the bank and withdrawing all he had, $17 dollars, to buy groceries, and was told the IRS took his money.
“I scraped up the money from my cupholder in my car,” Wicks said. “I had a dollar and 78 cents. I bought a dozen eggs and a loaf of cheap bread.”
This was the lowest and darkest moment of his life.
Wicks, a man of strong perseverance, character and integrity, was forced to find other means to survive. He lived with his cousin for three months before he eventually stayed at an extended hotel for over two years.
Faced with overwhelming adversity, he relied on his deep faith to overcome dire times.
“That’s been the story of my whole life,” Wicks said. “I’ve always went to Bible studies, believed in Jesus, and had good fellowship with people of faith. We’re not here forever, we’re not here very long. We have a future home, it’s just that we want to make this one as good as we can. … My faith has always helped me through a lot of dark times. I’ve always felt the hand of God on me, that He loved me.”
Wicks also said he had an unwavering belief in himself and his work ethic to manage this crisis.
“Hard work is the answer of most problems, just hard work.” he said. “When they say we should work smart and not hard, that’s somebody who is making up stories. It takes both, but everybody that ever made anything out of themselves worked their butt off. They worked hard. I’d like to think I’m working smarter now than I used to, but without hard work, smart work doesn’t matter.”
Wicks said that “nothing else was going through my mind” during this time “other than I got to get through this and pay off my debt. I got to get my feet under the ground. I had other dreams of doing other things. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and a musician and write songs and sell stories and books. That was always in my mind about what I wanted to do eventually.”
Cohen said “he just believed there were better days ahead of him.”
Everything changed in Wicks’ life, when a man in Seattle who had a business constructing patio covers and patio rooms, gave Wicks an opportunity to sell for him using the man’s company name and license number.
“I knew that for now,” Wicks said, “I got to sell enough products and patio covers to get out of the hole.”
With great pride, Wicks stressed he never went bankrupt.
“I wouldn’t because I didn’t think it was right. I believe you need to pay your bills.”
For two years living in his hotel, Wicks kept “knocking on doors, going door-to-door” and selling patio covers.
“I paid off over $200,000 dollars of debt. I paid off every debt I had,” Wicks said proudly.
After Wicks’ success, the Seattle man said, “You got to start your own company. You got to do something, it’s getting too big.”
Suddenly, Wicks became an entrepreneur and Patio Cover People was born in about 2012.
“He started from nothing, and the rest is history,” Cohen said.
Patio Cover People brought customers the highest-quality patio covers, enclosures and railings in the Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, metro areas. Based out of Wicks’ Vancouver home, the business was a local small company that used locally manufactured materials to create custom patio covers and patio rooms. As mentioned on the Patio Cover People website, the products are “not available in any lumber stores or outlets. We are factory direct and take pride in a quality of service and product that multi-store companies simply can’t compete with.”
Wicks built his company to an over a million dollar per year business.
“I came up with the name, I came up with a logo,” Wicks said. “It took off gradually from there. Every year was better and better. Partly was I got smarter about it. I had some people come to me with advertising and helped me and it really took off from there. Then I got a nice website put together that I designed.”
Patio Cover People consumed all of his time, efforts and energy. Wicks, 55, was on a mission to succeed and prosper.
“I just built it,” he said. “I worked really hard, six days a week. I worked sunup to sundown, sometimes up to 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning doing drawings and orders. I did everything. I did all the scheduling, all the appointments, all the sales. I’ll just figure I’ll outwork it and make as much money as possible and set it up to sell it. I want to thank Tony Robbins for that. I watched some YouTube clips and Tony Robbins said, ‘Small business people close their businesses down when they quit doing it. Don’t do that. Set it up to sell it. It’s an asset, get something out of it. Let someone else enjoy what you put together and it’s worth something.’
“So that’s what I did. I take my hat off to Tony Robbins for being the only one who told me that. I never met him, but that was great advice.”
Wicks, whose main install people were from an independent contracting company, also made his business thrive by going door-to-door advertising his business and setting up sales and designing impeccable state-of-the art patio covers and patio rooms.
“I probably knocked on a million doors at least over the years,” Wicks said. “I wore out a lot of shoes on sidewalks. I used to load up my satchel with brochures, which was really heavy. I would (have to) switch shoulders. I would just walk until they were all gone. I would put flyers in doors and hand out and try to get appointments for patio covers.
“I would freeze bottles of water (and) put two, three, four bottles of water in my flyer satchel. It was hot in the summer, so they would thaw out during the day so I could keep drinking water. When they were all gone, I’d sometimes forget where I parked, I’d keep walking and knocking on doors trying to find my car.
“Once I started getting a lot of appointments through ads, I probably put 3,500 miles (on my car) a month,” Wicks added.
Cohen gushed over Wicks’ salesmanship.
“Boy, could he sell,” Cohen said. “He’s a salesman.”
“He really picked one thing and did it really well,” Cohen said of Wicks’ great success. “He saw how construction could be all over the map. He improved it. He did little subtle things. You see some of the patio covers with columns. That was something he added to make it more attractive. He just picked a very simple business and also did it in a way where he built great relationships. … It was a clean business. (He had) great advertising, too. Even his logo is really cute. It was a kind of business you knew people could take to a lot of places. You still have to find people to install them, but a really good business.”
Wicks said his greatest pride and gratification of owning Patio Cover People was that he “really liked the quality of product we have. I had a lot of custom things that we did that no other patio company does. We did really nice work. I loved my logo, I thought it was cool. It was fun to do business with it. We got a lot of response, people liked it. And the gratification was I was making money at it. That’s the biggest key. The whole purpose of being business is making money.”
A people person, Wicks built great connections with customers, suppliers, advertisers and installers. He especially loved one salesperson he hired.
“I got a salesgirl towards the end,” he said. “She’s a rock star. She’s the best person I’ve ever met in sales. I wish I would have found her 20 years ago.”
Wicks said his greatest compliment from customers was “that we were honest. We did what we said we were going to do. I think another big one is ‘it’s way better than what we thought.’ That made me feel good.”
Wicks received rave reviews from customers on his website, all with a perfect 5.0 rating.
One great review came from Brad Marti on Jan. 21, 2019.
“Justin and his team added 350 square feet living and play space for my daughter and grandson,” Marti said. “Patio people went the extra mile by pouring cement from the front driveway to our new backyard patio. Beautiful acrylic with black pillars and custom tie up curtains. Justin rearranged the patio plumbing, stained the cement, promptly and professionally answered all concerned questions. On time and RIGHT ON budget. A pleasure to work with. I HIGHLY recommend Justin AND the Patio Cover people. His word is iron clad.”
Cohen commented that Wicks went above and beyond to serve his clients.
“I know his customers loved him,” Cohen said. “He always did what he said. If it wasn’t perfect, he’d come back to fix it.”
After spending time with Wicks and getting to know him, Cohen has great respect and admiration for this superior entrepreneur and human being.
“I came to adore him,” Cohen said. “He’s a really sweet guy.”
While it was difficult to leave the great relationships he built with people as owner of Patio Cover People, Wicks decided it was time to devote full time to his longtime passion of music and writing books and sell the business three months ago in August.
Wicks, who received $2.3 million in the sale, also had another main reason for selling.
“I was mostly tired of the governments,” he said. “Everything is ‘do you have permission from the city, do you have permission from the state?’ I’m tired of asking for permission to build the business. Everything, to the next-door neighbor turning in their neighbor for building a little patio cover because they didn’t have a permit from the city. I was doing it for so many years, I just got fed up with it. That is a large part of the reason I wanted out.”
Cohen believes Wicks made the right decision to sell.
Honestly, he did a great thing,” Cohen said. “Construction can be kind of a boom or bust economy and he went out on top. … It was such a sellable business. It was a simple sales process, great materials, and a good margin. It was something people loved, especially in the Northwest. Outdoor living is very hot these days.”
Wicks left the company in great hands for the new owner.
“Now, they’re taking it forward with what they have set up from me,” he said. “All the knowledge, all the way the systems are, how to market, and the product and how we do it.”
“We’re the No. 1 patio cover company I think in the United States. I don’t know of anybody else on the level we are.”
Reflecting on his life journey, Wicks showed great resiliency and determination.
“It’s a lot of hard knocks, a lot of hard roads,” he said. “I got discouraged at times over things that had nothing to do with the business or anything else. I let it take me down. I had moments of depression because things didn’t work out like I wanted them to do in personal relationships. I had a lot of people come down on me. The government came down on me, other people came down on me. I just got mad. I think I learned that you have to get mad, you have to fight, and you have to have some gumption.
“You have to say, ‘I don’t care what anybody thinks, it’s about me.’ It’s not a selfish act. It’s a true statement. You have got to care about yourself to want to win. I think the whole process was just appreciating things. Just because you have money, you’re not a different person. Everybody wants to win. I don’t feel I won big like most do, but I’ve won big that I can do whatever I want now … without worrying about money and that was always the dream I probably could have had years ago, but I had mental blocks about it. It’s a good feeling to be set up to basically pursue what I want. …You always have to work hard to achieve what you want to do, and it’s never going to be easy. Just because you earned it doesn’t change anything. I worked just as hard for $7 dollars an hour as I did for a million dollars a year.”
After selling his business, Wicks bought some real estate and is writing a kid’s book and doing music production with other books in the works. Wicks plans on marketing a full launch on the book in the next year and approaching Disney and Pixar for an animated movie on it.
“My American dream is to be a successful author and musician and make some good money (doing this),” said Wicks, who owns the home he once rented.
Cohen said he “built off his house one of the most unbelievable patio rooms you’ve ever seen. It’s as big as his house.”
Wicks has indeed come a long way since growing up on a dairy farm in South Dakota and having no money and being “homeless.” He thinks back to yesteryear and a truly defining moment in his life.
“I remember that day. I was sitting in my hotel room and called my friend and said, ‘I’m debt free. I don’t owe anything, except the car I was driving. I didn’t owe anybody anything,’” Wicks said proudly. “That was a good day. That was a really good launching pad for me and I just kept winning big after that because all the money I had was mine.”
David Garfield is an international award-winning freelance writer based in Lawrence, Kansas. He’s been writing professionally since 1995 and has written over 20 magazine cover stories. A 1988 University of Kansas honors graduate, David has written on a variety of subjects during his long and successful career, including covering athletics at the University of Kansas, the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs with a special emphasis on telling stories about the people behind achievement, including Hall of Famers George Brett, Roy Williams, Larry Brown, All-Star Johnny Damon, and rising NBA star Devonte’ Graham. He’s also written profiles on about 200 volunteers who played significant roles in their community. One of David’s most inspirational stories was about a Kansas native who traveled to Israel, where he donated a kidney to a 10-year-old boy and was hailed as a “hero.” David, who specializes in writing human interest profiles, has written stories from the heart on cancer survivors, recovering alcoholics and former homeless people, to successful businessmen/women, doctors, dentists, and idealist college students who wanted to change the world. He’s been published in USA Today, KANSAS! Magazine, Anchorage Daily News, Lawrence Journal-World, Lawrence Magazine, KU Today & Tomorrow, Kansas City Jewish Chronicle and Jayhawk Insider. He’s extremely excited to join the IBA family and write human interest stories on entrepreneurs who have achieved the American dream. Mr. Garfield also writes a blog about KU basketball: https://davidgarfieldshoopheaven.blogspot.com/.