Kenneth Combs has always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
As a kid, he lived without his parents, growing up at Agape Corner School in Durham. There, he learned lessons that would lead him to become CEO and owner of CQC Home, a custom remodeling company located on Guess Road in northern Durham.
“I remember setting up and running a lemonade stand in front of the Agape Corner over on Holloway Street when I was 12,” Combs said .
Combs, now 29, whose father served time in prison and whose mother floated in and out of his life, lived at the orphanage from the time he was 4 until he was 14.
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When Combs was in 10th grade, he was placed in the Chamberlain-Hunt Christian Military Boarding School in rural Mississippi. After two years, he returned to Durham, where he went to school, worked full time and lived with friends until he graduated from Northern High in 2003.
Combs now has no contact with his parents, and he considers himself lucky to have a family of his own and a successful career.
“Most of the kids I grew up with still struggle to this day, and I understand their struggles,” he said.
Combs earned an associate’s degree from Durham Technical Community College and started working for LMA, a custom builder in Durham. In 2006, he started Custom Quality Carpentry, a company that specializes in kitchen and bath remodeling, home additions, decks, screened porches and small-scale handyman projects. Two years ago, his company’s marketing director convinced him to shorten the name to CQC Home.
During the company’s early years, Combs’ wife, Ericka, helped on construction sites while seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child. Today, she answers the phone, schedules jobs and manages the company’s social media sites.
CQC employs 22, and operates out of a 2,500-square-foot complex that includes a 1,000-square-foot warehouse. Photos of the staff hang on walls along pictures of projects and product samples.
The average project size is $30,000 but some run as high as $250,000. Small jobs hover around $250. CQC averages about 350 jobs a year.
Last year, the company grossed $1.6 million and this year Combs projects to gross $2.6 million. His business plan calls for a $5 million year by 2017 and a 35-employee work force.
“I dream big and set high goals,” Combs said. “The Durham market is primed for growth. We are committed to Durham and we are one of the few businesses of our kind here.”
Two years ago, Combs approached Michael Hayes, owner of Hayes Homebuilders, about running the construction operations for CQC so he could focus on the business end of the company. The two made a good fit and Combs bought Hayes Homebuilders for 25 percent equity – the equivalent of $300,000.
Hayes manages the construction jobs and has been key to taking the business to the next level. CQC has doubled its revenue since Hayes came on board.
Combs recently met with the Durham Home Builders Association and Durham Mayor Bill Bell to explore the creation of an apprenticeship program to help kids who can’t afford college learn the building trade and find good jobs.
In February, he spearheaded Bull City Blankets, a coat drive for individuals and families in need, collecting about 450 coats for the Durham Rescue Mission. He has won numerous awards, including the BBB of Eastern North Carolina Torch Award for marketplace ethics.
“I love the business because it takes care of my family and my employees’ families,” he said. “I get up every day and don’t even think of it as a job.”
Teri Saylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet her @terisaylor.