Published on

Natalie Benoit

Pat Gagliano is the founder and designer of Finished Basement NJ , a business focused on refurbishing and creating custom basements for all homeowners. Based in Freehold Township, New Jersey, the company’s Instagram page has amassed over 18,000 thousand followers. I had the opportunity to interview Gagliano about his business via a Zoom interview for Construction Business TV .

Q : How did you get into the construction business and specifically working on basements?

A : I got into the construction business at a very young age. In high school, I was always in the typical woodshop and stuff like that, and I knew I loved doing it. I wanted to work with my hands. That’s something that I always knew. I was even doing projects… I remember one time my parents went away for a weekend, and I lived in a bedroom in the basement that was a split level. I literally gutted and remodeled my whole bedroom, and they came home to all my furniture out on the curb. I took draws and I built them into walls, and I didn’t know what to expect when they got home. When they came home they were just like, ‘oh my God, this is amazing.’ It was cause it was a custom bedroom. I actually was my first real project.

Q : How long did all that take you?

A : It took me a weekend. I literally worked for the entire weekend. I knew that if I asked them [his parents] they’d probably say no because who’s gonna allow like a 16-year-old kid demo a bedroom and come up with this creative idea. So I saw an opportunity and I went for it. And, it went well. Then from that point on, it was a super creative room, and I just kind of went from there. Every time I look at something, I always think I have a better way or a new way of doing it or something different. That’s how I look at everything.

Q : So would you say that that moment was kind of how Finished Basement NJ started or how did you get your business up and running?

A : The basement business wasn’t born at that point, but I guess for me as a creative contractor or carpenter, I knew that my path was set. It was interesting in high school I had a nice core group of friends. And every single one of them went on to be doctors and lawyers and whatever, every single one of them went to college, but me? I didn’t even take my SATs…That’s just not my path in life. And it was the best move ever, I got into construction.

By the time Gagliano was 35, he owned a large company with architects, engineers, project managers, and 15 union carpenters, who were all on payroll. He says the company had grossed 12 to 15 million dollars over the span of 5 years, but one day it all changed.

Gagliano felt like he was chasing the money, and not the dream. Even though the business was very successful, the New Jersey local couldn’t bear missing out on any more time with his family. He decided to shut down his business and commit more time to his wife and four children. Gagliano told his employees that no one was fired, but that they each needed to begin looking for new work opportunities. The company slowly worked on the backlog of projects and assignments to officially close the business without leaving any loose ends.

Gagliano explains how his wife was actually the person who inspired him to pursue a career dedicated specifically to finishing basements. He had always worked on basement constructions and redesigns as side projects, but now he was going to make a living off of it.

A : “I kind of developed some real proprietary systems, as far as I can tell, I don’t think there’s anybody in the country doing. Everybody looks at construction and thinks ‘well, you can’t create systems for construction.’ Ford Motor can do an assembly line and Joe can put on tires and Perry can put on the hood, and then the car rolls out. But nobody thought of the idea of how could you possibly do that if you don’t have one building for everybody to be in, but I figured it out. That’s what really helped us go.”

Q : You said you’re using some systems that you don’t think other people in the country are doing. Could you expand a little bit more on that?

A : Well, I’d like not to give away too much of that. But at the time, we really didn’t reinvent the wheel. I just figured out a way, quite frankly, to simplify everything. I broke the basement process down into 131 steps. As soon as we sign a contract with the homeowner, they’ll get a timeline. And that timeline is basically the guide for the job. If the basement is not going to have a bathroom, a bunch of those steps will be removed. Or we’ll just skip them in the process. But that guideline gets adjusted every year… We do our framing, and once that’s complete and verified, we have a packet system that we created, where it will verify that was done and it’s ready for the next step. It’s not all automated, but we made it so that anybody can follow it. We can hire somebody new and they can easily learn and help us grow. Right now, it might sound crazy, but we have 75 basements in progress. So imagine if you will, there’s 131 steps and they’re pretty much spread out along that timeline. They’re not all in step one and they’re not all on step 120. Some jobs might pass another job in the timeline, because especially now with COVID.

Q : It sounds like you’re very busy with 75 projects happening simultaneously. Could you walk me through what a day in your life is like when you have several projects going and you have to supervise everything?

A : Yeah, we posted a really cool video of a day in the life [@finishedbasementnj] of Pat… It’s a short video, but I’m really fortunate that at this point, I have an amazing infrastructure. In the beginning, I was swinging a hammer, I was going on appointments, I was doing everything just like every small business does when they’re starting out. Slowly but surely, I started taking more and more risks. I remember when I wanted to hire my very first secretary, I really couldn’t afford it. But I said, I can’t grow if I don’t do that, because I’m too busy doing other work. So I took the risk. I hired her and I was able to get more work, therefore I could afford it, and so on and so forth… To give you an example, framing is one of the beginning stages where we actually frame the basement. So that crew will come in, they’ll frame the basement. They’ll be in the basement between three to five days depending on how big it is, which is fairly quick.

Gagliano adds that every man and woman on the team values family. He believes every client should also feel comfortable around his employees, that’s why Gagliano relies on his wife’s intuition and judgment. He’ll ask her how she feels when left alone with an employee to ensure every Finished Basement NJ client can trust his team.

On most occasions, homeowners ask when the group of framers will return to continue the project, but the answer is never. Gagliano says each group of employees focus on their specialties and once they’re done in one home, they’ll move on to the next basement. “They’re not framing one day and sheetrocking another day and insulating and painting. My plumber doesn’t do electrical work, my electrician is not going to be painting. You’re getting a master at every trade at every step. So the customer really, really benefits from that which is actually done quite differently than from most contractors. And I’m not saying this in a bad way because I was this person… Jack of all trades, master of none,” the business owner added.

The significance of quality and ability to provide professionals in each trade is what makes Finished Basement NJ exclusively stand out in this area of the construction industry. Gagliano says he and his team focus on this system to deliver exceptional work for their clients.

Q : In terms of the design of the basements, do you have an interior designer on your team? Or is that something where you come up with every design on your own, or is there a design team?

A : There’s two parts to the design process. The interior design comes a little bit later, and my wife is an interior designer. She doesn’t do all the basements, some homeowners have their own designers. Some don’t use anybody, which is probably about 50%, they just do it themselves for budget reasons. Prior to all that, there’s the actual layout design. That is by far, of all the decisions a homeowner has to make during the process, the most important. I tell people all the time, there’s a lot of great carpenters out there that can build the walls and put up the molding and do a beautiful job. But the difference between us and everybody else is the experience of design in the layout of the basement. One of the most important things I bring to the table is I come into the basement. I spend some time meeting with the homeowners, understanding their wish list, their needs, their family, how they’re going to use the basement. ‘Is it going to be an extension of your home? Are we doing something different? What’re your needs today? What’re your needs in the future as the kids get older?’ I take all that information, look at the basement, and I look at the parameters. ‘What am I working with? How many columns do I have? Did they want a bathroom?…’ I’ll come up with a design and send it to the homeowners. On my website, there’s a link of how we actually do that, which is very, very unique. Again, I don’t know of anybody doing it that way. We will physically design the basement, in your basement when you’re there.”

The website features a “design process” tab where interested clients can watch a video, read through the steps and submit a message. People can even enter a 3D, real light rendering of their basement to walk through the design process virtually. Gagliano explains how the renderings can sometimes be a little misleading in terms of spacing and size. As a result, their process does a live version in the homeowner’s basement and a 3D computer-aided design software is brought in.

Q : The coronavirus has affected every business in many different ways. So when the pandemic hit New Jersey hard and the restrictions started to get put in place, how did that affect your business? Did you see fewer clients? What was that like in the initial first moments?

A : When the pandemic hit, it was scary for everybody for a lot of reasons, especially for small business owners. So initially, we wanted to play it safe. We had a lot of jobs going on, 70 jobs in progress… We reached out to everybody, told them we’re going to see what’s going on, we wanna make sure everybody is safe. Then I got really concerned because we had a lot of regular basements and some of the bigger end stuff that people were sort of panicked because they saw their money in our market going down. ‘Hey, I’m gonna put this project on hold. I don’t know what the future is. I might lose my job.’ It was a lot of fear. That lasted for a few weeks. Then all of a sudden, we were starting to worry a little bit, but ultimately it just changed dramatically for the better.

A report from getAbstract found that nearly 50% of Americans were working from home in April 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For Finished Basement NJ, this meant the demand for new workspaces and leisure areas increased among homeowners. More people have started to invest in refurbishing their basements because more time is being spent at home. Gagliano explained how a lot of old offers, and now new ones, came around, which has helped the business considerably.

A : “It [the coronavirus] changed the way we do business in a lot of ways. Typically, I’m doing all the estimates, all the appointments, and also overseeing things. I only have so many appointments in a week that I can actually go out to people’s homes. If they’re all over New Jersey, I could have one an hour away, and the next one could be an hour in the other direction. I can only get, let’s say four appointments a day because I have to oversee other stuff. Now, we started doing these virtual estimates because we don’t want to be in the house. I didn’t know how that was going to work out, but it’s working out unbelievably because I’m using Zoom or iPhone. Now the owners are walking me through the basement, and essentially I’m doing exactly what I would have been doing if I was standing right next to them. I’m saving gas, saving time, and now I can do three times the amount of appointments because I can do one appointment right now, hang up, and a minute later, I could be in an appointment that would have been an hour’s drive.”

Q : Even when things hopefully improve, do you think you’re going to continue with the virtual estimates and those other changes?

A : Yeah, 100%. This is definitely a new way for us to do business. And definitely for the better, it’s actually going to help us to scale even more. There’s no downside to the homeowner. It’s actually a plus for them because now, instead of waiting two or three weeks for me to get out there to give them an estimate, they call today, I might be doing an estimate that afternoon. They love it because we guarantee, the minute I FaceTime with them, within 24 hours, you have an estimate.

Q : I believe it was May 18 when New Jersey allowed for all construction businesses and projects to resume. Now that you have contractors, electricians, plumbers, even people in your company going into these houses and working with one another. Do you have any specific, safety, or health procedures that you’re following to ensure everybody stays safe?

A : Safety is the most important thing for us, for our employees, families, our customers’ families, so we’ve always had safety guidelines in place. Now, obviously, it’s a little different. A lot of our basements have walkout entrances, where you can actually enter right into the basement from the outside. If they [the basements] don’t have them, a lot of times we’re adding it… In scenarios like that, it’s fantastic because they’re living upstairs. A lot of times, we’ll put a lock on the door upstairs so they don’t have to worry about guys coming and going, not that it’s an issue, but we want them to feel comfortable. There’s even times when we’re down in the basement, and I’m Facetiming the people who are upstairs in the living room. I’ll say ‘Hey, we’re over here. We’re trying to work on the movie theater, what do you think of this?’ They’ll go down at night and look at it. That’s probably half of our work. The other half, we do have to enter the home. When we enter a home, our guys including myself, we all have our branded facemasks. We always want to make sure everybody’s feeling safe and secure. My guys—they have a rule—none of my guys are ever allowed to touch the homeowner’s floor. They usually roll down a carpet on their way, a tarp, and then roll it on the way out. So we’re always taking precautions.

Q : It sounds like you guys are definitely making safety a priority. Whenever you work on these projects you also need certain materials, whether it’s new carpeting or wood, so what has it been like trying to gather supplies and making sure that everything is ready to move forward?

A : Procuring materials has definitely been more challenging right now than it’s ever been. We were very fortunate that we have great relationships with supply houses, even Home Depot. We’re one of the largest contractors in the region for Home Depot. Home Depot, giving them a plug right now, does a great job of really kind of catering to us where we work. We have an account manager and with my materials, I’ll put in an email the night before, and it’ll be ready for us the next morning or they’ll do delivery. We’re all about streamlining everything and making everything efficient. It’s very uncommon for us to wake up in the morning and go to Home Depot to walk down the aisles and pick up what we need. You’re losing money if you do that, as far as I’m concerned, you’re wasting time. I got over 100 guys, imagine if they all did that every morning. You add that up annually, and it’s pretty substantial… By thinking ahead, it helps us also get the materials that sometimes are hard to get. It also keeps us really efficient.

Q : You’ve worked on so many different projects and I’m just curious, do you have a favorite finished basement project that sticks with you? Or is there a story that you really enjoy sharing?

A : I truly love what I do. I mean, I really love it. I enjoy meeting new people. The way I am, it would be impossible for me to sit at a desk in an office. I need change… As far as a favorite, I have a project going on right now. I said ‘this is the best basement I ever did. I had so much fun doing it,’ until I start the next one. Then all of a sudden I’m like, ‘oh my God, I never would have thought I was able to do this. And look at how great this one is.’ I just think that it can’t get better than this. Then the next one, there’s something better. We just keep evolving and I literally get the goosebumps saying it right now because it’s literally that much fun.

Whoever thought I was gonna be digging out basements and putting in dolphin sports simulators, or putting a slide in a fake, hidden fireplace on the first floor of a house into the basement?! Like that wasn’t premeditated. I walked in his front door, he has four little kids, like under four. He goes, ‘I want something different, that you never did before. I want something fun. I need you to just give me a wow.’ And I stood there and said, ‘how about we put a slide going into your basement.’ I don’t even know where that came from! I thought it was the coolest thing.

Q : I didn’t get a chance to ask earlier, but how many people do you have working at Finished Basement NJ?

A : Some are employees but the subcontractors, like electrical, have to be licensed separately and they rely wholeheartedly on us for survival. There’s about 100 men and women that rely on me, to keep feeding the beast and getting more jobs so we can all continue to work. There’s so many trades between framing and electrical and installation and plumbing and so on. Plus office, there’s a lot of people that rely on this business as a source of income. It’s nice to know during this pandemic, there’s well over 100 people that aren’t really being affected financially from this and it feels really good to know that.

Q : That’s great. Is there anything else that you would like to share or anything that you want to say about your business?

A : Yeah, so we’re a family run business. It’s always been that way. We are all about family. Right from the design. Everything I talked about is how can we get your family together? That’s what we’re trying to think for the design of the basement, what does everybody have the same interest? Whether it’s a movie theater or a place to play board games or puzzles, that comes from me being a family guy. I have four children, two grandchildren, granddaughters…And as a family business, a lot of them are involved. My son, who just recently graduated from the University of Alabama, he’s with us full time. He’s amazing like, unbelievable. We call him mini-me. My wife does design work, my daughter helps with social media. My other daughter helps with coordination. So we’re all kind of really involved in the business because it’s important to us for it to be successful.

At the end of the interview, Gagliano explained how Finished Basement NJ is beginning to expand outside of the state thanks to virtual tools at their disposal. The business is creating designs and pursuing projects with customers around the U.S. who then contact a local contractor to work with that design. The father of four adds that they’re offering reasonably priced design services for $3,000, with experience that most local contractors don’t possess.

“I’ve designed 3,500 basements. I challenge anybody in the country to tell me they’ve designed more basements than I have. They [homeowners] get that plus a plan, and you just can’t go wrong.”

Gagliano also shares how the company is even working on a basement design for “Jersey Shore” icon Mike Sorrentino, better known as The Situation. Gagliano adds that Sorrentino and his wife Lauren Pesce, are great clients who are excited to work with the Jersey business.