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Hollis businessman has ‘handy’ disposition

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An accountant and former chief financial officer of a $50 million car service company may seem like an unusual candidate to run a Mr. Handyman franchise, but Larry Monte, owner of the northeast Queens branch, said he’s ready for a change.

“I felt that I am the typical customer for a handyman business,” Monte said. “This is a great area for this business.”

Monte, a 26-year Bayside resident, bought into the franchise business in July, and in October he opened his Mr. Handyman office at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Francis Lewis Boulevard in Hollis. He employs two full-time technicians who can complete the household repairs and odd jobs that fill “to-do lists,” including installing and assembling appliances, hanging wallpaper or painting, maintaining gutters, caulking bathtubs and windows, and even putting up sheet rock, Monte said.

Monte, 56, was CFO for Skyline Credit Ride, a for-hire car service, when the World Trade Center was attacked Sept. 11, 2001, he said. A third of the company’s business was corporate clientele, and the economic decline after the terrorist attacks sent the firm into a downward spiral, he said. Monte soon found himself looking for other opportunities, and he decided to pursue his own business rather than look for another job as an accountant.

“I didn’t want to deal with numbers anymore,” Monte said. “I worked for a number of people in my life. It was time to work for myself.”

Monte did about six months of research, learning what he could about franchises, and the Mr. Handyman franchise, he said. His first goal was to determine if there was a market in the area for a one-stop shop for handyman service.

Monte called 80 handyman places in northeast Queens to get an estimate on what it would cost to install two ceiling fans and remove some wallpaper, he said. Of the 80, four were contractors, not handymen; two had specific areas of expertise and were not general handymen; two gave estimates that were about double the Mr. Handyman rate; and the remaining 72 he simply could not get in touch with, he said.

“If I were looking for a handyman, I would have had to spend three weeks to get two people to overcharge me,” he said. “There is a need for a handyman service in northeast Queens.”

Monte’s Mr. Handyman office is the first office in New York City for the franchise, and among about 75 across the country, he said. Monte’s territory stretches from Flushing to the Queens County line and from Hillside Avenue north, he said. Monte, who runs the office with his wife and partner, Connie Monte, tries to keep jobs within that area but will occasionally take jobs in Jamaica or Kew Gardens, just over the border of his coverage region, he said.

Larry Monte charges customers between $60 and $70 an hour, he said, adding that some people are wary about not getting an in-home estimate before hiring Mr. Handyman for the job. Many worry the technicians will turn a two-hour job into a six-hour job, but Monte offers his employees bonuses for doing a speedy job and keeping customers satisfied, he said.

“My biggest challenge is getting the customer away from estimates,” Monte said. “It’s not good business for me, and it’s not good for the customers.”

So far, customers, including area homeowners and residents as well as real estate agents and retailers, have been willing to forgo the estimates, Monte said. While winter is usually a slow period for handyman work, Monte’s technicians are booked through mid-January, he said.

“Everyone tells me January and February are slow,” he said. “I’m looking at January with some trepidation. It’s a matter of making a living until April then watching the business grow.”

And although starting a business is hard work, Monte is enjoying the change of pace from his accounting days, he said.

“I just want to have fun, keep my head above water and serve my community. As a homeowner I know things just don’t get done.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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