One sunny Monday early this month, Lindus Construction workers Todd Ball and Mike Wirth installed a LeafGuard gutter system on a house in southwest Minneapolis.

And the crew was eyeing the house next door. The one with weeds growing out of the sagging gutters.

Autumn is the hurry-up before the slowdown of outdoor construction that comes with winter.

And Ball and Wirth, a couple of Lindus veterans, were working confidently to complete the job and move on to the next. There’s still a several-week wait for Lindus gutter and other jobs.

Lindus has grown to be a $40 million yearly revenue operation, as well as the nation’s No. 1 installer of maintenance-free LeafGuard at about 500,000 feet of gutter annually.

Not bad for an outfit that, essentially, got its start in 1982 when the now-retired founder, Kevin Lindus, then a struggling hog farmer near Baldwin, Wis., fell out of a tree he was trimming and broke his back.

Andy Lindus, 40, who bought the company with his brother Adam, 38, remembers toddling out of the farmhouse with a Popsicle for his dad on a hot day and finding him sprawled on the ground.

“I think the chain saw was stuck in the crotch of that tree for months,” Andy Lindus recalled. “We were broke, and Dad was out of commission for about six months. We had to sell the hogs. ”

Kevin Lindus was down, but not out. After all, the guy was one resourceful, if not terribly successful, hog farmer.

“One of my most vivid memories of Dad was him giving mouth-to-mouth [resuscitation] to a pig and it came back to life,” Andy Lindus said.

Kevin, who had moonlighted on handyman projects with an electrician buddy, picked up light-duty projects as he recovered.

“Within a year, he was making more money at odd jobs than he ever did at hog farming,” Andy Lindus said. “He was a dawn-to-dusk worker. Still is.”

The Lindus construction business, largely confined to western Wisconsin in the early years, broke into the Twin Cities when Kevin Lindus and his wife, Emily, in 1995 became the master franchisee for Lindus between the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, and a few other Midwest territories. They started selling those territories to Lindus employees who wanted to branch out on their own.

The nine-territory business created a network of LeafGuard affiliates that consolidated procurement, marketing, HR and other functions.

At one point, LeafGuard amounted to 40% of Lindus business. That has slid to under 20%, as satisfied gutter customers increasingly hired Lindus to do window replacements, siding, roofs and other remodeling jobs.

Lindus, now with more than 150 employees, has just tried to keep up with business demand over the last five or six years.

Baldwin is still headquarters and home to Andy and Adam. But the Twin Cities-area is the main business hub.

“Most of our work comes from the east metro and western Wisconsin,” Andy Lindus said. “There are a lot of second-generation farm kids who didn’t want to get into farming.”

Andy went to college in business and once ran a LeafGuard franchise. Adam went to technical school to learn small-engine repair.

Eventually, both were pulled into the opportunity to expand and own the family business.

“Half of our meetings now are with lawyers, bankers and HR people,” Andy Lindus said of executive life. “My favorite thing is still going to job sites and bringing our employees new power tools and batteries. They really appreciate that.”

Kevin and Emily Lindus, who was a business partner with her husband, preached to the boys that the best investment was keeping good employees happy.

Lindus, which has a minimum $15-an-hour training wage, also has upgraded its pay and benefits package in recent years to help retain and attract workers.

“We have guys wearing tool belts making $100,000-plus a year, but who want to work 60 hours a week,” Andy Lindus said.

The waitlist for new gutters this year started to decline from a lengthy 30 weeks, and 12 weeks for remodeling jobs, as the economy feels like it’s starting to slow a bit.

Lindus is still taking on workers. “For a while we were putting out $3,000 to $4,000 signing bonuses and not getting enough applications,” Andy Lindus said.

As winter approaches, the gutter installers still have work.

“We cross-train them so gutter installers can do other jobs such as soffit and fascia, siding, metal roofing, snow and ice-dam removal,” Adam Lindus said.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.