The Alimond Show

Matthew Prol Owner, CEO & founder of MEP Builders

March 14, 2024 Alimond Studio
The Alimond Show
Matthew Prol Owner, CEO & founder of MEP Builders
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wonder what some people see in old, dilapidated houses that most of us would give a wide berth to? Meet our guest, Matthew Prol, a tenacious entrepreneur who has been breathing new life into such homes since 2004. Once an aspiring doctor, they chose instead to heal houses rather than people, focusing on personalized spaces and the beauty of older homes. With a distaste for prefab new builds, their journey in the realm of handcrafted construction is one that will make you look at old buildings in a whole new light. 

As we delve deeper into their unique story, we also ponder on the importance of practical skills and the impact they can have when shared with the underprivileged. From my own experiences in construction and mechanical work to the joy of building an underground bunker, the episode touches upon the fulfillment derived from tangible creations. And, as we discuss the trials and tribulations of setting up a business and the courage needed to tap into new opportunities, our conversation will leave you with a strong message - to never give up on what you love, no matter the roadblocks. So, get ready for an enthralling discussion that’s as much about following your passion as it is about the joy of hands-on work.

Speaker 1:

So how many years ago have you, or how many, how long have you had your business?

Speaker 2:

It's been in since 2004.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so a few years, Almost 20 years yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

It's crazy to say that.

Speaker 1:

And what I'll do. You guys do Anything Besides seating.

Speaker 2:

I know.

Speaker 1:

Like you were doing this morning.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, we do. I'm gonna allow renovation work, so focus a lot on. I don't like new build. New build these days is a different type.

Speaker 1:

Why.

Speaker 2:

It's because a lot of it's prefabbed, so it's made, say, ohio shipped in versus. I learned from a guy that handmade everything, everything's handmade.

Speaker 1:

Wow, and that's what I'm interested in and that's the way you like to do it, yeah yeah, yeah, it's a different the older the house, the more excited I get.

Speaker 2:

I could build a house that it was built in 1900 and I would say probably the last work on it might have been like the seventies, like every single room needs work.

Speaker 1:

Some love.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but that's what I love. Yeah, you know that's exciting for me, cause it's a challenge. Everything's nothing, it all. Our walls, even our interior walls, are 16 inches thick brick. It's all brick, the whole thing. It's a fortress Nice, so you have to figure out how to like I like that building your own fortress. It is. We actually had a tornado, I guess, about two months ago, two blocks from us.

Speaker 1:

Wow.

Speaker 2:

It felt safer than in that house. It was crazy. It's literally.

Speaker 1:

You know, I want to build a bunker it is a bunker.

Speaker 2:

It's an above ground bunker.

Speaker 1:

It really is I want to build something underneath and I was talking to one of my friends and I was like how safe is it to start like digging? She's like yeah, don't, yeah, no.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, not right away. Give it some time, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's awesome. So you guys, so in terms of you're not doing that prefab type new build work.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, we do a lot of renovation kitchens, baths, custom builds, furniture and literally anything you name it Like. You can dig a hole in the ground. I could build the house and do every aspect of the entire thing.

Speaker 1:

Why did you start doing this?

Speaker 2:

It kind of fell in my lap. Honestly I was. So I was pre-med in school. Oh, me too. Okay, there you go. Good, so you know exactly where this is going. Yeah, I was pre-med in school and then, before I went to school, I was working for the contractor that taught me everything. I worked for him for two and a half years and everything was handmade. We worked on one house in the entire time that I worked from and it was a museum by the time it was done. Every room was different. It was incredible. So that's where I learned from. And then, when I was actually, I was at JMU, I was bartending and just a regular came in and was like I need a log cabin bill, can't find anybody I want. And then it was on Nelliesford. So I said, all right, let's do it. And he said go get a business license, okay.

Speaker 2:

Oh wow, and I dropped out of school and never looked back.

Speaker 1:

Oh wow, that's awesome.

Speaker 2:

Four classes from graduating. Yeah, so close.

Speaker 1:

You know, I thought what a factor are you gonna get ya?

Speaker 2:

I mean, I have friends that are going through it right now and they're like I wish I wasn't doing this. But I don't have a choice because the debt, the time, all that stuff they're like.

Speaker 1:

And when you're already so committed to something, you're always looking to finish it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, what are you gonna do? Yeah, so yeah, they featured that cabin that I built in a magazine, virginia Old Homes.

Speaker 1:

Virginia Old Homes. How many years ago was that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, pre-social media stuff.

Speaker 1:

Let's say 20 something years ago, right, yeah, it was a while. So ever since that I was like I could do this. You're like obviously it was good enough for publication.

Speaker 2:

I can do this again, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Is it profitable Like did you make good money on it for you to be like, open up your eyes to a whole new world?

Speaker 2:

No, and because I was still navigating. You know, I didn't know anything about the world on that side of it. I know how to do it, but I didn't know how to run a business via it.

Speaker 1:

So the guy you built it for came out.

Speaker 2:

Well, he did okay yeah yeah, yeah, it was actually on the, I think the James River, and he had a log cabin on 10 acres and then he bought 10 acre lot right next to it. So I actually lived at his cabin and would walk two minutes to the when I was building and just worked on it and lived out there for a bit. So but I, you know, I didn't have anything I built, I didn't for this whole business. I've never gotten loans or anything, so it was that profit went into the tools.

Speaker 1:

Next phase of the business yeah, and so the next phase? Yeah, so, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Gosh, that's so fun to have that type of talent and skill, to be able to look, it's a.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, it's a dying thing, honestly.

Speaker 1:

Yeah it's.

Speaker 2:

It's a lost. That's why I don't like new build, because it's such a.

Speaker 1:

You go in, put it all together and you move on to the next one, literally right next to it, right next to it. Pop up all these different subdivisions. Yeah, yeah, what's your dream project? If you could create like any dream project.

Speaker 2:

I don't know. I started out with a pretty dream project I'll be honest with you Well, 20 years later, what? Is it?

Speaker 1:

like, or is it pretty much what you're doing?

Speaker 2:

now Kind of what I'm doing now Moving out to Charlestown. I have my eyes on a whole bunch of properties out there that are there's so much history there and the property. The older the house I don't know, it's a weird thing the older, the more work it needs, the more excited I get. So because I could take anything and make Anything from it so I can match all the old trim and it's new wood, but it all matches the character of the actual house. So I love finding little Funky nooks and all that kind of stuff and turning them into our particular house. We have a storage area in our daughter's bedroom that has a window and they'd made it storage, but instead I'm gonna got it, reinforce it and make a little reading nook with the bookcase in there so she can climb up in there and like Is your wife get all excited with her pictures boards?

Speaker 1:

Uh honey, yeah I found.

Speaker 2:

Sometimes she's she. I'm not easy to live with, to be honest, because I'm so. I see big picture, yeah. So I look at it and I go, okay, we're gonna do this and then that's gonna create this, which is gonna create this. She's more short term.

Speaker 1:

She's just kind of like so you start gutting things and she's like the house is like yeah, it's kind of like the house is a mess.

Speaker 2:

What is? What are you doing, you know, and it's like think long-term.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, so, yeah. So we have eight fireplaces in our house and I tore down a whole upper half of a fireplace, which is you have to be a little crazy to do what I do. But I tore the whole thing down, kept all the brick and then I'm gonna build the fireplace right back up To for the master bedroom, but below it it goes right through the middle of our kitchen. Oh, so the long term on that is to get rid of the lower half, which then opens up the kitchen. So she has to think.

Speaker 2:

But in the meantime, yeah, exactly, she's looking at it and going I can't take this part of it, but it's, you know, it's she once. Once it starts to develop and the demos done in the original brick and there's Timbers that are from the original, from the house sitting in there, then you can kind of start putting it together, she gets more excited about it, so life comes back into the house.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, it's yeah, exactly, exactly yeah in terms of Marketing, how are you currently getting business and how have you gotten business over the last 20 years?

Speaker 2:

Word of mouth yeah, I don't advertise, I don't. Well, how about a?

Speaker 1:

project? Do you have a big team?

Speaker 2:

No, no, and I don't want a big team, honestly so there's only so many projects you can't handle.

Speaker 1:

So you're probably like we're always books. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's non-stop. I mean, we're starting to look at spring even at this point. So yeah, it's business cards and word of mouth, that's it.

Speaker 1:

What type of things do you guys like build? I know you said, but I mean, like, what are the last? Like three to four projects you guys have worked on?

Speaker 2:

Right now we're doing in the middle of a master bathroom. It was a very standard bathroom with your standard Jacuzzi tub that we're taking out and doing a half wet room, so we're building it up on a ledge. It's gonna be a soaker tub. You can step up onto the ledge, but everything drains down to the shower area and the shower area has just a big open glass and that's it. So you can kind of walk around the glass into the shower or stay by the tub. If there's overflow in the tub it all kind of drains down to the same system.

Speaker 2:

So things like that, where we just kind of Use your imagination. Yeah, yeah. And then, all of a sudden, I found an outlet in the wall, which is not good, but and that's not a good thing.

Speaker 2:

So, but then that's what I say. You know, that's where my side I think, the strength of what we do changes. We just kind of say, okay, we have this outlet, so how can we incorporate this outlet? So we're gonna do like an ambiance lighting that goes around the tub. That's specific, for if you use the tub you can use that with a chandelier that comes out, it's a whole.

Speaker 1:

Without getting electrocuted.

Speaker 2:

Without getting electrocuted. That's magic. Yes, it's almost under the tub. So we're above the tub, Exactly yeah.

Speaker 1:

No, that's so cool. Okay, so, in terms of, like, looking out in the next five, 10, 15 years, what do you, how do you imagine your business to look like? How do you imagine the creations, since you guys do build everything from the beginning?

Speaker 2:

Very different than where it is now. To be honest, we do a lot of kind of to build up the business because I could get loans. I just, for some reason, I don't know- I don't like to owe anybody anything.

Speaker 2:

And I think that's what it is. I know that when I make money from the business it's like, no, this is ours, I don't have to worry about, you know, giving it back to somebody else because they kind of propelled it into. So at the moment we are working on the house that we got and we're kind of starting to eye more houses in the area, kind of looking more into the investment side of Flipping stuff. Yes, flipping is tricky for what we do because it's not. It's time consuming in order to create what we create.

Speaker 2:

I always say I'm an artist with a natural medium, so I take anything, any building material, and can turn it into something. So that takes time to figure out the shape of it. If it's rotted, I got to put it back together in order to create a template, that kind of stuff. You know so. But we've done a few flips. I'm very old school in the way where I look at it and a flip is designed not to dump a lot of time, money and energy into it. But then I look at it and go, yeah, but we shouldn't do that because that's not okay. For you know, I won't sleep because I'm thinking about the corner that didn't match up or something like that. You know what I mean.

Speaker 1:

So the artist comes out on you. Yeah, not the business man To a fault, though, to be honest.

Speaker 2:

To a fault. It really is, yeah, no.

Speaker 1:

I get it.

Speaker 2:

So, but I consider myself retired honestly, because I'll never stop doing this. I'll never, until I can't walk, this is what I'll do.

Speaker 1:

Some people are like what would you do if you never had to make money?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, this, it's the same thing. I'm doing it, yeah, yeah, and it just I started at 21 and it's been literally just a gift, so and how many kids? Two girls, two girls.

Speaker 1:

I was gonna say are any of them? How old are they? Are they old enough to like start?

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, training and yeah, they love it and they love it. Yeah, we just finished getting the lower half of the first two fireplaces level and they just love carrying bricks and stacking them. And you know, take a sledgehammer and smash the wall.

Speaker 1:

It's in your house, yeah, yeah, they're just held. That's just a whole choice, yeah you know exactly.

Speaker 2:

You gotta eat too, right, it's okay. Earn your breakfast, yeah, no, but they love it because it's. You know. It's something that not a lot of kids, I think, get to experience and a level like that. You know where it's go. Ahead, throw the brick on the ground and smash it if you want.

Speaker 1:

See with the beer and everything. I can see us like with lumberjack out in the backyard in West Virginia, like with the axe.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, Is that yeah?

Speaker 1:

But maybe with bricks.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, it's very. Yes, it's true. I have it like I can take a raw piece of something and mill it and turn it in. So, yeah, it's, I'm very when it comes to making things, especially milled stuff that I need to make and whatnot. I'm very old school in that way. It's very take it from nothing and take the time to build doors and pretty literally anything.

Speaker 1:

Have you thought about filming this stuff, documenting it, creating an internship program, passing the tool, the knowledge, the trade onto other?

Speaker 2:

I have and I've had a couple. One of my buddies actually up in DC talked about it. He was like I'm going to reach out to like HDTV, but I don't know, it's not me, I'm not a.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's exactly why you should be doing it.

Speaker 2:

I'm not a in the spotlight kind of a person you know. I'm kind of like.

Speaker 1:

Those telephoto lenses on Stand from afar?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I would be okay If you can peek in a window and do it. That's fine with me. You know what I mean. Yeah, I have, and that's another five year thing where I'm kind of leaning towards which a tricky thing, because I've looked into talking to like jails or somebody that's looking for a second chance or a second opportunity to be able to say, like you know, or kids that have had an underprivileged upbringing to say, okay, here's, let me teach you a skill that you can't take away, and I think that that's the other side to it that, barring cutting my fingers off, I can do this and you can't stop me from doing it. You know what I mean. It's a skill that, if you know how to, the guy I learned from handed me a hammer and said learn how to use this, while everybody is around me is building walls with guns and stuff from like bloody fingers, and you know I'm a mess, but that taught me the proper way to do things you know.

Speaker 2:

So I have looked into it. It's something that you know. I have such a full plate. It's like.

Speaker 1:

But if you could incorporate it now, start laying the groundwork, so to speak, of like any other foundation. Start filming some behind the scenes.

Speaker 2:

We've kind of reached out to some trade schools as well to kind of get in touch with somebody who has interest in the grand scheme of it. I'm very adamant that I call myself a general contractor and a lot of people are like, oh, I'm a GC. I'm like no, you're more of a project manager. An actual general contractor can do all of these things. You know, I don't need to hire somebody for speed, I hire somebody to help me. But I don't need to. I could do it myself if I wanted so. But yeah, I have kind of looked into that realm.

Speaker 1:

I think that's cool.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's an uncomfortable realm for me. This is an uncomfortable realm for me. You know, I was going to say it was probably making me feel awkward. Yeah, it's very. It's funny because when the wife's out of town, it's like pull the blinds, turn the lights out, like I'm in a cave. I'm cool with it, you know.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

So it's a different.

Speaker 1:

I'm sure she'll be proud of you for showing up this.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, she will, she will, she's like you're way out of your comfort and I was like, yes, I am.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, no, I think that'd be great. I think, like you said, and you know that it is a skill, it is a dying art and if nobody is taking the time to teach it, then it's just going to keep.

Speaker 2:

you know, and that's what happened with me. Somebody took the time to do that, you know. Yeah, and that's it's Last time. I saw him, right before he actually passed away, because about five years ago now, last time I saw him, I shook his hand and teared up and was like I can't thank you for what you taught me Because, literally, a I don't have to worry about calling somebody if there's something wrong at my house. B nothing, I'm not afraid. I had a 39-page inspection report when we bought our house and none of it was like, okay, there's no one more to me, you know. So, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay. And the way he taught it just was a, it was a blessing, just kind of, here it is and I didn't know where it was going and turned into something so Well, if you ever want like a highlight reel, you know I mean it show up, and especially if you do something like underground bunker ish.

Speaker 2:

I've actually done a few gun safes. You know that are very bunker ish. I mean I'm talking rebarred concrete walls with 10 gauge laugh and stuff. I mean you know, but in 30 350 pound bank vault doors I mean yeah, it's, it's been close to that. That was a lot of work but it worked out. But yeah, it's that's. I've kind of done one issue.

Speaker 1:

What do you do for on your free time, like when you're not building work on our house?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I don't, I don't ever that's it. You're sitting in the dark or you're like pretty much sitting in the dark with some probably sports game on or something. I'm a tinkerer. The tinker with just everything again, my poor wife. There's just parts and pieces everywhere, you know.

Speaker 1:

How she like, confined it into a room, like the husband's like that's why she's everywhere.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's why it's so.

Speaker 1:

But she wants to buy the second house. That way she can say you know, yes that's exactly what it is.

Speaker 2:

She's like that's what it is. We're actually doing a shed, so I can kind of put stuff aside for her. But it's. I'm a tinker so I'll put a you know a game on or something and just take apart something. I'm very mechanical that way I can take it apart and as long as I see how it came apart, I can put it back together.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so then you'd be the perfect guy to like get the Legos kit with and say I hated that. When people give my kids the Lego kit and they're like, hey mom, can you help me put this together.

Speaker 2:

I'm like yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

I can't comprehend where all these pieces go. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah it's, it's a very Well. Actually, yesterday I have a kind who's paraplegic and they have a. She uses them for a gym where you sit on it and it kind of you pump an arm and it kind of raises you up to stretch Her hips out when she bought one but there was no Manual on how to put it together perfect. So she called me, was like hey.

Speaker 1:

Okay, without the actual, and that's exactly what it was yeah, so. I was able to put it together a while, and that's where it is kind of play with it.

Speaker 2:

This goes like this it should Like this out.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I tried it out for ourselves.

Speaker 2:

Never, but it was, but something like that it's. It's very, you know, I that's I guess you can call that my free time where I just come. I'm never not doing something like I'm.

Speaker 1:

I can't sit so Alright, last question if you could give one message to the world right now, what would that message be?

Speaker 2:

I, I Find what you love and don't stop doing it. I think that's a Another dying thing. Is is and it takes time. That's the other part. You know, for the first Five years, maybe even ten years, of being in business, I ate ramen noodles because that's all I could afford and you know that wasn't glamorous in any way but it built me to where I am now and I can have each day. You know what I mean. So and try everything I didn't know that I would ever be in this industry, went well bowling night and fell into a construction company and now it's a Lifestyle for me and that was never what I would expect it to happen. So, but sticking to it is probably the through the thick and thin, you know, kind of like building the house. You know Build your foundation, put your walls up and Make sure walls are secure, because the wind is gonna come. You know that's part of you know doing it by yourself Is it's gonna get difficult. But also, you know just bearing down and grit in your teeth sometimes.

Speaker 1:

I love that. Thank you so much for being on the show. I'm thinking lots of nuggets of wisdom with us.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

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