By Ryan Saxton
Staff reporter, Coastal Point News
For nearly three decades, Mike Cummings, president of Miken Builders Inc., has perfected his business into, arguably, the most prestigious contracting establishment in the state. Their work earned them merit awards in 2004 and 2005, as well as a renowned reputation covering development from minor renovations and extravagant custom homes to recognizable staples in Delaware’s commercial industry.
Mike Cummings, president of Miken Builders Inc., at his desk in his Millville office.The Wilmington native began his career with Miken in 1985, at the age of 25, alongside partner Don Jester. “I was primarily doing renovation work at the DuPont Company,” said Cummings.
Although he only accomplished $180,000 of work in his first year of business, Cummings clearly possessed the mentality required to turn a business into a thriving venture. He describes the first four years as a growth period.
“Each year, I tried to expand the company 10 percent,” he said. “I always had a very slow growth plan, because I knew that the most successful companies are ones that have a good foundation, understand what they want to do and understand their limitations.”
After extending services to DuPont and other clients in Wilmington, Miken Builders branched out to projects for St. Francis and Christiana hospitals, the University of Delaware, Winterthur Museum and the Rockford Psychiatric Center.
“What we try to do is work with a company to build a relationship. I’ve been [working] with DuPont since ’85 and started with Verizon telephone in ’87, and I have carpenters still there today,” he said. “We’re not just in there to do construction. We try to see what the needs are for our clients and create a need for us.”
In 1989, Cummings moved to Sussex County, seeing it as a suitable location to raise his family. The Miken name was stretched to the area when Cummings opened an office in the area in 1993. With the existing office in New Castle and the expansion into Sussex County, the company was able to better service all of Delaware.
“I was a residential carpenter by trade,” he said. “We started out, down here, building decks and putting A-frame roofs on mobile homes. We then got an opportunity to do some larger renovation work in Lewes.”
It took two years, Cummings noted, to really connect to the area and establish relationships with residences. “I learned from DuPont that in order to build a good construction business, you needed to be a professional corporate structure and have a good presence. People were really receptive to that down here.”
As the company expanded and gained more recognition, they found themselves handling more and more projects, including local edifices such as the Lewes Yacht Club, the Mediacom building and Raskauskas Retail Center off Route 26 in Ocean View, which houses Blockbuster and Papa John’s, among others.
Miken has also served the community with renovations for businesses such as Hocker’s G&E grocery, Beach Liquors, Baja Beach House Grill, Connor’s Liquor Store, Millville Church and First Shore Federal Bank in Millville. He has recently teamed up with Paul Clark to form Cummings & Clark Properties. The partners are currently working with Centex homes in Dagsboro to develop 80,000 square feet of retail and office space beside Royal Farms.
Cummings was determined not to back himself into a commercial corner, though. Since the company’s expansion south, the business has built nearly 100 beach homes in Sussex County. Miken Builders’ work covers projects from small additions and single-family homes to custom, executive beach homes.
“We hold a strategic planning meeting every November and evaluate what we did the year before,” he explained. “Then we plan what we want to do next year. I really work hard at getting everybody to follow the plan. There are always plenty of opportunities; but if you don’t do the right thing for them, that’s where people fall short.”
With more than 60 employees, Miken Builders Inc. assembles anywhere from 12 to 15 custom homes each year.
“Don [Jester] once taught me that you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” said Cummings, “and I had the philosophy that it wasn’t about me, but about the people that are employed by Miken, and helping them grow to become better. That’s what’s really helped the business grow.”
Jester retired in 2004, leaving Miken Builders to the direction of Cummings and his wife. Cummings said he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the chance Jester provided him.
“He gave me that opportunity and really believed in me,” Cummings said. “I had to take the ball and run with it, and I feel really fortunate. Now, I look for the good in other people to find who the next leaders are.”
His new venture in the business is the development of a home-maintenance company.
“I’ve found that one of the biggest investments that most of us make is either our primary or secondary home at the beach,” said Cummings. “There’s a need in the community for maintenance that will take care of minor or larger repairs on the home. It will help people maintain and keep the highest equity return on their investment. You really need to maintain your home at the highest level you can, inside and out.”
Cummings has set his goal as becoming the best home-maintenance company in southern Sussex County. He plans to sell maintenance contracts to service homes from a carpentry aspect. Cummings said he wants to expand this business more in the future, with more marketing and re-branding.
“The problem is when people see Miken, they think, ‘Oh, they build big beach homes or shopping centers.’ I want to refocus people and let them know that we do small work, too. We can handle the smallest details in your home.”
He said he hopes that his sons will someday run the business and carry on the success of the company. His eldest son, Patrick, earned a marketing degree from Del Tech Business School and currently works with Miken.
“We’ve diversified our business a lot,” said Cummings. “We found a niche in medical. We found a niche in telecommunications and private industry group. In residential, we work on different layers, between custom homes, high-end renovations and now, the home-maintenance group,” Cummings said with pride.
“We’ve built our business from 1985 from doing less than $200,000 to doing $25 million a year [in the state of Delaware],” he added. “I’ve found that there’s truly a need for our type of company here at the coastal area.”