The breadth and culture of CRAL Contracting, Inc., has been in a state of continual metamorphosis since its inception 16 years ago. Starting as a one-man operation with help from friends and family, Craig Zinserling, 52, has built up the business to employ nearly 30 full-time staff and multiple support entities. The service coverage area has expanded, with field offices as needed, starting with just Upstate New York and expanding to service the entire state.
Services also expanded as demand rose starting with asbestos abatement and now encompassing mold remediation, lead stabilization and many other environmental-related services. He said multiple crews totaling 25 to 50 employees head out to the field daily, supplemented with contract environmental laborers for the larger projects.
Zinserling was born, raised and educated in Liverpool, graduating from Liverpool High School.
“I was drawn to business, as my dad had his own business for many years,” Zinserling said, adding that he studied and played percussion in high school and college, and continues to play in his church.
Beginning in high school, he worked summers for Cordelle Development in Manlius, a home building outfit that builds homes in eastern Onondaga County. He learned the business from the ground up – from digging trenches to closing new home building property deals. He stuck with it through college, gaining six years of business experience.
“You know, they start these homes with a hole,” Zinserling said. “Into that hole, they dumped 16 yards of No. 1 stone. I spent a lot of time in a 90-degree hole shoveling and spreading out stone.”
Zinserling worked for Cordelle after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in business/economics from Wheaton College in Illinois, moving from there to MARCOR Environmental, where he learned the business operations end of environmental projects.
But those experiences were not what formed his leadership style.
“My mom and dad always taught me to treat people better than I treat myself,” Zinserling said. “That’s where my leadership style comes from.”
With his motivation for independence, he envisioned starting his own business and began planning to do that.
“I really had an itch to go into business for myself,” Zinserling said.
“The first thing I had to do was to calm my wife down,” he said, laughing. “But I’m not kidding, really. We had three kids, a mortgage, two cars in the garage and no paycheck. With a couple of years of planning, setting up a budget and developing a market plan already in the works, he used unconventional means to start by not borrowing from a bank and came through okay at the end of the day.”
Zinserling said there were a couple of years early on where things were touch-and-go, and he spent his fair share of nights in the office working and sometimes sleeping there as the daily commute between Rochester and Syracuse can get treacherous at times.
“I started with abatement,” he said, “and I was responsible for finding the jobs, selling myself to clients and then actually doing the work. My first job was an asbestos abatement project at Crucible Specialty Metals in Solvay.
“Asbestos abatement was a logical place to start the business. The emerging awareness of the dangers of mold exposure and opportunities that existed with controlling exposure is what really started the business concept.”
“Everyone knows someone who is afflicted with asthma or allergies; many relating to healthy indoor air quality and mold exposure.”
Understanding that the mold remediation field was going to be expansive, he made it his mission to learn everything he could about the subject, right down to the spores, attending all the professional conferences he could and working to obtain the pertinent credentials.
“That meant a good volume of work, and I knew I could get jobs,” Zinserling said. “With that, lead abatement, pigeon/bat droppings remediation and other services followed; it was a solid base.”
Zinserling said he was lucky to not get broadsided by any self-employment-related surprises.
“I was seasoned enough that I knew what to expect at the onset of the business; some people pay you when you work, and some don’t.”
Zinserling redefines success on a minute-by-minute basis, with no firm definition, and no established milestone. It’s not about achieving perfection, but more about a drive to always be improving.
“I’ve never really thought about there being a single measure of success,” he said. “I always think there’s more I could be doing. I will never get ‘there.’ Continual improvement is at the heart of how I view life and business.”
“To me, I see success in the expressions on the faces of the people whose lives we’ve touched, from compassionate employees, grateful customers, loyal colleagues and friends and family,” Zinserling said. “I do get excited that my mom and dad come to our company Christmas party each year, and my mom gets to brag about me. This is where you see the effects of this leadership style; as those around you prosper.”
Zinserling said he advises those who want to own or lead a business or organization one day to take their time planning to do it right.
“Line up your resources and find good people you can rely upon,” he said, “and treat people better than you treat yourself.”
One of the tenets of that philosophy is giving to help those in need. Zinserling said that one of his proudest affiliations is that of his involvement with David’s Refuge, a non-profit focused on support and caring for those tasked with being 24/7 caregivers.
“My wife suggested we volunteer on Valentine’s Day one year for an event aimed at giving special needs kids a fun time carnival so that their parents could have a few hours to themselves,” he said. “I was struck by the reality that marriage is hard and raising kids is hard, and these couples have the additional challenge of raising children who require 24-hour, round-the-clock care.”
“The impact a small respite has on their lives made a tremendous impact on ours. We set up games and activities in the gymnasium, the kids had a blast and the parents appreciation was incredible. We fell in love with the organization and its mission. David’s Refuge is so wonderful, I am so grateful for the privilege of participating and proud of helping it grow.”
Zinserling said the needs of the organization far outweigh its resources.
“They need resources such as volunteers and funding,” he said. “In fostering this mission, we’re now partnering with the Syracuse Builders Exchange. I’ve talked to [Syracuse Builders Exchange Executive Director] Earl Hall, and we’re looking at available opportunities to adopt this mission and help this group, including adding a link to the SYRABEX website. Leadership by example is a trusted and true endeavor. These leadership philosophies aren’t just ideas, they are action words. Treat people better than you treat yourself.”
Zinserling’s plan for the next five to 10 years is to continue slow and steady growth, hopefully doubling the current volume in five years. He said one of his intentions when starting the business was to develop something he could pass on to his children, now aged 23, 21 and 19.
“They have other interests, and that’s fine,” Zinserling said. “My dad wanted me to do better than he did, and I want my children to do better than me.”
He said CRAL Contracting is a small family-run business, and everyone there cares very much about each other. He said that dynamic is fostered through orientation into the business and reinforced by the actions and modeled by the behavior of everyone there.
“No one is more important than anyone else,” Zinserling said. “From the guys out in the field to me, we are all equal – we just have different roles.”