By Tami Scott
Perseverance is a character strength that most entrepreneurs would agree you must embrace to accomplish your dreams. This virtue is one that Craig Zinserling developed years ago, initially through watching and learning from his parents, Jack and Marcia. He would observe how they handled life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – just by sitting around their kitchen table and witnessing how they faced their challenges with a great attitude.
“You’re never given too much that you can’t handle,” he said. “My parents brought me up that way and [I’ve] been able to adapt that into my life.”
Zinserling, who founded CRAL Contracting, Inc., is celebrating the company’s 18th anniversary this year as an indoor air quality specialist. The “acronym” CRAL comes from combining Zinserling and his wife’s first names together: Craig and Lori. It’s perfectly fitting, too, since the company’s backstory involves a collaborative effort between the couple to get it started.
“I’d always watched my father in his business endeavors, and I always aspired to have my own business,” said Zinserling, despite having worked his way up to a vice president relationship working for a national environmental contracting company. “My wife Lori – she would encourage me. We had many, many long discussions trying to figure out how to make that leap even though we had a mortgage, three kids, and a couple of car payments – how do you pay all that?”
They persisted and they made that leap but not without a multitude of sleepless nights, seven-day workweeks, and attending many of his son’s soccer games with laptop in tow. As the sole “employee,” Zinserling wore many hats, selling, managing, and actually doing all the jobs on his own.
“In the beginning, it was hard getting established, but we made it through and we were able to establish a foothold through relationships we had built here in Syracuse, having grown up here my entire life,” Zinserling added.
CRAL now has two locations – one in Syracuse and one about an hour and a half west of Syracuse, in Rochester. Zinserling said the second location was a natural fit as he and Lori had lived there for some time, too.
The relationships he’s built over time have played critical roles in the building of CRAL and where it is today. For instance, once CRAL was established, its first customer was Crucible Steel in Syracuse – and that was in large part due to connections he made and maintained.
“If I have a friend who has a tax business or a barber shop, I’m giving my friend business even if it’s more money. I want to support my friends and those relationships that I’ve developed for over 55 years in Syracuse,” Zinserling said. “It’s a small town and doing work right and treating clients well will follow you.”
Loyal customers and a good-standing reputation also mean publicity in the form of “word of mouth.” When the pandemic began, Zinserling feared the worst.
“I think with any business owner, there was complete panic. From a business standpoint, I was wondering if I’d lose everything,” he said. “How do you close a business down and have no [money] coming in, and not being able to pay people – how will we survive?”
As the saying goes, perseverance pays off. Office staff continued to come to work and “didn’t skip a beat,” he remarked. The team was able to complete the projects for which they were hired and “like manna from heaven,” Onondaga County called CRAL for work. The first testing site had been set up in the inner city, but it needed disinfecting and sanitizing, of which CRAL is the expert.
“Our crews [went in] on a daily basis with specialized equipment. They were in full PPE, and we had HEPA air cleaning devices spread out throughout their facility and we were disinfecting and sanitizing around the clock,” Zinserling said.
Soon after, this service branched out to private businesses as well as nursing homes throughout NYS and downstate into NYC. “The nursing homes weren’t set up for isolation and that’s what we do. We’re very good at engineering isolation containment and we would contain an entire wing of these nursing homes and put them under HEPA negative air pressure and disinfect and sanitize around the clock.”
Other than a few calls here and there from a private business or nursing home, Zinserling said that type of work is essentially over. Regular services, such as mold remediation, lead abatement, and asbestos abatement, can again take the lead in project acquisition.
Zinserling remembers what it was like to find and rent office space when he was just a budding business owner himself. About six years ago, he began pursuing real estate to purchase and eventually found a building that was reasonably priced but had a large footprint – 22,000 square feet. “I don’t need that much space,” he said.
So, he came up with an idea that stuck and worked. He set up that building, and another one that he acquired, to be incubators for young local, minority entrepreneurs. “They rent a simple office from us and a space for their startup business.”
He’s had several renters leave to buy their own real estate to work from and he said it’s so fun to watch. “It’s absolutely a joy for me to watch these young guys and gals pursue their dreams and be successful.”
Zinserling also sits on the board for David’s Refuge, a local charity that over the years has grown exponentially. The nonprofit provides respite and other support to parents and guardians of children with special needs or life-threatening medical conditions. Warren and Brenda Pfohl formed David’s Refuge in honor of their son to encourage parents to keep pressing on. David was diagnosed with and battled Batten Disease for thirteen years.
“Parenting and marriage are difficult enough under regular circumstances and on top of being a full-time caregiver, it’s extremely difficult,” Zinserling said. “They really saw the need for caring for the caregivers.”
The organization provides caregivers with respite weekends, putting them up in nice places that also support the local community. To learn more about David’s Refuge, visit DavidsRefuge.org.
Zinserling’s steadfast spirit is a trait that, by the way he chooses to live his life, does not go unnoticed. And because he has a deep, personal, and meaningful sense of meeting life’s challenges with patience and perseverance, he wants to help those he works with daily to adopt that same attitude.
Now having grown a company to include up to 50 employees, professionally surviving a pandemic, and personally helping others through complicated life journeys, Zinserling is a stellar example of success.
And so are those who have helped him achieve his dreams.
“We have a core group of staff that has been here from nearly the inception. They are the backbone of the business,” Zinserling said. “Frankly, I am no longer needed. They are so talented and caring that they run the business.”