As far back as high school, John Caniglia was innately drawn to the sounds of carpentry and construction. Instead of perceiving it as a disruptive racket, he found that the clamor actually helped him concentrate when it was time to hit the books.
“It was more soothing to me to be able to study around construction noise, like wood lathes and drill presses,” he said. “So I would just take everything down to the wood shop and write whatever I had to there while everything was buzzing or humming.”
He’s the son and grandson of barbers, but Caniglia – the owner, founder and president of John Caniglia Homes – always knew that he was more interested in buzz saws than in buzz cuts, preferred diamond blades over barber blades, and liked pole framing far more than barber poles.
“I really started liking that type of work, and at the time it wasn’t “work”, when I was a kid in junior high, in wood shop and industrial arts,” he said. “I guess that influenced me more than anything; I knew I liked it then.”
Caniglia, who grew up in a neighborhood just off Western Avenue near Creighton Prep, headed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after graduating from Westside High School. But he quickly realized that what he really wanted was to just dive into the construction business.
“Really, right out of high school I knew I wanted to work as a carpenter,” Caniglia said. “So after a short stint in college – that didn’t work out so well – I just went out and started working with framing crews, at the time with stick-frame houses. I was maybe 20 years old.”
Caniglia progressed from framing jobs to working for a small builder, which introduced him to all phases of homebuilding. He then learned another aspect of the trade during a short stretch in Colorado working on condominiums and apartment complexes. “Homebuilding, it’s a learn-as-you-go type of thing, it’s hands-on,” he said.
With more experience under his tool belt, he returned to Omaha and married Cindy, also a Westside alum. The year after the couple started a family, John started the business, JKC Construction, Inc., which was launched with a partner in 1978. The company’s first house was completed in 1979. Caniglia was already operating JKC on his own a little more than a decade later, gradually growing the company – and his family – in the ’70s and ’80s. Firstborn son Cory was followed by another son, Jesse, and then daughter Kylie. Cindy Caniglia had always been involved in the administrative side of the company to some degree, but as the second generation of Caniglias was growing up, the company (now known as John Caniglia Homes) evolved into a full-fledged family business.
“It really kind of happened naturally. From the time they were born they watched what I did,” Caniglia recalled. “When Cory was born, I had a framing crew and worked outside a lot, framing houses; and by the time Jesse was born I had started working inside on trim carpentry and cabinets. By the time they were 10 or 12, I had a cabinet shop, and they would come in and sweep the floors. And then they actually started to build drawers and work with their hands a little bit. I think that’s when they might have just liked doing that, because they didn’t see the business side of it, just the fun stuff like the nail guns and what have you.”
The brothers entered the business side soon enough, Caniglia said. Although he never pushed them to work for him, their roles and commitment inevitably became more substantial as their shared knack for the business became evident.
“About the time we started remodeling and building homes, Cory was getting a little older, 15 or 16 maybe. He was working with me, helping me do things, and Jesse followed in much the same manner. He liked what we were doing and wanted to be part of it too,” Caniglia said. “It wasn’t really planned. They liked the thought of working with their hands and working with people and building houses… The two boys never had much of a chance to work elsewhere. As soon as they were out of high school, for the most part, they were heavily involved in the business.”
“I remember coming back on the weekends, when I was in (college in) Lincoln, doing closets and wood trim to make the truck payment,” son Cory recalled. He studied construction management in college, but said, “Being on the job site, that’s the only way to really learn.” Now 36, he serves as a project manager and foreman for the family business, and also has a real estate license.
33-year old son Jesse is also a project manager and specializes in trim carpentry. He took real estate classes to have a greater understanding of that side of the business. He said he recalls bussing tables and washing cars as a teen, but has no regrets being part of John Caniglia Homes at a relatively early age.
Daughter Kylie, 28, who serves as the company’s sales director and realtor, came into the business at her own time. She attended Michigan State University and studied human resources and business management with a sales concentration, returning to Omaha after graduation. “I think I always knew I was going to have some part,” she said.
Despite seeing each other nearly every day at the office or on job sites, the family still enjoys connecting outside of work. The men fish and golf together regularly, the entire family sometimes dines together, and everyone (including Cory’s and Jesse’s wives and children) goes along on an occasional family vacation. The Caniglias admit their close relationship makes it impossible to stay strictly professional at the office at all times. “Yes, we talk to each other differently than we would if we were in a corporate structure,” Kylie said. The jokes and teasing are near constant (John: “I was kind of hoping these guys would actually be brain surgeons.” Kylie: “They won’t let me have tools.” Cory: “Cause she’d hit us with them.” Jesse: “I kind of miss that car wash job of mine, actually.” John: “We make each other cry now and then…just kidding.”). But when it’s time to get down to business, the family works as an effective team, and the respect they have for each other is evident.
“For the most part, everyone knows their role and what we’re trying to accomplish,” John Caniglia said. With each family member bringing a different area of expertise to the table, John Caniglia Homes has branched out into multiple facets of homebuilding and looks very different today than it did in its earliest, circa 1978, incarnation.
So how does he explain the distinction of John Caniglia Homes? “Most everybody we deal with comes to us, so we don’t advertise heavily or do any hard marketing. It’s been word of mouth. I think because it’s a family-ran business, it’s unique in that way.” Caniglia added, “One of the things I really sell to the customers is that you have three builders to work with in case something was to happen to one of us…they get that one-on-one service. A lot of people offer that and there’s a lot of great builders in town, but I think with being a family of people who are all in it to stay, it makes a difference.”
The company, which entered its first Street of Dreams in 1999, is probably best known for high-quality craftsmanship and striking custom homes in noteworthy neighborhoods in and around Omaha, such as Deer Creek Highlands, Five Fountains, Pacific Point, Silverleaf Estates, Tuscan Ridge, Fairway Pointe and West Baywood II.
Despite its overall prosperity, the company has had its share of up and downs, most notably about five years ago during a recession period when building slowed dramatically and everyone in the sector was taking a hit, Caniglia said. Several prominent builders failed during this period, and clients today are more cautious even as economic recovery is progressing.
Long-term relationships with trusted subcontractors helped retain the company’s stability, Caniglia said, plus keeping his business in the Omaha area whenever possible: “Definitely (we use) local suppliers and we always try to work with local banks, local lenders.”
“We’ve been through some really good and some really tough times now because we’ve all been together 15, 20 years or longer. I think the tough times brought us closer together as a business and in trying to figure out what our new business model would be…we really had to diversify and start getting some kind of a business plan together.”
Never one to stay still, Caniglia is already looking toward the future of John Caniglia Homes. “My continuation probably won’t be more than maybe 10 more years maximum; I’d like to escape-plan and just help out a little bit, maybe (it will) be sooner. I don’t have any plans of quitting work, retiring…but I’ll back off after a while and let these guys continue. And if they don’t want to do that, they can do whatever they would like. But at least there’s a base here they can work with.”
And perhaps John Caniglia Homes will eventually carry through to a third generation. John and Cindy already have five grandchildren. Both of their sons are married with children: Cory has daughters ages 7 and 4, plus a son who’s nearly 2, and Jesse has a 5-year old son and 3-year old daughter. And although they joke about pushing their children into medical careers, both brothers said that, based on their own experience, they would sincerely welcome any of their children into the family business someday. Or, as Cory put it, “I’d have no problem with that.”