Zachary Dettmore of Lyndhurst has always carried a certain amount of shame around being a blue-collar worker.
Although his mom has a doctorate and his dad has a master's degree, the 29-year-old never even attended elementary school.
He was unschooled. At home, Dettmore followed a curriculum related to childhood learning that he says allowed him to pursue an avenue of education that he was passionate about.
Two decades after firmly deciding he was going to be a contractor, Dettmore has a thriving business with two employees, two vehicles on the road, a house and money in the bank.
Oh, and no shame at all around how he got there.
"I'm a bit of an anomaly and definitely have an outsider's perspective," said Dettmore, formerly of Rutherford.
"As a homeschooler or unschooler, your cross to bear is not feeling like you belong because you don't have a traditional upbringing."
Dettmore says that's forced him to look at problems differently and take a nontraditional route in all things in life -- not just business or education.
But after nearly a decade since launching Dettmore Home Improvements things, seem to be working for him.
When Dettmore was eight years old, he chose to follow his dream of becoming a contractor -- something he says he may not have done had he pursued a traditional education.
"I was always interested in building and how things worked," he said, "so my reading as a child was geared towards non-fiction topics that interested me. I wasn’t pigeonholed into a one-size-fits-all education methodology."
Instead of learning long division, Dettmore was getting hands-on experience working for a local contractor.
At 13 years old, he attended an intensive, month-long timber framing course.
At 17, he was a homeowner. At 19, he was a business owner -- Dettmore Home Improvements.
Right after purchasing the house, Dettmore enrolled himself in college. Something he says he grappled with for years.
"It was not out of fear for financial stability," he said, "but more for overcoming the fear of being part of a traditional education system."
Ultimately, though, he was more interested in growing his own business -- and dropped out three months short of graduation.
Although school was never really Dettmore's thing, innovation was. Grit, too.
Soon into running his own business, Dettmore noticed that the construction industry doesn't operate substantially outside of the norm.
Business is largely driven by the numbers.
"People are looking at how much a project will cost, and how cheap it will be," Dettmore said. "In order to be the cheapest you need to make sure you're getting the most out of your subcontractors and employees.
"I try not to do that because I'm not looking to be the cheapest."
Dettmore is looking to be the best.
He puts a priority on cleanliness, professionalism and craftsmanship. He sells his business as a boutique, bespoke service.
Dettmore wants customers to hire him because they know they'll get a flawless finished product by someone standing behind his work.
In 2015, after seven years of working alone, Dettmore finally had enough money saved to hire his first employee. Along came Charlie from a Craigslist ad and a year later, Brian, who found the DHI through its Instagram account, which has more than 37,000 followers.
Dettmore admits success is tough in construction, especially on hot days like today when his knuckles are bleeding from beating a tile floor and he's breathing more dust than oxygen.
But in a few weeks, Dettmore will be wrapping up a project and feel more connected than ever to his craft.
Proud of the finished product, his choices and his unconventional path to success.
"I'm passionate about killing the stigma of working with your hands and encouraging people to stick with it," Dettmore said. "You can make an adequate living and support a family in New Jersey being active all day.
"It's certainly not going to be easy, but it can be pretty rewarding.
"And there's no shame in that."
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