July 19, 2009
A 4-Square Future
By Bob Petrie Sheboygan Press staff
Greg Liebig started 4-Square Home Inspections in Sheboygan three years ago out of necessity. After being laid off as an engineer at Watry Industries, Liebig had no job, no severance package and no new prospects in the engineering field.
"We started looking at careers in my field and around here, but it was slim pickings and nothing was really available at all," Liebig said.
Unemployment was running out, and with Liebig's wife, Theresa Christen-Liebig, going to college and their children still living in the Sheboygan area, Greg said, "We really didn't think relocation would be in the best interest of the kids."
After looking at several career possibilities, including opening a catering business, Greg and Theresa landed upon the idea of opening their own home inspection business.
Theresa had been working in real estate in Cedar Grove and knew a few contacts to get them pointed in the right direction. There weren't many home inspectors in the phone book, so there was room in the market. And they thought it would be a good fit for Greg.
"We had a little bit of an advantage when we started out ... and I knew full well Greg was certainly capable of being able to do a good job for people," Theresa said.
Greg, who considers himself pretty handy around the house, took a state home inspectors test and passed, and then a national test in Green Bay to earn his license, and in 2006 opened 4-Square, which operates from the couple's Sheboygan home at 419 Erie Ave.
The couple had to make some pretty big sacrifices to make the business happen. They borrowed money from their parents, sold a vacation cottage on Crystal Lake and parted with their Honda motorcycle for the cash needed to open.
"I couldn't very well put ladders on my Gold Wing," Greg said.
Business was slow at first; building a clientele took its time. Theresa's contacts in real estate got Greg in the door, and he took a thorough approach to his new career, applying many of the things he learned in engineering and manufacturing to create a business plan.
"I'm very big on goal-setting," said Greg, 45. "So when we started out the business we set some realistic goals and stayed focused on what's important, and made sure we had enough capital to get things going."
Slowly, 4-Square has grown, even in a difficult housing market. Roughly 60 percent of his clients are first-time homebuyers, and Greg said he prides himself on being meticulous in going through a home, to make sure the new owners know exactly what needs to be fixed, but also how to maintain the key
components of the house for comfort and safety.
"If you don't do things right, it affects a lot of people," Greg said.
Among his recent clients were Ray and Sara Miller, first-time buyers who are in the process of purchasing a home on North 28th Street.
"He did a real nice job; it was very thorough," said Ray Miller, 32, of 4-Square's inspection. "He really walked us through the house, and his inspection report was almost like a how-to guide to owning a house."
Theresa, 48, who earned her master's degree in counseling at Lakeland College, works part time in real estate and also makes the appointments and does the marketing for 4-Square.
The company has a Web site (www.4squarehi.com). which they say has been effective at bringing in clients, but it's the telephone (the business number is 451-4646) that she considers extremely crucial to the success of business.
"If you don't answer the phone, and you're not there to take care of people right away, they'll go to the next person on the list, and you might lose the opportunity," she said.
The couple recently held a thank-you picnic for their customers, with about 80 people turning out. "We're turning the corner," Theresa said. "The first two years is a difficult time in any business." Greg, who had been laid off from other engineering jobs at Tecumseh and Polar Ware in addition to Watry, offers the following positive advice to people who may also find themselves out of work and looking for something new for a career.
"Regroup," he said. "Step back, regroup, think about different options. Don't get so distressed when it comes to having to make a change in your life. Stay positive, stay focused."
Said Theresa, "It's a scary time when you lose your job and you don't know what's going to happen. But try not to lose perspective as far as letting it overwhelm you so much, and focus on moving forward."
Greg said that he really likes his new career, which is very important, especially after going through a career-changing event.
"That's the biggest thing to get across," he said. "Once you go through the sad phase of losing your job, you just stay positive and look forward to something you really enjoy doing. If you're in a situation where what you did before is no longer there, you're going to need to do something to survive. Why not pick something you'd really like to do?"
Reach Bob Petrie at firstname.lastname@example.org and 453-5129.