Woman of the Week: Mel Dion
Full disclosure: I am sitting inside the Los Gatos Apple store waiting for an appointment as I write this profile of Mel Dion, our Woman of the Week. The irony is, Mel was the project manager on the very first Apple store.
In fact, not only was she involved with the building of the first Apple store, she worked on the design and build of the first 17. For over two years Mel worked closely with the Apple team – including Steve Jobs – as they fine-tuned the design of their now iconic stores.
So as I sit here, surrounded by the clean modernity of the Apple brand, I would like to formally introduce you to Melanie Dion, owner of Cardinal Construction, Santa Cruz Socialites’ Woman of the Week! Congratulations Mel!
Mel Dion has called Santa Cruz home since 1981 and opened her business, cheap Depakote, here in 1996.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Dion grew up in Maryland and Ohio before leaving college at Kent State and driving across country with her dad in 1981.
“He worked for the Wall Street Journal at the time and had been transferred to Palo Alto,” she recalls. “I took it as my opportunity to hitch a ride to a warmer climate.”
Eventually Mel got married and had two children (daughter Tanya and son Danny) and began helping out with the family construction business. Her husband was a contractor and she ran the business side – returning phone calls, handling bids, ordering materials, and the like.
When her marriage broke up, Mel found herself with two small children and limited professional options, so she did what many of us do: she pulled up her boot straps, and did what she had to do to provide for her young family. For Mel, this meant taking classes at Cabrillo College so she could get her contractor’s license and continue to run what was now HER family’s business.
“Cabrillo has a great program,” she said. “I learned so much there – especially in their hands-on classes. I actually just took another class there to make sure I really understand electrical code. It’s a wonderful resource.”
Cardinal Construction builds both residential and commercial projects and is 203(k) contractor certified, which means they are approved to work on properties purchased under a special FHA mortgage program. For contractors to be approved to work on 203(k) builds they must have their liability insurance, workers compensation and license verified and go through a vigorous vetting process.
Being approved for 203(k) builds is just one example of how Melanie takes her business reputation very seriously. As an experienced businesswoman, she knows that the most effective marketing tool is word of mouth.
“Most of my clients come to me by referrals,” she said. “The local community support means everything. I purposely narrowed the area in which we work so that I can spend most of my time in Santa Cruz County.”
When asked what skills are most vital to her success Mel credits “good math and accounting skills” (sorry kids, math is useful!) “[Both] are essential for providing accurate estimates. Bidding a job too low means losing money whereas bidding a job too high means losing the job,” she explained.
Mel is also organized – when Cardinal Construction is at its busiest they run three jobs at a time and it is essential they remember schedules, deadlines and lead times for materials.
“I think this is one of the ways women in construction stand out – many of us learn the trade from the office side first so we really understand being organized and communicating with the client,” she explained.
While Mel enjoys the rewards of a job well done, she also enjoys the rewards of living and working in Santa Cruz. Passionate about fresh air, hiking with her boyfriend and her three dogs, she also enjoys gardening, getting out on the water, as well as spending time with her granddaughter, Sam.
“I am proud of the business that I’ve built with my team,” Mel said. “The people who work with me [including her children Danny, now 25 and Tanya, now 28] are the major reason I am successful today. We are a team, all on the same page about important things like keeping high quality standard and making clients happy. For me, the best part about having my own business is that I get to choose who I work with. I am living my dream in Santa Cruz.”
For her dedication to helping others live their dream in Santa Cruz, we thank and honor Melanie Dion as our Woman of the Week!
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