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Meet Igor Jokanovic of Areté Renovators in Albany Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Igor Jokanovic.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
We [Igor and his brother Davor Jokanovic] started the business in 2001 after our father Jovo Jokanovic had successfully completed a few smaller remodeling projects. Going back to that time, from 2001-2005 it was just my dad starting out and we [Igor and Davor] were helping him figure things out and helping with smaller projects. I obtained my first degree from a top ranked grammar school in the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. I then went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree from Rockford University in Illinois with a major in business management and philosophy.

In 2005, I completed my Master of Business Administration Degree in finance and international business from Loyola University in Chicago. I successfully tenured with LaSalle Bank and Morgan Stanley as a relationship banker and wealth manager respectively. Davor received his first degree from Boylan High School in Rockford Illinois while successfully playing on the varsity basketball team all four years. He completed his Bachelor’s of Science Degree from DePaul University in Chicago with a major in finance. He then went on to tenure with Chase Bank in their finance and derivatives department.

In 2007-2008, my brother and I left the financial industry to work the business full time. We survived through the housing and financial crisis, and in 2009 the industry grew. We started to diversify our business, income, and investments by putting our profits into properties that we bought, remodeled, and rented. This is how Areté Realty started. In 2014, we established Renovators’ Outlet design showroom, which was a stepping stone for growth into being a full design and remodeling company by being able to keep all of our clients under our umbrella rather than sending them to other showrooms to pick materials like vanities, flooring, cabinets, and plumbing fixtures.

Our next phase is to combine all of our entities and have investors invest in us as a whole rather than in our individual companies. Property management is also a big focus, as there will come a time where we will not only manage our own properties, but bring in a portfolio of others that we will also manage. We continue to grow the Areté business in different directions through marketing, social media, and building strong relationships.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There have definitely been struggles along the way. It breaks down into a few phases. The first was from 2001-2005 when it was just my dad working on smaller projects. The second phase was incorporation in 2005 when it started to look more serious and like a business. We looked at logo, branding, and targeting the Chicago market.

The struggle was figuring out how to get clients. It was a lot of referrals, friends, and family getting the word out and partnering with subcontractors to take on projects. It was always challenging to get the right people in the right place. When things started warming up, the financial crisis happened in 2007-2008 where everything stopped, especially the housing and remodeling industries. This was also a new chapter for both of us [Igor and Davor] where my brother and I both moved from the financial industry to remodeling full time. We had to put our heads together, cut all expenses, and figure out how to survive.

We found our niche in high rise buildings, where even though the market crashed there were still things to fix like water leaks. Nobody was doing flips anymore so it was mostly necessity items like replacing toilets, flooring, and painting. That’s how we gained a lot of our current accounts and built relationships in buildings that were professionally managed by property management companies. During that time, a lot of businesses went belly up creating a need for us. The next phase happened in 2014 when we established Renovators’ Outlet design showroom.

With the opening of Outlet we learned we had to step back and delegate responsibilities so we could focus on creating systems to run the business. At the same time we were still very busy with running the realty side and buying and selling properties. From 2014-2017 we realized that we needed investors that we could share our experiences of building and remodeling properties with rather than just working with our own money. The challenge is always as you grow how do you keep everyone growing with you.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Areté Renovators – what should we know?
Areté Renovators is a family business specializing in interior residential remodeling, primarily kitchen and bath. We are a full general contractor, making us a one stop shop for all remodeling, design, and building needs.

I am most proud of working with family. We have stayed together through ups and downs. Rather than just one person doing well, we did it together which was a challenge but a great accomplishment.

We learned that there are no small projects. Small projects like fixing a hole can lead to the construction of a three story edition or a full gut rehab. We treat every lead with respect and give them the service and attention that is needed.

Looking back, Davor and I had a great sense of networking. When I co-founded the American Southeast Europe Chamber of Commerce, we did a lot of educational events with the consulate offices in Chicago to promote unity rather than being divisive. The idea of promoting events and bringing people together from different backgrounds and industries helped everyone grow their businesses and gave us the opportunity to get referrals because people were thinking about us in the moment they needed someone to remodel their home or business.

Looking at everything we have done, we are always looking for new opportunities which sets us apart from others. When we purchased the school (Council Oak Montessori School in Blue Island) after it fell in our lap, it was a new avenue to grow our business but also help the community and children. It also helped us look at the future and what Areté stands for – quality in product, projects, and quality of us as human beings. We can always push for betterment around us by being true to ourselves, our mission, and being part of our surrounding community. The future looks good!

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
It’s interesting… I read somewhere that when you start a business it’s like falling from an airplane with a parachute on and you don’t know if it is going to open or not. It’s difficult to build a good reputation, especially in the residential remodeling industry. You get judged on what others do and the mistakes they make. We were guided in many circumstances and crucial moments by millions of people who helped us along the way, but primarily it was my family coming together and making decisions together rather than dictating one idea and saying this is how it must be.

We were always open to ideas and mentoring. One gentleman who helped us a lot just passed very early from cancer, but he was a mentor in terms of property management and what we need to look for. He always told us to check the plumbing and electrical first before anything else. Once the mechanics of a building are in check it is easier to manage the building down the road. Overall, he taught us to provide our tenants the same quality of experience we had as a tenant because we have all been there.

Our work ethic came from our upbringing. As kids we were surrounding by hardworking people like our grandparents, aunts, friends, etc. There were hard years as we went through the catastrophic war in Bosnia. There was a need to change and succeed where many did not have the chance that we did. We had great professors in school who kept us on track, but deep down we always stayed true to ourselves and the background we came from. We will always be tied to our family back home which is why our logo represents where we come from.

We also received a lot of mentoring by our CPA who guided us in properly setting up our finances, financial statements, and educating us on tax laws. Our lawyer helped us by teaching about different entity types that best fit our needs of the business and goals.

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