by Charles McGuigan
Victor Ayala’s name has become synonymous with hardscape and landscape, and virtually any other kind of outdoor project. He formed his company—My New Project—a little over a year ago, but by then he had had many years of experience.
For Victor it all began in his native Guadalajara, Mexico where his father owned a metal fabrication workshop that specialized in custom windows and doors. That was almost two decades ago, and the young Victor, at his father’s side, learned all the rudimentary skills that would serve him later life. “If you know how to cut, if you know how to use a square and a level, you’re pretty much in on the game,” says Victor. “Those principles my father taught me from the time I was twelve years old. And you always start with the basics.”
A couple years later, Victor began learning the basics of hardscaping. He landed a job at the international airport in his hometown where they were doing extensive expansion and renovation, and through it all Victor learned how to work concrete.
At age fifteen, on his own, Victor crossed the Rio Bravo for a new life in America. He made his way to Richmond and found full-time work in construction. To supplement his income, he worked part-time in restaurants.
Within that first year he found a job that began honing other skills he would eventually need for his business. “I worked in landscaping designs,” Victor remembers. “I was doing new beds, planting. I worked with that guy for the whole season, probably about eight months, and when winter came and that work got slow, I moved into doing masonry.”
An older contractor named Daniel, who ran a masonry business out of Goochland County, hired Victor, and immediately took a shine to him. “He was a real nice man, and taught me to do many things,” says Victor. “He taught me step by step. And one time he said to me, ‘You are not the biggest guy, so I’m going to teach you how to do things in a different way.’ He always challenged me to do work using the level, and to do detail work.”
Victor continued doing masonry work until the 2008 recession, when his chosen work dried up as suddenly as a rain puddle in August. In order to pay his bills, Victor did an assortment of things. “I started cleaning houses,” he says. “And then I started working for a general contractor company.” He worked on a number of the old tobacco warehouses along the Kahawha Canal that were being converted into condominiums
“There was plenty of work,” Victor says. “And if you wanted to learn something new that was the place.” Not long after that, he moved back into hardscape, working for a pool contractor. He learned how to do the brick coping on the perimeter of pools, and fine-tuned his understanding of other kinds of masonry that employed native stone and precast pavers.
“I began to see a different side of construction, the patios and landscaping,” says Victor. “So I started moving in that direction.” He became an independent contractor, working for an array of companies that specialize in hardscape and landscape. “I would work for a couple of weeks for one guy, doing a patio,” he says. “And then for another guy I would do raised beds, and plant trees and shrubs. Every project is a different story, and every project you pick up something new.”
February a year ago he struck out on his own. “I’m doing well,” he says. “I got a lot of referrals, and a lot of people speak well about me.”
Before he begins any project Victor meets at length with the customer. ”I start by asking them how often they are going to use the patio. You also need to make sure that the patio is the right size for the yard. You don’t want to go too big, or too small. It has to fit just perfectly for the house and the owner.”
Victor can do any kind of landscaping, or hardscaping from patios and outdoor kitchens, to fire pits, walkways, retaining walls and raised beds. And he will use any suitable building material from brick to bluestone, from precast pavers to poured cement walks.
“I’m an artist,” he says. “I know what looks good and feels right for the yard we’re doing, both with the landscaping and the hardscaping. I can do any project, including wooden fences. Anything for the outdoors.”
Victor is happily married to a woman named Jasimine, his soul mate, and they have a lovely eight-year old daughter named Diana. His wife has always helped him with the business. “We share everything,” says Victor.
Last summer, Victor took his daughter to the city of his birth and showed her where he had attended elementary school. Young Diana got a chance to know the rest of the family.
“I told my mom and my dad that I can’t believe where I am now,” Victor remembers. “I told them I am so thankful to God because I never saw myself in a different country, speaking another language and owning my own business.”
Through the years, when business was hard and when the ends didn’t quite meet, Victor would call his father, who is also an entrepreneur. “And my dad would say, ‘That’s business, you take the good and you take the bad. So, don’t be sad, don’t be mad. Don’t get disappointed. It’s going to get better. Just be there for someone to call you for a job, and pray to God.’” Victor took his father’s advice and it has served him well.
A couple weeks before Easter, Victor travelled down to Puerto Rico to help those who lost everything in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The country, a U.S. territory, is still far from full recovery. In some areas potable water is scarce, and there is still no electricity in other regions.
Victor and fellow congregants from El Camino Baptist made their way to the town of Utuado, twenty miles outside of Arecibo, home of world’s largest single-unit radio telescope, an observatory that can see some of the most distant galaxies in the universe, can train its eye on the furthest reaches of creation.
For seven days, Victor and his friends toiled under the Caribbean sun, doing whatever work needed be done, while restoring hope to people who felt both frustrated and deserted.
“We worked with local pastors,” says Victor. “If somebody needed help cleaning their house, which had been under ten feet of water, we would go in and clean the floors, and wash the walls and the ceilings. Whatever needs they had, we would help. We supplied labor. And we tried to give some hope to people because I think that was a big need over there.”
“I’m not the richest man, but I think I have enough to pay my bills, and a little extra,” Victor Ayala tells me. “I know how you feel when you have nothing, when you lose everything. I saw my dad when I was younger when sometimes we didn’t have anything. So, if I can go and clean the walls, sweep the floor, and give some words to another person that it’s going to get better, I do it. I put all my trust in God. Whatever comes to my life, I take the good moments, and I take the bad moments, too. And I cannot believe my blessings.”
My New Project