A single piece of bubble gum launched Garth Hystad into the business world when he was a fifth-grader in foster care.
Severely mistreated by his foster family, Hystad was always hungry. He had to wait for the family’s biological children to finish their meals and then ask them for their discarded food, “so I could have something to eat,” he recalls. “I realized that was probably not going to sustain a fifth-grader. I was growing. I was very hungry all the time.”
His life changed when a classmate gave him a piece of gum.
“With that one piece of bubble gum, I realized that God could use this in a way that could change my life,” Hystad said. Instead of chewing the gum, he waited until everyone else finished chewing their gum, “and I sold my piece of bubble gum for 50 cents.”
He took the 50 cents and bought two more packs of gum, thus becoming “the school gum salesman. I went from not having any food, having to beg for my food to … I had so much money, I could not carry [it] in my pockets.
“I did learn how to run a business in fifth grade. It was a very important business because my life was at stake, so I had to be successful, which I was,” Hystad said. “God shaped and molded me as a child so that now I get to live a life that I love. It’s my vacation, my freedom. I get to be able to put a smile on other people’s faces.”
Now 49, Hystad spent the last 30 years of his life honing the art of building custom decks through Colorado Custom Decks & Mosaic Outdoor Living and Landscapes. The company, with its three locations in Colorado, will do an estimated $12 million in business this year.
Along the way, his success has garnered national attention.
For the past year, the Colorado Springs resident has also had his own show on HGTV’s DIY (Do It Yourself) Network, called “Mega Decks.” He heard earlier this year his show has been renewed and expanded for the upcoming season.
While a single piece of gum and a desperate need fired his entrepreneurial spirit, a high school class put him on his current career path. That was when Hystad took vocational carpentry as a primary part of his education, “so I graduated from high school knowing how to actually build a house,” he said. “As an 18-year-old, I started the company, which was a little over 30 years ago.”
Lately, Hystad has been working on a deck at a Broadmoor area home. While saws buzz and nails clap into place, Hystad is fitted with a mic to be filmed by Orion Entertainment, the production company shooting “Mega Decks” on behalf of DIY.
Construction for an average deck takes about four months. For the show, “they condense four months of filming into a half-hour show, which is 22 minutes of content,” Hystad said.
The network approached Hystad two years ago with the prospect of creating a show on making custom decks that allow people to experience the outdoors.
His passion, philosophy
Hystad became a ward of the state after his drug-addicted parents lost custody of him and his two sisters when he was 5.
“I grew up in foster homes in Washington state. At one of my foster homes, I was locked in a room for a year and a half, and it gave me a passion for being outside,” Hystad said. “Once I had an opportunity to be outside, I wanted to stay outside. It honestly gave me a love of being outside.”
He also discovered faith when he was 5, and that provided him with solace under difficult circumstances.
“I literally did have an encounter with Jesus Christ, where I became a Christian,” he said.
“From that day forward, my life was hell, but my insides weren’t impacted by that.”
Take a walk
He gives every client his personal attention. Hystad gets to know his customers by taking them on a walk, away from the home, to give them an opportunity to see past the boundaries of their property, he said.
“I’ve found that many people have lived in a home for a period of years, and they’ve looked out the window, and they’ve dreamed about the possibilities. But because that’s not what they do for a living, they’re limited,” he said. “So there’s really a veil that extends out their back window that has limited their view on all the possibilities. So when I come, I rip that veil down.”
During the walks, Hystad will learn about the clients and what they love.
“That’s what I do with the outdoor living,” he said. “I create a world that they love. Because it’s filled with all their favorite colors, their favorite features, it’s paradise.”
Once he’s learned about his clients, then it’s time to focus on the house itself: “It’s a matter of having the home tell me how to put it all together,” he said.
All styles, all costs
Hystad always asks his clients how many times in the past year they’ve eaten dinner outdoors.
“Anything over five is incredible. If it’s been 10 or more, that’s off the charts,” he said. “We live in one of the most incredible parts of the country, 365 days of the year.”
So Hystad builds custom decks to give people the experience of being outside and enjoying the beauty of the region.
“Outside isn’t something to be appreciated by being in the home,” he said. “I chose to make a living by opening up a world that’s always been there, and to be able to take all the senses, the smells and the sounds.”
His goal is to create a lifetime of experiences for his clients. And he has an answer for critics who claim he caters solely to the wealthy.
“The best projects we do aren’t necessarily the most expensive,” he said. “Of course we’re going to showcase our mega-projects on the show. But the custom decks come in all sizes and prices.”
Colorado Custom Decks & Mosaic Outdoor Living and Landscapes
Showroom: 3255 Austin Bluffs Parkway
Contact information: 719-573-6000,