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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 28, 2019 2 months ago

Contractor company now at Southwest Florida's Beck and call

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With one market tapped out for growth opportunity, a builder and home services firm with a storied history boldly seeks new territory. Beck Companies is headed into a crowded space.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Prior to the downturn of a decade ago, the Beck Companies — a multi-disciplinary land development, commercial and residential construction and home services firm — had focused its business on economically disadvantaged Glades and Hendry counties. There was a need to be filled in the region the Beck family called home since the early 1900s, and although revenues were limited there, they were dedicated to their adopted home area.

Founded in 2003 by Derek Beck and his father, Earl, the firm, during the recession, further made ends meet by building homes for the Seminole reservation on the western shore of Lake Okeechobee. 

Yet Southwest Florida was never far from Derek Beck’s mind. With a limited scope of work available in the inland counties and a model built — out of necessity — on incorporating nearly every phase of development and construction from site prep to the final roof tile, a push into more lucrative markets was required for what was already a $6 million company experiencing 25% annual growth.

In early May, Beck Cos. completed that move: It relocated its headquarters and warehouse to Fort Myers, in what Derek Beck expects is just the first phase of ambitious growth plans for the company.

For now, those plans are centered on building its brand among consumers in the custom home construction and home services space. Beck has enlisted Spiro & Associates, a prominent Fort Myers marketing firm, to convey that message.

Although Beck Cos. (unrelated to The Beck Group, the billion-dollar Dallas-based builder with an office in Tampa) is not yet a household name in Southwest Florida, it is known among its construction industry peers. Beck had been expanding its reach into Lee and Collier counties over several years by partnering with general contractors on projects including a Westin hotel conversion in Cape Coral and the recently completed renovation project of the Bell Tower shopping center in Fort Myers.

“Now that we have these trades, we have to feed the beast. We can handle the volume we're doing now, but as we grow in the manner I anticipate, we're going to be hiring.” Derek Beck, founder and owenr of Beck Companies

The company had gradually built relationships with firms in the area, which leveraged its local reputation for quality and reliability. “I wish I could give them all of our work,” says George Pisello, a superintendent with Fort Myers-based Chris-Tel Construction who has worked with Beck on several projects. “I really enjoy working with them, and they are totally focused on customer service.”

With its new headquarters, Beck Cos. is also focused on branding its home services, such as electrical, HVAC, plumbing, roofing, remodeling and renovations. The plan had been in the works for about five years and was cemented when Derek Beck moved his family to Estero in 2016. 

“We just liked the area,” says Beck, who has run the company on his own since his father’s retirement two years ago. “And you see the growth that's happening. We're over there in Glades and Hendry counties and we’re lucky to do X number of dollars a year, and here it's limitless. That’s when it resonated with me that it was time to move this way and be a part of what is happening here.”

The company isn’t abandoning its roots. It will continue to operate a satellite office in LaBelle, where it offers services in a region with few such options. With ambitious plans for growth, though, 37-year-old Beck says the move was necessary for continued diversification of the company as a hedge against adverse economic conditions.

“We've always done work in this area but never on the scale we're approaching now,” Beck says. “Glades and Hendry are two of the poorest counties in the state, if not the nation, and there are limited opportunities for us there. We have outgrown that region, and out of necessity, we've had to push this way.”

Morphed by necessity

Working in the family business, Beck says, was preordained. The Beck family arrived in the Lakeport area, south of the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation in Glades County, from Ohio in the early 1900s. His grandfather Wayne opened the family’s first of a chain of general stores/gas stations there, but with no existing buildings to purchase and no contractors to build them, the family simultaneously entered the construction business.

“When they came to Lakeport, there was literally nothing there,” Beck says. “They were truly pioneers. They built and operated their own stores.”

As large companies, such as Walmart and Murphy Oil, entered the market and began selling fuel for a lower price than the Becks could purchase it, they divested the retail venture to focus on construction.

“Construction was a good fit,” Beck says. “That was prior to the boom and bust, so the timing was good.”

In addition to building homes and light commercial properties, the company found regular clients in U.S. Sugar and Southern Garden Citrus — the two primary industrial companies in the region. Beck says business was good, but importing trades from the coastal counties was expensive and not always reliable because of challenging logistics. To fill the void, the company began adding the needed trades. Beck himself is a licensed electrician, plumber and roofing contractor. He also has a real estate license, and the company added a real estate brokerage division, where Earl Beck remains active.

“It morphed into what it is now out of necessity because, where we were, our options were so limited with regard to subcontractors,” Beck says. “Rather than paying a guy to come in from the coast and hoping he can fit us into his schedule and paying a premium for the work just to get him to go over there, we realized we could do it better. That's when the trades were born, and now because we have those trades, we have to feed the beast.”

That appetite isn’t sated only by the move to Fort Myers. Once its foothold is established on the Gulf Coast, Beck plans for more growth to follow. Beck Cos. already works throughout Florida with relationships established statewide.

Pisello expects Beck will be as well-received in other markets as it will be in Southwest Florida.

“They don’t play the games like a lot of other subcontractors do,” Pisello says. “Companies like that do a great job because they know how to do it right. They know what they need to do; they get it done. And if there is a problem, they take care of it. It’s a first-class organization. Not everyone I work with is like that.”

Sky is the limit

Although the expansion and potential growth is exciting, Beck admits running a 50-employee company offering multiple services in the midst of moving its headquarters is chaotic. “I don’t sleep much,” he says. 

The new headquarters in Fort Myers is approximately 6,600 square feet, including some 2,000 square feet of office space and the remainder in warehousing for parts and equipment. With the anticipation of eventually outgrowing the building, Beck leased the space rather than purchasing it. The building is purposefully sited to minimize warehousing needs.

The Beck family started its construction enterprise by building its own general stores in Glades and Hendry counties after arriving there from Ohio in the early 1900s. Courtesy Beck Companies

“We deal with most of the vendors who are within a block of this facility, so any given day we can be restocked two or three times,” Beck says. “We may still rapidly outgrow it. I hope that's the case.”

With a new, more visible headquarters and an effort to market the Beck Cos. brand to consumers in the homebuilding and home services space, Beck expects to accelerate the company’s growth beyond the 25% average annual gain in recent years. Beck anticipates as much a $8 million in gross revenues in 2019., which would mean hiring more personnel.

“We can handle the volume we're doing now, but as we grow in the manner, I anticipate we're going to be hiring,” Beck says. “The goal is to get to the point where we're hiring every day. But I don’t want to grow so rapidly that it is unsustainable.”

Like other companies in a growing economy — and construction firms — Beck faces staffing challenges. As an active member of economic development councils of both Glades and Hendry counties, Beck says the workforce training and retention issues there are paramount.

“Hiring is the toughest challenge we face,” Beck says. “What we have to overcome is this notion that you have to get a college degree to get a good job. A plumber or electrician or HVAC tech can make really good money.”

Among the new hires will be CAD engineers, planners and designers while Beck pursues certification in civil engineering and land development. That will eventually be followed by architectural services.

“As long as the population of Florida continues to grow, the sky is the limit,” Beck says. “I don't see an end to it.”

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