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Business Observer Friday, May 20, 2011 11 years ago

Green Shoots

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A custom homebuilding firm has experienced some rapid growth, in spite of the economy. Can it keep it up?
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Don't hate Steve Ellis because he's green.

After all, Ellis might be the co-founder of Sarasota-based MyGreenBuildings, a luxury custom homebuilder, but his brand of green is first and foremost the money kind. In fact, he says he's not the kind of builder “who runs around town putting solar panels on roofs.”

Instead, MyGreenBuildings is actually about precision and efficiency, says Ellis, from planning to design to execution. “Our whole pitch is not about green,” says Ellis. “It's about the performance we can get out of a home.”

Moreover, there is growth in green: MyGreenBuildings, with 10 employees, has grown revenues 1,888% since 2007, from $400,000 to $4.75 million last year. The growth is a remarkable accomplishment considering the decimation in the homebuilding industry from the recession. “We had to figure out how we would get a bigger share of a declining marketplace,” says Ellis. “That's not easy.”

One integral aspect to the strategy was the company's commitment to maintain a system of process and procedures. The system, detailed in an intricate flowchart, follows purchase orders and documents liens that vendors must sign to work with the firm. “It's very rigid,” says Ellis. “That helped us avoid mistakes as we grew.”

Ellis and MyGreenBuildings co-founder Grant Castilow have even contemplated licensing their system to other small homebuilders.

The company, founded in 2006, also followed an old business model standby to grow through the downturn: diversification. It now also does some light commercial work and home renovations.

Indeed, current projects at MyGreenBuildings include a restoration of a 6,000-square-foot home in Sarasota designed by Carl Abbot; a design-build addition to a historic home-bungalow in south Sarasota County; and two medical office build-outs. The firm also recently completed the first phase of construction of a 5,000-square-foot home in Sarasota made of commercial-grade concrete beams.

Castilow and Ellis aren't born builders, but both share a passion for the art-meets-science approach to custom homebuilding. Castilow has a degree in business management from Johnson and Wales University, and he used to work in hospitality, where he ran several large restaurant chains. He is now a licensed general contractor.

Ellis, meanwhile, previously built a multimillion-dollar environmental waste management consulting business. The son of a real estate developer, Ellis, a New England native, would sometimes join his dad to scout project sites when he was a young boy. Says Ellis: “I was always fascinated by it.”

Castilow and Ellis met in 2005, when Ellis needed a general contractor for a home renovation project in Sarasota. The pair clicked and MyGreenBuildings was born.

While Ellis shies away from the greenie label, the firm does have some green bona fides. The company has built and renovated what the Florida Green Building Coalition calls some of the greenest homes in the state.

Ellis, however, says he truly relishes the fact that MyGreenBuildings has kept people employed during the deep downturn.

“We are doing this at a time when people really need it,” says Ellis. “I'm proud to see people rolling into the office to pick up paychecks.”

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