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Seagate Development has designs on growth

In launching Theory Design, another business entity, Fort Myers-based residential and commercial developer targets the sometimes unseen: the emotional connection with customers.

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Seagate Development Group was founded four years ago on the theory that growing into a turnkey residential and commercial development company serving clients in every aspect from land acquisition to finished product — or any single element along the way — was a path to business success.

Few could argue with the results. The Fort Myers company has grown, for example, from $17.6 million in gross revenue in 2015 to $48.8 million in 2017, up 177%. The client list and payroll have also grown substantially.  

The company recently took the next step in its evolution by launching another company. That business, Theory Design, was created to bring comprehensive design services in-house, with a pre-existing pipeline of projects company officials say will ultimately result in third-party clientele as well.

Leading the new company is COO James Nulf, one of the three founding partners of Seagate. He's joined there by Vice President of Design Ruta Menaghlazi, who joined the company from an outside firm, and Vice President of Design Operations Jenna Kowalczyk, a nearly two-year project manager for Seagate. Nulf partnered with fellow Seagate founders and owners William and Matthew Price to start Theory Design.

Expectations for the new entity are high. 

'The small details are important. Having that team that is able to execute the design before the site is even developed to full construction is a huge advantage.' James Nulf, Theory Design

“I think this is the driver of our business,” says Nulf. “We look at ourselves as a design builder, and what we realized was the design and functionality of how commercial and residential space lives, operates and works is the most important component. A good design up front and consistently executed throughout the project will result in a great finished product.”

The idea of bringing in-house project design, from the color of an entry monument to that of the walls inside a home, Nulf adds, is critical to Seagate’s mission of creating commercial and residential spaces that consistently reflect the design inspiration of the project.

It’s also good business. The new company, he says, will not only create efficiencies by not outsourcing design services to a variety of contractors, but will also streamline the workflow in achieving design consistency.

“It's really a full-scope design service," says Nulf. "The small details are important. Having that team that is able to execute the design before the site is even developed to full construction is a huge advantage.”

Beyond in-house and third-party client design services, Theory Design will have a retail component. It recently opened a showroom in Boca Grande — where Seagate has several homes under construction — for retail furniture, decor and accessories customers will find in model homes. Plans are in the works to open a second showroom in Naples. Theory Design is also in talks with furniture and accessories manufacturers to develop a private label core product line.

The strategy will provide one other important element — the opportunity to capitalize on the emotional connection between customers and the model homes, and the desire to carry that atmosphere into their own homes, right down to the towels and linens.

“The benefit to us is we will be able to use this merchandise in the branding of Theory Design in real-life models,” says Nulf. “People will be able to go into a Seagate home and feel how it lives and breathes with Theory Design merchandise, and they can replicate that or go into one of our showrooms and buy pieces that are components of that.”

In addition to development and construction, and the early days of Theory Design, Seagate is a property management company that manages 1.5 million square feet commercial and industrial space in Southwest Florida. The company formerly held controlling interest in the Westlinks and Eastlinks business parks in the Gateway area of Fort Myers, where it remains the leasing agent and also rents its own space. 

Operating in three separate offices in Westlinks and still running out of space, Seagate is planning a new 13,500-square-foot headquarters off Alico Road. Construction is expected to begin in early 2019. Seagate has 40 employees, hiring five this fall, and officials expect to hire five more prior to moving into its new building. 

Theory Design, meanwhile, is also humming. It was launched with a built-in slate of 16 residential and two commercial projects from Boca Grande to Naples, allowing it to demonstrate its work to third-party clients.

“That part of the business will explode once more people see the finished product,” says Nulf. “Our first product delivery will be first quarter of 2019, and then we will be delivering Theory Design products for the next 18 months just with what is currently in the pipeline.”


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