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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 29, 2018 2 months ago

Entrepreneur builds up property improvement company — with plans for more growth

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A Scottish business owner moved stateside to start a new dream — buying and building up a company focused on property improvements.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

From his backyard in Scotland, John Smyth typed the words “Sarasota place to live” into an internet search.

What came up? Lakewood Ranch, a fast-growing, master-planned community in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Smyth was impressed with the vision for the community.

He had been coming to Florida for several years before he decided to move to the Sunshine State from Scotland. Smyth sold his share of an engineering business in Scotland to employees in 2013, and he and his wife, Sharon Smyth, bought a pressure washing and handyman repair company in Bradenton. The business, more recently, has shifted to commercial real estate projects, including self-storage. 

“Customers just want to be treated well, looked after and communicated to, all over the world.” — John Smyth, CEO, Above & Beyond Property Improvement 

Since 2013, the Smyths have grown the company, Above & Beyond Property Improvement, in employee count and revenue. John Smyth now has big plans to expand the geographic range of the company, as well as the types of residential and commercial jobs it does. He also has ambitious plans to continue the growth.

One big goal: reach $10 million in revenue in five years, starting with last year. In 2017, it reached $1.1 million in revenue. This year, the goal is $2 million. “We’re not here to enjoy the lifestyle,” he says. “The lifestyle’s great, but we’re here to work hard.”

For the first 18 months after he bought the business, Smyth says they worked with existing clients. But, he says, it didn’t make sense to continue doing pressure washing and handyman jobs for the amount of money people had been paying. Above & Beyond transitioned into larger painting and flooring jobs and then moved into kitchen and bathroom remodeling.

Today another key line of work is doing finish work on houses that are 90% to 95% complete. Homebuilder Taylor Morrison is a client, and Above & Beyond wants to increase that list.

Commercially, Above & Beyond is high on storage units. Once the shell of a storage building is constructed, it handles the next steps. Those projects, Smyth says, are relatively easy, and with the amount of people moving to the area, he expects more storage units to pop up. “I think diversification is important,” Smyth says of the company’s range of projects.

New clients originate through realtors, builders and networking. “Imagine moving to Glasgow — you have to put yourself out there,” Smyth says. He’s done that through a variety of groups, including the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Master Networks and Gulf Coast Builders Exchange. “People have to get to know you,” he says. “You can’t just sit back and hope that things will happen.”

Above & Beyond does 50% to 60% of its work in Lakewood Ranch. The rest is in Sarasota and Bradenton. Smyth says he’d like to grow into doing work in the surrounding counties, too.

His approach to managing the company puts a big emphasis on quality employees. Above & Beyond has doubled its employee count over the past two years,  to a payroll of 12. But initially the process the company used to hire was fairly basic. Now it has a two or three-step recruitment process. “There are people out there," he says, "You just have to be patient.”

By building a team, Smyth aims to release himself from day-to-day work so he can do more strategic thinking and planning. Smyth, wanting to improve at sales, has worked with area sales trainer Jamie Kane on that part of the business. 

One thing he’s learned is the value of saying “no” sometimes instead of “yes” to potential jobs. “I’m the kind of person who wants to help,” Smyth says. “Now we make sure it’s a good fit.”  

There have been some differences between running a business in Scotland and in the U.S., among them learning about workers’ compensation and licensing. But there are similarities, too. Smyth says, “Customers just want to be treated well, looked after and communicated to, all over the world.”

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