Accent Construction Services
In October 2008, Accent Construction Services (Accent) was created as a division of the nationwide general contractor EMJ Corporation (EMJ). Neil Pratt, a five-year EMJ associate at the time and now executive vice president of Accent, was sent from Dallas to Chattanooga to get the company up and running. Since then, the contagious energy of the Accent team has fueled the success of the start-up, which has grown annually for the past five years and now oversees projects nationwide.
Every Step of the Way
Accent’s ability to serve as a general contractor or construction manager gives the company a leg up on competitors. “We’re a one-stop shop,” says Pratt. “We walk alongside our clients and look out for their best interests as we help them achieve their goals.” Helping to realize the vision of a client and establishing a relationship along the way are what drive the Accent team.
The 20-person company has eight construction managers, eight superintendents, a project engineer and a director; all of whom are well-versed in every phase of the process. As a solution-based partner, Accent creates value for its clients through a methodology that leads to the optimal design, schedule, budget and end-result for each project.
The Accent team believes that the most successful projects occur when owners, designers and contractors come together at the earliest stages and work collaboratively toward a unified vision. In doing so, Accent first determines what the big picture is by asking what each client wants to achieve individually.
In particular, Accent focuses on program management for developers and retailers who already have a program in place or need help developing one. This model gives Accent an opportunity to provide comprehensive services, which assist the client in each stage of the project: decision phase, planning phase and execution phase.
Serving clients with multiple project opportunities means that Accent is able to do repeat business with a core group of partners. “We don’t want a thousand clients,” explains Pratt. “Our whole goal is to provide a different level of service, a more intimate experience.”
By minimizing client load, Accent focuses on maximizing the amount of work it does for each client. “We cultivate relationships by doing programmatic work for clients,” Pratt says. According to Pratt, 10 program-type clients is a desirable number, and the idea is to add one or two more select clients per year.
As a value-added partner, Accent functions as an extension of a client’s in-house operation. Over years of repeat work, Accent becomes intertwined with the culture, interests and needs of each individual client.
The Long and Short of It
The original intent of Accent, to serve as a small project division of EMJ, was momentarily shelved in 2009 due to a dearth of opportunities during the recession. Therefore, the company shifted its focus. “We had to adjust our business model and morph into something that could grow in the down economy,” explains Pratt.
As developers and retailers significantly downsized or eliminated in-house construction capabilities, Accent saw an opportunity. “We could come in as a construction manager and strengthen their in-house capacity on an as-needed basis,” says Pratt. “This offering allowed these clients to reduce their overhead and still proceed with projects during the downturn.”
As the economy rebounded in 2011, Accent re-directed its efforts back toward the original goal of functioning as a small project division of EMJ, working in the retail, industrial and office sectors of the commercial market.
Now Accent, in tandem with EMJ, is introducing a revolutionary concept-to-completion (C2C) program management methodology. The C2C program drives value at the project level through collaboration and coordination from the conceptual phase through final project completion. Accent will continue to expand its portfolio of national clients who will now have access to the full range of C2C services for projects in the $500,000 to $4 million range.
A Small but Mighty Firm
Accent’s energy and ability set the company apart from competitors in its niche market. “Our company is extremely energetic,” says Pratt, of the fun-loving and driven environment at Accent. “It’s a phenomenal group of people we have here who work hard and play hard.”
In the beginning, Accent was able to draw from previous EMJ relationships in the retail industry. However, Accent has carved out its own path by serving a different set of client needs. Although the company is in growth mode, it is slow and steady growth. The company expects to see 20 percent annual growth in coming years as its client base expands.
Accent’s partnering model can be seen in its work with the Lamp Post Group, a business incubator in downtown Chattanooga started by three friends and entrepreneurs. The project converted a historic 100-year-old department store into open-format collaborative office space to house several businesses. Accent is currently working on the fifth phase of the project.
Furthermore, Accent is able to assist with the lease negotiations and ensure that tenant criteria are met during the design process. On behalf of the project owner, Accent offers representatives in securing permitting and other approvals as needed.
Going the Distance
Accent is small enough to cater to each client on a personal level; however, expert enough to handle any challenge. By offering a full range of expertise, Accent’s C2C team is able to provide clients with a level of support and services from concept-to-completion that go well-beyond those typically offered by general contractors.
With this mentality, it’s not surprising that several members of the Accent team completed a Tough Mudder race together – a 12.5-mile obstacle course – in 19 degree weather. “It was so cold, officials had to break up the ice in the pools of water before we could jump in,” laughs Pratt.
Furthermore, Accent is involved in its community and works to raise money for good causes while having fun in the process. “Whatever the event, we’re big on camaraderie,” says Pratt. It is evident that is true both within the company, as well as between Accent and its clients. It’s all about creating value while building lasting relationships at Accent Construction Services.
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