Finding an Industry Focus

The recession has seen an increase in repair and remodeling work over new construction, and commercial-renovation firm Stocker Associates is reaping the benefits

At a Glance

Location
Charlotte, NC

Founded
1988

Employees
18

Specialty
Commercial renovations

Annual Sales
Up to $10 million

The economic downturn has led to a tough decade for those in the design-build industry, which has seen a decline in new construction as customers continue to opt instead for cost-effective repairs and renovations to old buildings. Firms specializing in these fields, though, are still seeing growth because of their specific niche, and one such company is Charlotte, North Carolina-based Stocker Associates, Inc., which works in commercial renovation.

“With the economy the way it is, there aren’t as many new buildings going up, so new construction jobs are very limited,” Stocker Associates president Barry Stocker says. “If you look around, you aren’t seeing as many of those buildings on the ground as you did five years ago.”

Since his business’s founding in 1988, Stocker has been competing quietly in the Charlotte construction game. He built his company from a small husband-and-wife operation into a fully outfitted 18-employee business. “I hired each person one at a time as the need arose, so we’ve grown pretty slowly over the past 23 years and attribute our success to having experienced, long-term employees,” he says.

Stocker Associates’s complete renovation of the Airgas offices in Charlotte, NC, included demolition of major portions of the interior, and the suite was then retrofitted with all new walls, ceiling, lighting, and finishes.

Stocker and contractors like him have seen the industry get even more competitive in recent years as new construction jobs have decreased. “Pricing is aggressive out there right now due to the economy,” he says. “There are too many contractors chasing too little work right now. But since we’re experienced in the office-renovation niche, we’re able to price these things very aggressively; we’re able to get our fair share of the business that’s out there.”

Since the tough economic times began, Stocker has found himself working on an even more eclectic array of jobs than before, including a recent renovation of an entire floor for the National Board of Examiners in Optometry’s testing center, completed in early 2011. “They’re bringing all of the examinations for the board to Charlotte, so we built a new examination facility,” Stocker says. “It was a very fun job because it was very different from your normal office.”

Renovating the office, located on the 20th floor of a former bank building, called for extensive research on Stocker’s behalf. He had to create fully outfitted optometrist offices for the testing center and follow the precise measurements for the high-tech medical equipment. “All of the measurements for the room were very specific—even the lighting had to be set to certain specifications so they could adjust it for their exam and get it just right,” Stocker says.

Stocker also completed construction on a Montessori school in Charlotte just prior to the recession. In the end, he created an angular building with a metal-standing seam roof and a variety of finishes, including stone, wood, and metal, on the outside of the building. “That was a project out of the ground,” he says. “We built the entire building and completed all of the inside and exterior work.”

The On the Green deli in Charlotte, NC, is a remodel Stocker Associates conducted in the Ballantyne Corporate Park.

Though he has seen an increase in his renovation projects, Stocker also attributes his recession success to accounting firm Walker & Associates. “There are very different choices of doing accounting and construction, and you have to constantly be monitoring and examining that to see what is best for your company during that time,” he says. “Steve Walker has been our accountant for a dozen years, I’d say. He takes care of us and makes sure we don’t go down the wrong road.”

So, diligent accounting and a focus on a growing niche market. Even in lean times, it’s a formula that works. ABQ