WellBuilt Company Has International Roots
Owners Use Strong Work Ethic to Build Diverse US Company
For a couple of ambitious fellows from Australia, starting a business in the United States just seemed like the right thing to do. Without a network of contacts, Mitch Kidd and Scott Lumby built their business—Wellbuilt Company—in one of the most demanding markets in the U.S.
They both had business experience in Australia before putting down roots in New York City. “We’ve been business partners since we were 19 and have always had the entrepreneur spirit,” Mitch says. “We also have a worldly nature that made us want international experience. If we didn’t start this business in the United States, we would have done it in Australia. When we got here, we were encouraged by the opportunity we saw, so we focused on establishing ourselves here.”
Wellbuilt Company offers real estate development, construction and asset management. It is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Australia. The company’s work encompasses single-family and multifamily residential, commercial, retail, medical and government projects.
Mitch and Scott manage activities in New York and Connecticut. They are both graduates of the University of New South Wales and hold graduate degrees in building construction management. They also both worked for St Hilliers, a well-known top-tier construction and development firm in Australia. Todd Rotondi, who grew up in a third-generation Massachusetts construction family, manages the Massachusetts office, which focuses on single- and multifamily developments in the Greater Boston area, and functions as an independent satellite office.
Starting from Scratch
Wellbuilt Company was started in 2009, with solely the resources of experience in construction and the ability to create opportunity. “We knew people here from our travels but no one in construction,” Mitch says. “We were starting from scratch, so we hustled and worked at [developing] relationships, trying to get in front of everyone we could. Through industry associations, we met developers, real estate professionals and architects,” he says. “These contacts were invaluable early on as they would introduce us to others and recommend more industry associations and networking events to attend. We got a lot of referrals by the good nature of people who were willing to share. So now, when others come to us, we’re very willing to help them go in the right direction.”
With their training and experience, they found the technical side of business relatively similar to their experiences in Australia, with the exception of a few different construction techniques. “In Australia, we would not use timber to the scale it is used here in the United States. It would be rare to see a building go above two stories in timber, and basements are not commonplace,” Mitch notes. “On the regulatory side, codes and compliances are necessary no matter where you are. At the end of the day, construction is construction, and it needs to be safe.”
Scott and Mitch fell back on their experience in high-end residential projects when they first started building the business in New York. They did that for a few years but became concerned about the length of time and resources required by residential projects. “We realized we could do the same amount of work on commercial projects in half the time. We wouldn’t be able to grow so quickly with residential, so we made a decision to get more involved in commercial work. We took on small projects at first and built the business from that,” Scott notes.
Wellbuilt Company’s sales revenue almost doubled year after year in the first four to five years. Today, they are still growing the business but have tried to maintain revenue at a more sustainable and consistent level. “At the beginning, we took on any job we could, and we did whatever it took to get those jobs across the line. We were wearing every hat in the company and working very long days to make it all work,” Mitch says.
The company’s portfolio is now 95 percent commercial. “We do a combination of public and private commercial work to maintain that level,” Scott adds. “We also get compliments on our high level of efficiency, which is really important in commercial work.”
Staying Lean and Mean
“When we started in 2009, it was the worst possible economy, so the company was run on a very lean operating budget,” Scott says. “We had a fairly modest office and were able to expand or contract our workforce as needed by using a bulk of contracted workers. We made sure we bent over backwards for every client and treated them like they were our only client, and in most cases they actually were.”
The team also built a reputation of being able to meet client demands. “Mitch and I have worked in all different roles over the years,” Scott says. “So, we tend to understand things from the other party’s perspective. Whether it’s the client, a consultant, a subcontractor, or our own staff, it goes a long way when you can sympathize and see things from their side.”
He also notes that while timing is better on commercial, this area of the business in New York can have a downside. “The most challenging projects are in Manhattan where there is a multitude of logistics to deal with daily, such as traffic, other tenants in the building, site storage and difficult building access,” Scott says. “Clients for those projects have high expectations and firm timelines. Our ability to troubleshoot on the run and maintain calm under pressure is what sets us apart on those types of projects.”
Sharing Philosophies and Resources
Mitch, Scott and their teams are comfortable with the daily challenges of the business because they know what it means for their future.
“We try to lead by example, so our staff and our subcontractors know that our service to the client is our No. 1 priority,” Scott says. “Keeping the client happy is imperative but may not always be easy. Not every client is the same, but knowing how to manage their expectations is the key to maintaining a healthy working relationship. Our team understands that.”
Mitch concurs. “Setting the right expectations early and making sure everyone on your team understands them is key. You’re relying on other people, and at the end of the day, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so we encourage everyone to hold each other accountable. We are both fair and reasonable and try to instill the same in all of our staff.”
The owners also share their experiences to help different groups in Connecticut; some are construction related and others are general causes. Scott and Mitch support local schools and charities by taking on interns, providing resources or making donations throughout the year. “We are also part of a business owners group called SCORE that helps startup businesses. We share our story and talk with them about setting and reaching their goals,” explains Scott. SCORE is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that helps entrepreneurs through mentoring, workshops and educational resources.
Preparing for the Future
Watching trends has always been important to Wellbuilt Company. The most important area is technology. “The construction industry is slow in adopting new techniques,” Mitch notes. “We want to stay current on advancements and are fortunate to have young people at the company who are in the forefront of technology. We’re now proactive with things such as online project management, document storage and conferencing. We also have PDA (personal digital assistant) cameras on job sites to show progress and for security and liability.”
Mitch is also very positive about two other trends. “Modular construction is great. It allows us to build year-round and affects our planning over the next 10 years,” he says. “3D printing is also going to be a major part of the industry, but it will always require human interaction for design. I’m a big fan of 3D printing. It’s opening doors for more opportunity and I’m looking forward to the day it’s mainstream.”
What started as a visit to see what’s happening in U.S. construction turned into a very successful business. It shows what people such as Mitch and Scott can do with a bit of ambition and a lot of dedication to meeting their goals.