VOL. 127 | NO. 123 | Monday, June 25, 2012
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
SPECIAL EMPHASIS: Architects & Engineers
LM Architecture Making Name for Itself in Industry
By Sarah Baker
Tim McCullough and Douglas Leininger founded Leininger McCullough architecture in September 2009 during the peak of the recession.
Tim McCullough is a principal and owner of Leininger McCullough architecture. Douglas Leininger, not pictured, is also a principal and owner of the firm.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
The University of Memphis alumni had both been hit by layoffs at two local architecture firms when they decided to realize their earlier discussions about starting their own business.
“In a down economy, it’s always been kind of a good thing to start your own firm because it seems like a lot of the larger corporations in America kind of started from that bad recession-era times,” McCullough said. “People were looking for deals, there were a lot of architects on the street.”
The duo worked separately at their respective residences for the first year and a half in business, meeting at restaurants in the middle along the way to write each other checks. The arrangement worked well because for the most part, they worked on their own projects, something that continues to this day.
“Tim pretty much runs his projects and I pretty much control my projects,” Leininger said. “It just simplifies things a little bit when he’s got two or three and I’ve got two or three and we’re not crossing over on those projects.”
It wasn’t long after establishing LM architecture before McCullough found out about an available space in Old Town Center at 2129 S. Germantown Road from friend, Web designer and owner of Simple Focus, JD Graffam, who was a tenant in the building.
“We loved this building,” McCullough said. “Not because of the way it looks from the outside, but the rent is phenomenal; we have a month-to-month setup. This whole building is kind of an incubator. There’s a photographer down at the end of the hall, there’s a graphic T-shirt and business card printer guy. It seemed perfect for a start-up.”
LM architecture occasionally brings in interior design and marketing consultants, but at the time being is only made up of its two founding principals.
“We’re not to the point where we can hire somebody, pay them benefits and pay them a full salary,” McCullough said. “That may be five years from now. I like the small firm mentality.”
The company does a lot of work with tenant infills, for clients such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Smoothie King, Supercuts and European Wax Center.
“I never thought I would do all of these little projects until I started out on my own,” McCullough said. “They are kind of a bread and butter, keeping you moving kind of project. They do come with their set of difficulties, requirements and nuisances, but they’re repetitive enough to where one often leads to another. In franchise types of projects, one guy generally owns five to 20 stores, so it works out great – you keep them happy, and they keep coming back to you.”
Other projects LM architecture is currently working on, many of which came from referrals, include The Pointe at Kirby Gate, Ardent Dental Lab, Lichterman Nature Center, Ronald McDonald House, the Memphis Fire Services Apparatus Maintenance on Adams Street, the rebranding of warehouses in Belz Enterprises’ Shelby Oaks Industrial Park and even some homebuilding projects.
LM architecture also has gone beyond architectural services for a handful of clients, providing consulting for logos and other marketing efforts. The firm even branded Collierville retailer Lavish from start to finish with merchandise locations, furniture, fixtures and signage.
“We don’t have that opportunity a lot, but I’ll be the first to say, ‘Hey, we can do that, totally,’” McCullough said. “I consider myself a designer at heart. I should be able to design a salt-and-pepper shaker if somebody comes to me and asks me for that service. Do I specialize in that? No, I do not. But will I turn that down? Never.”
For its own marketing efforts, LM architecture relies on word-of-mouth advertising and social media platforms. Future plans include developing a business plan, McCullough said, since the company has “been operating on the fly.”
“Other than the fact that we’ve set up our LLC and have legal documents in place to proceed as a business, we’ve never developed a business plan,” McCullough said. “It’s like a marriage – you really need to have a better plan in place because stuff is just coming in left and right. Knowing what projects need to go where and how they need to be accommodated on a monthly basis would probably make doing this a little easier.”
McCullough also has dreams of owning the building LM architecture is housed in and working on a deal with LEED-certified requirements. He’s also still waiting for that “big project.”
“In six months from now, I need to either have a whole other group of little ones or I need to have one big one,” McCullough said. “I’m not unlike anybody else. I’m always looking for that $2 or $3 or $5 million project.”