VOL. 131 | NO. 33 | Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
RKA Construction Building A Reputation for High-End Work
By LANCE WIEDOWER
Ryan Anderson sums up the homebuilding profession as taking one of two approaches.
Ryan Anderson, owner of RKA Construction, has had a passion for homes since he was young.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The first is the old-school craftsman who builds a high-quality product. It’s a nice house with a lot of details. As a one-person business, that craftsman might have a strong focus on the finished product but isn’t able to juggle all the tasks necessary to operate a business, from tracking budgets, ordering materials and handling schedules, to communicating with clients and chasing new work.
The second approach features a business owner with a fancy model who is more hands off, allowing the subcontractors to do much of the work with little quality control.
“We’ve taken each of those skill sets and combined them,” said Anderson, who started RKA Construction in 2011. “You’re getting a really professional-run business that also builds a high-quality product.”
RKA Construction has 10 employees and focuses about half the business on new construction and the other half on remodel jobs. The products built are high-end, often upwards of $1 million projects.
RKA Construction is a licensed residential and commercial contractor but primarily does high-end residential work. Work might include new construction of a multimillion-dollar home in a neighborhood such as Chickasaw Gardens to something in Harbor Town, Collierville or even Fayette County. The work tends to stick to the Poplar Avenue corridor in neighborhoods with higher home values.
By dollar amount, the work the company does is split pretty evenly between home renovation and new construction, with anywhere between five and 10 new homes and 20 to 30 renovations completed annually.
Anderson has had a passion for houses since he was young, when he thought he wanted to be an architect. As he got older, he realized he was more nuts-and-bolts and less creative.
He attended Auburn University to study in its building science program. After graduation he did what was natural for someone studying in that program and went into commercial work for Montgomery Martin.
After a few years, Anderson began construction work for a road-building company, but he quickly realized his passion wasn’t in that world.
“We found as long as you make your current customers happy the future customers will come.”
He lived in the High Point Terrace neighborhood at the time, and noticed a number of houses undergoing various rehab projects.
“I saw a lot of people doing work but it was frankly mediocre,” Anderson said. “I knew I could do better.”
So he started doing some projects on the side, even buying a few houses, which he rehabbed and sold. By 2012 he realized he could do the work full time, so he made a full commitment to RKA Construction.
Anderson said the move was a bit scary, considering he was leaving a salaried position for the unknown world of business ownership, especially as the building industry was still slowly coming out of a devastating recession.
“In hindsight that was a good move because as we got in the business others were getting out,” Anderson said. “We didn’t have a lot of the baggage others had from 2008, 2009 and 2010. We approached it differently than what is the industry standard.”
Anderson partnered with a former colleague, Chris Clark, who brings a hands-on craftsman role to Anderson’s formal education background. RKA’s approach combines the two aforementioned models, creating a hands-on craftsman-quality project with a well-run business operation.
Most of the company’s 10 employees work in the field, where they’re able to focus on putting out products they enjoy. The majority of the work RKA completes is subcontracted, but they do handle carpentry, demolition and house cleanups.
RKA Construction started small, and Anderson said he believes that’s helped it build the right way. Much of the business is from referrals.
“One project might lead to three or four future projects, and those lead to 10 or 12 projects,” Anderson said. “It’s a snowball, so to speak. We found as long as you make your current customers happy the future customers will follow.”
Anderson said the company won’t grow just to grow. He wants to keep the focus on quality work.
“We cannot and will not take on projects we can’t manage appropriately,” he said. “That’s the quickest way to lose a solid relationship we’ve worked hard to build.”