Company’s Risk Paying Off

Enquirer – Jude Hehman thought it made sense to open his new construction company, Furlong Building Enterprises, for business on April Fool’s Day 2010.

After all, wasn’t it already foolhardy to launch such a venture during one of the worst building slumps in memory?

Furlong was a former division manager with a large construction firm that was laying off employees by the dozens. He had left that job two months earlier, figuring he could go after projects the big firms were ignoring.

Now, more than than 15 months later, he beat his own expectations by doing $3 million in business in his first year and hiring four employees.

“Our goal was $1 million in business our first year, and we did $3 million,” he says. “Our goal was $3 million our second year, and we’ll do $5 million. I’ve been wrong so far, but in a good way.”

Hehman recruited a former employee of his, Pete Nicolaou, as his business partner. Hehman brings in the business, and Nicolaou acts as operations and project manager.

Their first office space was in Nicolaou’s dad’s garage on Furlong Drive in Cleves, which was part of the reason for the name of their company. Hehman says he also picked the name because furlong is a unit of measurement and a reference to the horse industry in Kentucky, where both men live.

They now have rented office space and a real sign out front, but their nimble size and go-for-it attitude still influence their decisions and help set them apart from the big guys.

Enquirer Photo - Sam Greene Photographer

“We’ve been thriving in a down economy,” Nicolaou says. “The big construction companies are looking for big projects. There aren’t very many of those right now. We can take on the smaller projects, and that’s made us successful.”

Furlong counts several large companies as clients, but their projects have been remodeling and building additions, not totally new construction.

Nicolaou says that with the current glut of buildings on the market and the sluggish economy, new construction will continue to be slow for some time. He foresees remodeling as the bread and butter of Furlong’s business for the next several years.

“There are so many empty big boxes that people have to fill,” he says. “Projects are on tighter budgets. People are taking advantage of what they’ve got.”

Hehman says he also is marketing to property managers and brokers so that as new businesses begin to fill empty commercial space, Furlong is considered for the remodeling work.

“We see a need here, and as the economy picks up, we’ll be ready,” Hehman says.
A mix of long-term industrial and shorter term retail projects is what he would like to see in the pipeline at all times, he says.

“Now that I’ve got employees depending on me I feel the pressure to make sure that business is coming in. I don’t take that lightly.”

Furlong’s four employees include a project manager, two superintendents and a controller, who all were unemployed before coming to work at Furlong.

“We are most proud that we created jobs for talented people who were on unemployment due to economic conditions beyond their control,” Hehman says.

All the construction labor is contracted for each job.

Another service Furlong highlights is personal attention from the owners.

“As principals, we’re involved and engaged in the process,” Hehman says. “I’ve worked for companies where the employees weren’t engaged at all, and the owners were too busy to talk to you. Our business isn’t like that.”

Ken Falhaber, president of Falhaber Nissan in Colerain Township, hired Furlong to remodel the showroom, entry area, customer lounge and restroom at his dealership. He says he chose Furlong in part due to the fact that he would be working with the company owners.

“It reminds me a lot of my business,” Falhaber says. “I have just this one dealership. I put everything into it. It’s the personal touch. It feels warm. Like dealing with family.”

That foolhardy decision to start a construction business in an economic slump also gets them noticed.

“I think that people respect that Jude and I had the gumption to do something like this,” Nicolaou says. “That counts for something.”

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