Discount mulberry candles Outlet Crain’s Cleveland Business
Coast Guard station at the Cuyahoga River’s mouth, line the south wall in a conference room at the Albert M. Higley Co.’s main office at 2926 Chester Ave.
Through a glass partition in the conference room, a north wall is covered with color photos of recent projects such as Eaton Corp.’s North American headquarters campus in Beachwood.
They are a reflection of past and present at the general contractor and construction management company that has completed about 12,000 projects both big and little and primarily in Northeast Ohio since it was started in 1925. It was launched by the grandfather of its current chairman, Bruce Higley, who succeeded his father, the late Albert M. Higley Jr., in the role in 2008, after serving years in various roles since 1984.
However, for all its legacy, this outfit is focused on its future. It is undertaking sweeping moves physically, with a new headquarters, and marketwise, with a just opened Detroit office that follow an internal updating of the organization.
“We don’t move our offices far,” Higley said in a Jan. 16 interview. “We’re within 1,300 feet of our former office and our new one.”
Later this year amHigley, as the firm now markets itself, will move its 100 staffers to a new, three floor headquarters at 3636 Euclid Ave., from its home for the last 50 years at 2926 Chester Ave. The new office building was purchased last Nov. 16 through a related company, Chester Holdings LLC, for $2.1 million from 3636 Euclid LLC, an investor group, according to Cuyahoga County land records. The structure was built in 1999 with Fairport Asset Management, now located elsewhere, as its anchor tenant.
With the move, the firm will switch to a high profile site on the Cleveland Health Tech Corridor, also home to the Healthline, the bus rapid transit line connecting downtown with University Circle.
Ironically, the company will shift to a new location from a similarly high profile one. Its current home is next to the exit of the Innerbelt at highly trafficked Chester Avenue.
“I regularly meet people who say, ‘I know where your company is from seeing your sign,’ ” Higley said. ” ‘What do you do?’ ”
Moving to the new office will give the company room to expand. With 22,000 square feet, it’s 47% more than the 15,
000 square foot current building.
Jeff Epstein, executive director of MidTown Cleveland, said he is glad the company looked hard to be able to retain its address in the neighborhood.
“It’s terrific to see a long term stakeholder grow and stay here,” Epstein said.
Gareth Vaughan, Higley president and CEO, said in the Jan. 16 interview that the new space will give the company room to grow its headquarters staff and meet other needs.
“The new space will be more collaborative,” Vaughan said. “There will be more opportunities for meetings, we’ll have more conference rooms and space for training.”
The new site also will have more parking than Higley’s cramped lot of its own in the parking dear vicinity of Cleveland State University. Higley has engaged Allegro Realty Advisors to sell the current building, which has a contemporary glass and wood rich interior and open offices for its various departments.
One of the things Higley will shed in the move is a link to the past of the construction industry. A tiny conference room next to its entrance once served as a plan room where subcontractors would come to review blueprints to prepare estimates for Higley jobs. That’s now done online.
For Higley’s part, the general contractor gains more than 90% of its construction volume ($200 million in 2017) from relationships rather than bidding for work, Vaughan said. Its workload is up 25% over the last two years, which Vaughan and Higley credit to the groundwork the company put in place with a strategic plan and restructuring during the downturn.
That’s where the new Detroit office in that city’s downtown Chrysler Building comes into play.
Along with updating internal processes, Higley researched other markets where it could grow. Previously it had a Columbus office, which it closed in 2010 during the economic downturn. Vaughan, who joined Higley in the central Ohio office, said the company decided to try a new market because it feels that its relationships in the state capital, Dayton and Columbus area are strong and can be managed from here.
However, Vaughan said Detroit offers growth opportunities and many similarities to the Cleveland area, from a resurgent downtown to a substantial institutional and industrial market. The new Higley office will be led by Ryan Doyle, a veteran of the Michigan construction market that Higley executives met while sizing up the market with architects, building firms and prospects. Doyle is hiring core staff such as project managers and a superintendent, though Vaughan would not say how many.
The goal is to do more than $25 million in construction work annually in a “couple” years, Vaughan said.
“It’s a larger market than Cleveland,” Higley said. Over the years, Higley has performed work out of town as its clients ask them to do. It most recently built a service center for Progressive Corp. in Sterling Heights, Mich.
Higley also has done work for the Cleveland Cavaliers, constructing the Independence practice facility, and the renovation of the Ritz Carlton Cleveland. Both are owned by affiliates of Detroit based billionaire Dan Gilbert.
The moves come as the building business rebounds in a big way after the Great Recession. Higley handled that differently than most of its competitors.
Vaughan said it used that slower time to review its organization and procedures. Most contractors dealt with the downturn by seeking jobs in unfamiliar product types or cutting prices to win work. Vaughan said Higley did neither, because it knew how much it would lose with existing overhead. However, losses could be unknown from cutting costs too much to win work.
“We’ve gone through other downturns before,” Higley said of the way the company navigated the blood letting in early 2000 in the building business.
One example of change was standardizing scheduling to ensure consistency between different executives. Vaughan said Higley needs top tier methods to remain competitive with the national construction titans who do similar work.
One change was ensuring staffers a voice because they know their area better than anyone else, Vaughan said, as “I can’t be right about everything all the time.” Higley also realigned roles, added to the professionalism of its staff and continued to diversify its workforce;
25% of its staff is female or minority.