From a quick touch-up to a full scale exterior renovation, GDE Renovations is rehabilitating the urban landscape of the American southeast. “There is no such thing as saying you cannot do it. You find a way to do it,” says founder and CEO Gideon Levy.
How did a company which began in 1989 by painting single-family homes in Atlanta, GA and lived “from paycheck to paycheck” become the company it is today? With an annual revenue in the millions, GDE Renovations is known and respected throughout the southeastern United States for working with property managers to provide dependable, high quality exterior renovation of multi-family homes and commercial real estate.
We asked Gideon Levy, who leads the company which is headquartered in Atlanta with satellite offices in Texas and Florida and which also owns Sabra Property Management, for the secret of success.
While he attributes it to “a lot of hard work, teamwork, a bit of luck and a strong belief in ourselves,” it turns out there’s a lot more behind it than that simple answer. Levy grew up in Israel, where as a teen he won several swimming championships. When it came time for him to complete his three-year compulsory military service, he volunteered for the elite seal unit in the Israeli Navy.
“There was no guarantee that I would succeed (as many of the people who begin the training don’t graduate) but I managed to finish the course and I served for four years; while doing that I learned that what you have to concentrate on is persistence,” he says. “As a seal there is no such thing as saying you cannot do it; you find a way to do it. You have to be honest and you have to be committed.”
By the time elite seals complete training, they’ve “been exposed to hardship and faced with problems and learned to solve them. You end up with good friends and the qualities you gained in the service. Never give up. Always be persistent. Tell the truth. If you continue with those messages and do everything in life the same way and you’re willing to work hard, you will get there.”
And get there GDE Renovations certainly has! The beginning, however, was a little rocky. After serving four years, Levy travelled the world and worked for a time for a lighting company in Texas before settling in Atlanta and forming an exterior painting company, GDE Renovations, with two partners who since have left.
“We set our goal to paint multi-family communities,” he says, “but we didn’t know anybody and it was very hard to get work with property management companies until you know people, so we started with single-family homes. Then people asked us to do carpentry so we did; then it was the gutters and roofing; and eventually, we did everything that is to do with the exterior. But for about three and a half years we really struggled. It was paycheck to paycheck and living on the credit card until the business turned and we started making money,” he shares.
“As we grew, we hired more qualified people in order to bring more expertise and knowledge to the GDE team. Without the team environment backed up by dedicated project coordinators and with the help of a strong accounting department, we would have not gotten to where we are today.”
It was 20 years ago that now retired senior project manager Steve Stephens joined the company which was then still quite small. Now working part-time as an advisor to Levy who he considers “like a brother even though he was my boss,” he says, “I can attest to the company’s growth as I watched him at work, growing the company and expanding the market.”
“Then 2008 came and everything stopped,” Levy says, “but I knew that if I could sustain the good people I had, that the economy would turn. So between 2008 and 2010 we took every job we could, whether it was a two thousand or a one hundred thousand dollar job – anything to survive. The idea was to be ready when the tide turned. And that really paid off; from 2011 all the way to the present, the volume became larger, the size of the jobs bigger, and so we grew to where we are today.”
To date, GDE has renovated over five million apartment units and currently employs a staff of 65, including 40 project managers who are trained at managing projects from beginning to end, provide strategic cost savings advice, are knowledgeable about the latest products and technology available in the industry, and are ready to meet every customer need.
“Our business is a service-oriented business and so it’s important to be a people person,” Levy says, explaining how project managers will work with owners and property managers and listen to their needs, whether it be a long-term maintenance plan for a property they intend to keep or a quick ‘spruce-up’ for one they want to flip. “We will do a free estimate and tell them what we think. We will give them advice and help them spend their money right.”
That approach has worked well for GDE Renovations as it is repeat business and word of mouth advertising from satisfied customers that’s allowed the company to expand and move forward.
For every new project, GDE is capable of mobilizing within two weeks to any location in the U.S., prepared to work tirelessly to meet deadlines while providing the highest quality work. With a general contractor’s license to work in every state and by maintaining national accounts with major suppliers like Lowes, Home Depot and Sherwin Williams, the team is able to quickly get the materials they need, whether they’re working on a project at home in Atlanta, in Mobile or Tallahassee, or one like the $1.5 million project just completed in Oklahoma City. “That was a large project that included everything – roofing, carpentry, painting – and it was completed in less than five months,” Levy says.
“For projects like that we’ll take the people who work with us and house them on-site. It’s only when we need other specialists, such as electricians, that we hire locally. Otherwise all of the painting, roofing, and carpentry are done with our guys, who we’re used to working with.”
That way, team GDE can stand confidently behind their service, which is truly the company’s number one product.