Hospitality, Hope and a Hand Up
AMH Construction takes a fresh look at life, work and philanthropy
AMH Construction Inc.’s Aaron Hope, founder and President, and Doug Miller, co-owner and Vice President, are on a multifaceted mission to build a company that improves the lives of employees, customers and community.
With a focus on new and renovated hotel, resort and restaurant construction, the two have adopted a family-style approach to business that encourages and supports individual professional growth and facilitates direct customer communication and collaboration. It’s a method that clearly works, as the company has tripled its revenue in four years.
If that isn’t enough, they’re also working to put in place one of the industry’s more unique philanthropic programs to help reduce the homeless population in their area while doing their part to build a strong workforce.
Their goals are high, but they are motivated, high energy and committed to making a difference on the job, in the office and in their backyard.
Purpose and Principles
Founder Aaron Hope learned construction from his grandfather, founder and owner of a well-known electrical firm in Gainesville, who taught him the fundamental importance of fairness, honesty and hard work. While he always thought he would be a designer or architect, he joined the U.S. Army out of high school. When he completed his tour of duty, a more disciplined and mature man, he enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville to again pursue his dreams.
Instead, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Building Construction—a degree more suited to his dynamic personality and desire to be outside. While in college, he also got his first taste of business ownership when he started a small deck building and hardscape business working on sorority and fraternity house projects, which along with the GI Bill helped pay his college tuition. He also worked for —Charles Perry Partners, Inc. (CPPI)—, and then with Coastal Construction Group of South Florida, Inc. after graduation, followed by seven years with Turner Construction Company.
While working on a project for Turner, one of the principles from Lubert-Adler, a real-estate investment firm, asked why Hope wasn’t doing his own thing..Hope recalls, “I didn’t have a good answer for that, but it got me thinking. I wanted the kind of business that my grandfather had nurtured—one that was built on close working relationships.”
Married with three young children, the decision to go out on his own took some careful planning. At the age of 29, with his wife’s support and business acumen, he founded AMH Construction in August 2010. The first two years went extraordinarily well as he took on jobs primarily for Lubert-Adler. The company averaged $2 million to $3 million in annual revenue across the first four years and continued to build strong relationships with the client and, just as importantly, local subcontractors.
By 2014, Hope recognized that he and his wife needed to make another critical business decision. He recalls, “At the time, I was turning work down because there just wasn’t enough time in my day. If we wanted to create a solid long-term business that could survive the highly cyclical construction world, we needed to expand.”
Not long after, Hope met skilled carpenter, project manager and businessman, Doug Miller, while working on a job.
Experience into Action
In 2006, Miller moved to Florida from Michigan to build a new life with his wife and three young boys. Born and raised in Detroit to a family of carpenters, Miller entered the four-year carpenter’s apprenticeship program with Carpenters Local 687 of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters in 1998 and United Brotherhood of Carpenters/Millwrights in 2002. By 21 years old, he was promoted to foreman with Pontiac Ceiling & Partition, LLC, charged with overseeing million-dollar projects, such as hospitals and medical centers.
Miller adds, “Even though I was moving up in the company I had a hunger to grow and gain the experience needed to eventually own a construction business.”
Eventually, he moved to South Florida to accept a superintendent role with Paramount Drywall Inc., a family-owned commercial and residential framing and drywall company based in Miami. While with the company, Miller was asked to put his business management skills to work starting a new division in Orlando. That division provided general contracting services for some of the top national property management firms in the southeastern part of the country.
With more than 17 years of experience in the commercial and residential markets, Miller again started to think about going out on his own. He adds, “I come from a family that fostered important life lessons about education, relationships and hard work. My parents had a strong work ethic while also steadily instilling support and confidence in me to compete at the highest levels in academics, sports and my career. When talking about professional growth, my dad always said, ‘Why not bet on yourself.’ Those words always resonated with me and I knew it was only a matter of time until I got the chance to put ideas into action.”
When Hope and Miller met while working on a 12-story hotel renovation project, they hit it off personally and professionally, and soon realized that they had similar business goals and perspectives about growth, opportunities, relationships and community.
Soon after, Miller joined AMH Construction as Vice President and co-owner, and with his connections and their combined talents, the company realized over $5 million in revenue the following year and $8 million the next, while growing its staff of project managers, superintendents and skilled labor.
Hope and Miller believe they’ve developed the ideal mix of services. Hope’s expertise in large ground-up construction and renovations in the hospitality market and Miller’s experience and connections in the hospitality, office buildings and capital expenditure projects for national property management firms, allowed them to take on projects as small as $20,000 to upwards of $5 million.
But they weren’t done. By the end of 2016, Hope and Miller noted some disconnects in the industry. Miller explains, “On big multimillion-dollar projects, the large general contractors have gaps in their scopes, miscellaneous jobs that range from pouring a little concrete to installing a gate that need to get done. However, no one trade firm could handle all of those gaps. We had the skills for that within AMH, but from a marketing standpoint, it was a tough sell because we’re a general contractor.”
With Miller’s extensive experience as a subcontractor for projects of all scopes and scale in the Florida market, the two established American Platinum Builders Inc., with Miller as the President. The firm’s services include acoustic ceilings, metal stud wall construction, drywall, stucco, fireproofing and carpentry. American Platinum Builders is a stand-alone company that can support AMH Construction projects or work independently.
Despite the exponential growth of the company and the establishment of American Platinum Builders in recent years, Hope and Miller see that their biggest challenge is maintaining close communication with employees and clients.
Hope explains, “It’s why I started my own business—too often, large companies lose focus on the relationships with clients and trade partners.”
AMH Construction currently employs about 20 skilled project managers and superintendents, while American Platinum Builders employs another 10 to 15 skilled craftworkers.
Miller adds, “We work very hard to stay away from that corporate feel with our team and with our customers. We want to do what’s best for our people. To do that, we need to provide the right support to enable their success. Too many companies today have high expectations but leave their employees with no guidance as to how to meet those demands. We firmly believe that if our employees are in a good position personally and professionally, they will work better, and that translates to quality and growth.”
Together, Miller and Hope encourage and facilitate a “family” vibe in their day-to-day workings with employees and clients, which often includes barbecues, parties and sporting events that range from bowling to attending professional basketball games.
Miller continues, “Our clients come to my children’s birthday parties. Once we develop a relationship, it’s more than a client-contractor relationship. The more we know the client and their needs, the better we can serve them. Open dialogue and communication are key.”
Hope adds, “We only work with people we know and trust. Too often, construction projects get caught up in resolving issues and contract stipulations. If there’s a problem, our first step is to talk directly to our client and find a way to resolve problems.”
It’s working. The company revenue had already exceeded $12 million by second quarter 2018, and more importantly, a large number of their clients are repeat customers. Of note, Hope is still working for his first client at Lubert-Adler. The most recent project is the $3.8 million Innisbrook resort in Clearwater, Florida, set to begin construction in fall 2018.
“It’s why I started my own business—too often, large companies lose focus on the relationships with clients and trade partners.” Aaron Hope, President, AMH Construction Inc.
Opening New Doors
Both Hope and Miller are also focused on building community relationships, in particular doing what they can to improve living conditions for those less fortunate. They have noted the high rate of homelessness in the Orlando area over the years and have been looking for ways to help.
“If an individual wants help getting a job and getting on their feet again, I’d like to help by giving them a skill and some money in the bank,” Hope says. Over the years, he’s hired willing workers to do lawn maintenance, wash cars, clean up jobsites, etc.
Now they’re looking for ways to make a larger impact with help from The Hope Foundation, a nonprofit foundation established in 2016. In the last two years, the foundation has supported autism awareness, organic farming, childhood cancer and most recently rehab for homeless and disabled veterans—and 99 percent of funds raised through various events goes directly to those in need.
Through The Hope Foundation, AMH is working with Central Florida Dreamplex, a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with physical and development disabilities through fitness, recreational and social activities. It’s through coordinated efforts with this organization that Hope is putting in play his larger strategic plan to help those less fortunate, primarily the homeless.
On AMH’s five-acre property, Hope is building a training center and tiny homes for formerly homeless individuals who are willing and able to work, in essence a small community where individuals can live safely while learning a skill. He envisions a 12-month program that ends with graduates working with AMH Construction or American Platinum Builders, if they choose, and receiving a letter of recommendation.
Hope adds, “My long-term vision is that we are able to help the thousands of homeless veterans, wounded warriors and others with a life skill that can get them back on their feet. We want to provide a hand up to a better life. To me, that mission is just as important as the work we do as builders.”