In 1997, four friends with a vision collaborated to start a firm that offers physical restoration services to African American communities and businesses.
Norris McLeod, 36; Andre Minott, 39; Sylvan Ebanks, 33; and David Oxley, 38, had very successful careers in architecture and development until they realized that if they worked for themselves, there would be no limits on what they could do. The result: The Design + Development Group L.L.C. (D+DG), a full-service company that specializes in architecture, property development, real estate brokerage services and historic preservation.
With 24 employees and offices in Long Island City, New York, Plainfield, New Jersey, and Kingston, Jamaica, D+DG expects to gross over $2.5 million this year and is flirting with the idea of going public. An IPO, if it comes to fruition, will be offered between the first and second quarters of next year.
When they first started the business, Oxley and McLeod, the financial principals, each contributed $10,000 from their personal savings. “Most banks and lenders don’t understand the service of architectural firms,” explains McLeod, executive director. As a result, they later experienced problems receiving loans to gain additional start-up capital. However, they were determined to get the business off the ground, so they relied heavily on the initial investment and their previous business contacts.
“All we had was a vast Rolodex when we started out,” says McLeod. “So we made sure that we put it to use.”
D+DG has renovated brownstone homes for clients throughout Brooklyn and Harlem in New York City. Basketball legend Earl Monroe plans to use D+DG to design and develop a chain of restaurants in Harlem next year.
The goal of the D+DG Realty division, a subsidiary of the company, is to aid underdeveloped communities by acquiring and developing property. Ultimately, this strategy will impact local economies by increasing traffic to them. These acquisition projects have been successful throughout New Jersey, including East Orange, where they acquired a majority holding in an office complex.
“It’s sometimes difficult to cast our mold on the industry because architecture and development is known for being a white-dominated industry,” says McLeod. “We plan to dispel that myth.”
Obtaining clientele, however, hasn’t proven to be a challenge. “We’ve been very successful acquiring clients through word of mouth, workshops and direct marketing,” explains McLeod. “Networking has been important to us, because roughly 20% of our clients and contacts act as referral sources.”
With more plans for expansion, they recently partnered with EW Finely, a 30-year-old, New York engineering firm, on a design project for New York City’s Schomburg Museum. “We want to make sure that we incorporate our services with Finely’s, market jointly and take them in the right direction,” says McLeod.
There is no slowing down this company. Two years later, going into business has shown them the possibilities are indeed endless.
The Design + Development Group L.L.C., 34-18 Northern Boulevard, 2nd floor, Long Island City, NY 11101; 718-729-7696