This is a follow up story for T. C. Lewis & Co. Real Estate. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Cory Lewis, and my company is called T. C. Lewis & Co. We are a real estate investment company operating primarily in the Appalachian mountain region of the Southeastern US. We are a full-service firm managing virtually all types of real estate investing for company-owned properties and third-party clients.
We broker the purchase and divestment of investments, manage performance, provide maintenance, leasing, new construction, renovations - whatever is needed to allow for the types of returns that we expect for our investments.
We’ve actually still been growing despite the pandemic. We’ve added about 400% annually to our company since we interviewed with Starter Story originally. That’s short of our projections, but who can plan for a global pandemic?
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
As I mentioned, we’ve still grown, although it has been at a slower pace. But we really can’t complain at all. We’re happy to just be surviving during this crazy pandemic as we’ve seen some really great businesses go away. Some of these other businesses being gone was probably a contributing factor to being included on the Financial Times Fastest Growing Companies in the Americas list mid-year last year.
One big thing that we’ve focused on is trying to stay in better communication with our tenants, clients, and anyone involved really. I think people tend to start to pull away from communicating things to people when a lot of the communications are unpleasant or you’re unsure of what exactly to communicate. And I had to fight that, too. I think that people have a tendency to clam up and just hope for the best and that things will get better. But I’ve found that honesty plays a big part in that. We got out in front of the pandemic as quickly as anyone, embraced the science, and started making contingency plans.
You have to look back at decisions, review, and revise so that you never have that undesirable outcome again.
And if you don’t know or aren’t sure, just say you don’t know. Basically, that’s what our first communication said that we put out to our clients when things were first getting real about the pandemic. I put out a letter that basically said we don’t know what’s going to happen, but here are the steps that we’re taking, and we hope this works out - we’re not going anywhere, and we’re with you on trying to get through this, and we’ll update you as we go with changes that we make to try and correct course if needed. And we kept them all updated along the way with information about PPP and EIDL programs from the SBA and anything else that we felt was pertinent.
And then we did the same thing with tenants and updated our protocols for maintenance that would need to be inside occupied properties with masks and hand sanitizer, gloves when needed, asking tenants needing maintenance health screening questions before we went to jobs, and all of those types of things.
We’ve also tried our best to work with tenants and help them navigate unemployment or whatever we can find to help them out. We’ve waived over $70,000 in late fees over the last few months to try and keep everybody current and housed on that side of the business. Fortunately, we’ve only had 2 evictions that have had to take place, and those tenants were problematic for reasons other than nonpayment. I think that our screening process is top-notch for tenants, and we have tenants that have been significantly less affected by the pandemic than a lot of other landlords because of the tenants that we have.
We’ve had to hire some additional construction and maintenance folks to be sure that we could weather any storm of quarantine issues and positive Covid tests or illness. It has been a crazy year!
And we embraced Zoom with the rest of the world. So we’re having meetings a little differently than we were pre-pandemic. I think it has actually become more efficient this way.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
As far as mistakes or missed opportunities go, I think I should have bought stock in Zoom, hand sanitizers, and GameStop, but other than that, I don’t know what else we could have done differently given the choices we had over the last year. We didn’t allow ourselves to get completely blindsided, and that’s important. We refocused and buckled down in nearly every aspect to survive.
I have a really good friend, Jamie, that’s also an entrepreneur, and we discussed this same thing about other business owners getting embarrassed about their business struggling or having to close or other tough decisions they were having to make over the last year. But we decided that for once, this wasn’t on us! Everything always falls to the business owner, but this time, since we can blame it on something else, do it! Just blame it on the pandemic that no one saw coming and cut yourself some slack!
At some point over Summer 2020, we got our bearings and started having a little different mindset. I’m a believer in planning for a feast during the famine. And that is really hard to do. It’s two completely different mindsets to embrace at the same time. But if you’ve lost all optimism, and things do turn around quickly, you’re in trouble for a whole other set of reasons. I think the converse of that is also true and why we’re surviving the pandemic. I’m also a believer in planning for the famine during the feast.
So, I started to focus on where we go as things turn around. We now know a lot because of the pandemic that we didn’t know before. Our President was a bigger dumbass than we had realized, our healthcare system needs a complete overhaul, and we learned a lot about populations in general, too. We know things like: A lot of people value rural areas more now, more people are exiting large cities, and more people want single-family homes with a little room to breathe. Those are all important in my world. So, that’s what we’ve focused on acquiring.
On a more personal side, my wife and I have been at home with our two kids for a year, and it has been really awesome. I know it’s not ideal for them, but selfishly, I’ve loved it. I’m just glad they’re 7 and 9 and not 15 and 17 because there’s no way I could help them with that math. We’ve been able to teach them some things besides the core school curriculum about helping other people when you can and about all being in this together. I’m also involved in a couple of other businesses, and one of those is a hardware store. We were able to source bulk hand sanitizer, gloves, those disposable medical gowns, and things of that nature from one distributor. So we ended up having to supply a lot of Western North Carolina testing sites and urgent care during the height of the shortages with those supplies. And we did it at cost because it’s what you should do. We even had to source pallets of those supplies for our County Emergency Management Services in the county where the hardware store is located. We were just glad we could do anything to help, and I’m glad that my kids got to see it.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I don’t know that our company plans have really changed much since the last interview. We’re still focused on growing our own company’s portfolio, so that will continue to be the focus. If anything, we’re narrowing our client base at this point.
We’re still just happy to be here and that we’ve kept people employed and housed. I think the pandemic has opened a lot of eyes to things and changed a lot of plans for a lot of people. If it hasn’t allowed for any self-reflection or course correction, then you might be a narcissistic asshole.
I think that said, I’m excited about the future because of the issues that this pandemic has shined a spotlight on. It has almost fast-forwarded some advancement that businesses, policymakers, and everybody might have been slower to accept.
For example, for most of the region that surrounds my hometown, reliable internet still isn’t a thing. And there have finally had to be some serious conversations had and actions taken because of remote learning and the problems that a lack of internet has created that we’ve all known were there all along.
We also saw how quickly our environment can bounce back given the chance when we were all locked in our homes.
And I’m hopeful for public schools and the arts, physical education, and funding for all of them. That is what has gotten everyone through the pandemic and various quarantines - physical activity and some form of art. And after about week two of homeschool, we decided that public school teachers should be making six figures.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I remember that I referenced this in my last interview, and I seem to always go away from business when I’m asked things like this. But I listen to The Daily from the NY Times religiously, and I like a lot of true-crime podcasts. I’ve also been reading a really great book called Even As We Breathe by an old friend, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle.
Again, these don’t have a direct impact on business at all. I just really think that it’s important to look outside of your own business bubble to get a bigger perspective on the world and your place in it. It will indirectly be very helpful in your business because nobody wants to hear a motivational poster slogan roll off your tongue when you’re asked something about your business or your business philosophy.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I might be repeating myself on a couple of these from the last interview, but I think there are a few things that I try to focus on:
I make plenty of mistakes, but I don’t ever make the same mistake twice. And that’s a lot harder to do than just saying it. You have to look back at decisions, review, and revise so that you never have that undesirable outcome again. And that can be taxing.
I am constantly working, adapting, and improving systems and processes. If your systems and processes can’t be followed consistently, revise them. Maybe it was you.
And know who you are and where you’re from and just be the best version of that. It’s probably pretty obvious to most people when you’re not. And nobody wants to do business with the fake version of you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
It seems like we’re always looking for skilled labor. So, we’re currently hiring in the East Tennessee market for skilled labor positions with construction and remodeling projects.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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