It would seem right now the Mid-Atlantic market is a hotbed of development. The area is flourishing as it’s positioned in a region that is booming.
And among those wall and ceiling companies servicing this developing area would be Norfolk’s Agent Wall Systems. The Virginia-based company generally focuses on large projects that tend to be more challenging and complex. Typically, with a multi-layered scope, the company focuses on load-bearing steel stud applications and air-barriers—the subcontractor’s bread and butter.
“We have projects with an interior finish focus like the CNU library with lots of interior details and specialties like prefabricated GFRG and acoustic plaster,” says Adam Taubman, co-owner of Agent Wall Systems. “What both project types would have in common is that the project itself will be a demanding one that requires the proper attention to detail and intensity in the field.”
The company was founded in 1996 and Taubman came to join Kenneth (“Kenny”) Jones in 2005.
“Starting out in the business, we were primarily focused on your typical commercial-drywall-contractor scope of work with a lot of our clients performing retail and office building projects,” says Jones, the company’s president and founder. “It was a great time as our area in Southeastern Virginia was in a growth spurt of sorts. That time was exciting and a little scary as we had just recovered from a recession in the early-’90s.”
From the Beginning
According to Taubman, Jones introduced him to the trades. He had dabbled in construction prior to their meeting and was interviewing with several contractors when Taubman graduated from college. “Kenny’s energy was infectious and I knew I had to run with him,” Taubman says. “We really hit it off and I fell in love with the work.”
In regards to any niche services the company provides, load bearing stud framing and associated floor and roof systems are specialties it provides. The company actively is part of the design process as it relates to those type of building systems. Agent Wall Systems’ customers value its expertise—the company gets to influence the overall outcome of the project in a positive way when given the opportunity. The contractor also has projects with a heavy interior focus that would have high levels of detail and institutional type finish products like prefabricated GFRG and acoustic plaster, and other specialty finishes; this tends to be in larger institutional buildings like libraries and fine/performing arts buildings.
“Although we are a complete commercial drywall contractor, we really go after and focus on load bearing steel stud construction,” explains Jones. “Over the past 15 years, we have performed this scope on more than four million square feet of construction, and we are closing in on five million, so it is a special time for us.
“We have had the honor of working on some of the most important and high profile projects in our market, whether it be complex university and institutional work, high exposure retail projects or new and innovative types of work, we have seen and done it all except residential drywall,” he continues. “We have never done drywall construction on wood framing. We had an EIFS division for about 12 years but we dissolved that and put our focus on the load bearing steel framing systems and now we have included various composite floor construction that is compatible with our discipline of wall construction.
“We are now a ‘one-phone-call’ type of trade partner,” says Jones. “From our initial conception to the final punch out, we are on the project and our clients (90 percent repeat and select list) find value in this approach. I don’t see that changing. At the end of the day, what we really do is solve problems, provide confidence and assurance to our customers and I don’t see that need going away anytime soon.”
Roles That Grow
Jones says that although the company keeps a steady crew of approximately 200 men and woman, most of Agent Walls Systems’ foremen have turned into “mini” on-site project managers and it uses the services of a few trade partners for heavy lifting.
He reports that the company has seen tremendous growth following the Great Recession.
“I am sure that anyone that had it [contracting] going in the early-2000s and is still around would agree with me that we do not want to see that again,” Jones laments, “but I must say that I would not trade any of it. Making it through that period was a true test of endurance and I believe we have come back stronger and better for it.”
Taubman says that business is great currently and that the company is steadily in the $20 million annual revenue range for the fourth year in a row. He says he sees no sign of that slowing down over the next few years.
“Our business and backlog are booming now, and I do not see anything on the near horizon that will change that, which is comforting,” says Jones, echoing Taubman’s remarks. “Anyone in this business knows that although you must focus on the day-to-day, you must also keep an eye down the road. For us, that is eight to 16 months as our projects tend to be on the larger size and we offer a lot of pre-construction services.
“It is not uncommon for us to be involved in a single project for 24 to 30 months, even though the actual, on-site activity may be only 12 months.”
The company has a steady pipeline of projects in various stages, so things are looking favorable for the foreseeable future.
“Kenny and I have had a long-term succession plan that has been in place for seven years,” says Taubman. “Twenty-twenty is a big milestone for us and I am now responsible for the future leadership of Agent Wall Systems. My only goal is for [the company] to continue to operate with the same level of integrity, ingenuity and customer focus that got us this far. I hope that we can see another 25 years of growth and improvement; if that happens my dreams will have come true.”