Signs point to success

Monday, October 15, 2007 at 12:28am

Tony Hatchell was 27 years old and working as an X-ray technician when he founded August Enterprises Inc., a company he says added $1.2 million last year in new business alone.

With a client roster that includes some of the nation’s biggest hospital chains as well as Florida condominium developers, almost 11 years after the company’s founding, Hatchell is well poised to reach his goals.

August Enterprises manufactures signs, plain and simple. Products range from the wooden signage at Cracker Barrel restaurants, to the stars installed at Nashville’s Country Music Walk of Fame, to exterior work at Trump Towers in South Florida. He manufactures the products at his West Nashville manufacturing facility with a staff of 20, and installs them nationwide through a network of sub-contractors.

Hatchell’s substantial client group got its start with a contract from Nashville-based AmSurg Corp., a specialty surgery center operator. Hatchell secured the contract by working with the company’s nursing purchaser, a former emergency room nurse at Tennessee Christian Hospital – where Hatchell had worked as an X-ray technician.

Hatchell assured AmSurg that he could handle their signage at a lower price than the company’s previous provider. He says the rest was history.

That account, Hatchell said, allowed him to meet and work with Nashville’s health care leaders. His locally headquartered hospital company clients include all LifePoint Hospital campuses, all outpatient facilities for HCA Corp. and all exterior work for Health Realty Trust.

Hatchell says entrepreneurship runs in his blood. He founded August Enterprises with $60,000 in seed money, loaned by his father Dick Hatchell – with interest, and a percentage of sales thrown into the deal. Noted local businessman Dick Hatchell designed and manufactured the first commercially available Xerox machines for X-rays.

In fact, Tony Hatchell first began working as an X-ray technician so he could explore other possibilities for his father’s business. The quick success of August Enterprises changed his plans. After landing the AmSurg contract, he began working on his business full time.

“I guess [my father] had it pegged that this was my chance,” Hatchell said. “Everything about my old life ended the day I started. My first seven years were just running the fastest race I could ever run, every day.”

The company’s Middle Tennessee-based clients, particularly those in the health care industry, grew quickly during Hatchell’s first seven years. About three years ago, August Enterprises was contacted by a developer in South Florida about signage for condominiums. The company now has signage in the works for four projects of news-making company the Terra Group, as well as for Miami’s Trump Tower. Signage for South Florida developments contributes about $600,000 to total revenues for August Enterprises.

Working with those clients gave Hatchell a close perspective on the condominium market in South Florida, a market that has plummeted in the last year. Hatchell said he first started seeing indications of the market collapse two years ago, when a number of projects were suddenly cancelled. Most of the developers he is currently working with, he said, aren’t going out of business – they’re shifting to retail and mixed-use projects.

“As long as I continue to do a good job, they’ve told me they’ll take me with them wherever they go,” Hatchell said.

August Enterprises has also worked with local developers. The company is providing signage for the massive Adelicia mixed-use project in Midtown, for example, as well as the Belle Meade Theater marquee and work in The Gulch.

August Enterprises is now growing so fast that one of Hatchell’s most significant challenges is maintaining the quality of his work as assignment sizes escalate.

The company grew by 40 percent last year, adding $1.2 million in new business. Prior to that, August Enterprises “easily” doubled in size each year. He expects the company to grow 20 percent this year while he works on scaling up operations, and by 2009 he hopes the company will be in a position to actively pursue projects.

“We have been turning down about nine out of every 10 phone calls,” Hatchell said. “We don’t want to. But I would rather send them away, saying, ‘Sorry, but I can’t help you right now,’ than take a job and then fail them. That’s a good way to burn bridges.”

As most of the company’s work is done out of town, much of the actual construction is done by sub-contractors, and finding and maintaining relationships with quality workers is a hard-to-sustain challenge.

Hatchell attributes the company’s success to his willingness to quickly take responsibility for problems, and to pay whatever it takes to fix it.

For example, shortly before last year’s Country Music Walk of Fame presentation, Hatchell learned that a sub-contractor had made a serious error in creation of the plaques for honorees. He invested tens of thousands of dollars in well-crafted, temporary Walk of Fame squares – then replaced them with permanent fixtures months later. Hatchell says a hallmark of his service is maintaining client trust through his reliability and personal responsibility.

“We’re a real customer service business,” Hatchell said. “That’s what makes us, I think, the company we are today."

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