Meet Christine Chuke (President) and Nneka Achufusi (Vice President) of Cypress Commercial Construction (A Division of Cypress General Contractors, LLC) this weeks featured Women in Business!
Tell us about your business.
We are a women owned commercial construction firm headquartered in Washington, DC, with a second location in Rockville, Maryland. We specialize in Commercial and Retail Build-outs, Tenant Expansions, Tenant Renovations and Construction Management. We recently added an on-call division to serve clients with their on-going capital maintenance needs. Our clients are typically real estate developers, commercial and retail owners, Schools/Daycare facilities, Health care facilities and hotels.
Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
Nneka:- I like the independence and freedom that being an entrepreneur affords me. Even though I put in several hours of work in a day, somehow, it does not feel like work and therein lies the beauty of loving what you do. In addition, it gives me the flexibility to spend quality time with my family.
Christine:-Being a business owner means having Freedom and also being able to make an impact. Freedom is my driver – I’ve always wanted to be able to call my own shots, be in charge of my destiny, and have the ability to set my own life. I can also make an impact because I know that every action I take truly has a direct impact on the outcome of the business. When you are an employee…what you do has limited impact. When you are running the company, each and every thing you do can make or break it. Most importantly, being an entrepreneur/business owner allows me to have more flexibility from the daily grind so that I can spend as much time with my family as possible.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
Nneka:- There are several. I have a particularly strong admiration for women who are able to run successful companies while raising children. As a mother of 4 sons, I know how challenging it can be trying to make sure that you are fully present for your children while trying to grow your company. It can definitely be done. Sometimes, it may mean that we are not able to go after as many projects but at the end of the day, it is also about delivering quality projects and making sure that our clients are satisfied.
Christine:- My greatest influence in business was attending boarding school for my high school years. Being away at boarding school prior to going away to college taught me early on independence and a sense of responsibility. It afforded me the opportunity to practice making my own decisions at an early age. My professional success has been a natural by product of boarding school where rigorous academics and mentoring relationships provided a solid foundation for who I am today.
What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Nneka:- Hitting a million dollars in revenue within our very first year in business. This just gave us the fuel to know that we could be very successful in this male dominated field. In addition, being awarded the construction management for a 30,000 square feet electronics retailer with strict delivery deadlines.
Christine:-My greatest professional accomplishment to date has been the construction management of a 30,000+ retail build-out for a large electronics retailer. The client was on a very tight 3 month deadline in order to open the retail location in time for the busy holiday season. Despite the large scope we were able to deliver an exceptional product within schedule.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?
Nneka:- Growth takes time and patience especially when navigating this male dominated industry. Aligning yourself with a mentor who is doing it well is invaluable and you learn the pitfalls to avoid.
Christine:- The best advice I have received in business is to try as much as possible to get along well with others. Getting along well with subcontractors, vendors and employees that you work with means that you can better influence their actions and build solid and long-lasting relationships.
What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?
Nneka:- Taking advantage of the various government and private certifications that are available to minority and women-owned firms. Many of the larger developers and construction firms are required to work with minority and/or women owned companies on certain large scale projects. Being a certified minority and women-owned firm has been a marketing bonus when targeting some of these developers and larger general contractors.
Christine:- The most effective marketing initiative has been to first and foremost identify our niche market. This has allowed us to pitch our sales and marketing efforts to the correct niche market so that our efforts are more productive and our limited financial resources are not wasted. We have been successful in actively promoting our services to our target market especially via online/social media.
What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
Nneka:- Hire the help! As a small business owner, the temptation is to try to do perform too many tasks . I’m a CPA by profession and I wanted to do the accounting for the company. In the end, I found that my time was better spent in marketing and development and having someone else do the books, which I could review.
Christine:- Try not to bite off more than you can chew! I would rather have fewer construction projects that are operating smoothly with satisfied clients than several where everything is disorganized and client relationships are strained as a result. Understand your capabilities and bid accordingly for projects. A few satisfied customers will build your business faster than a large number of dissatisfied ones.
Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?
Nneka:- Network, Network, Network!! Get out there and join organizations related to your business. Join committees! Get certified. There are several agencies that certify women-owned companies such as WBENC, NAWBO and many more.
Christine:- Attend industry-specific conferences and expos with business cards and Network! Face-to-face meetings where you make a good impression in front of company decisions makers will have a very positive impact on the growth of your business.
Do you have any new projects coming up (or have you just completed a big project ~ reached a milestone, etc.)? If so, please tell us about it.
Nneka:- We have a few projects in the pipeline. We have medical office buildouts, a multifamily renovation project, a club house renovation project. We are also working with a few major developers in Washington, DC on large private/public partnership projects that will entail several office and retail build-outs. As mentioned earlier, we also recently launched an on-call services division for those clients that need a quick turn around on smaller capital maintenance projects.
Christine:- We have a few primary care medical build-out projects in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area in the pipeline that we are very excited about. Cypress is also ramping up its Development division and we are excited about various residential and commercial development opportunities primarily in Baltimore City, Maryland.
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
Nneka:- Spending time with my family and attending the kid’s basketball games, exercising, decorating and traveling.
Christine:- I love traveling the world and learning about other cultures. I also enjoy attending my kid’s basketball or soccer games and a good party or two.
For more information, visit: WEBSITE URL: www.cypresscontractors.com