We Are Doing It: Collier Construction

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As Chattanooga area businesses shift, pivot and change, trying to adapt to a new normal, many are tapping into the passion that led them to open their business in the first place. Over the course of the next number of weeks, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce will profile some of these owners and share their inspirational stories on how they are doing it.

“The biggest challenge is quickly figuring out the new normal,” says Ethan Collier, president and CEO and founder of Collier Construction, a longtime urban residential construction company, “because we have to get it right to be in business two years from now.”

Collier Construction felt the effect of the lockdown almost immediately on sales.

“When the stay at home order was announced, we saw some really dramatic reduction in the number of showings and contracts on new houses,” Mr. Collier says.

“We are in an interesting space because we build in the downtown footprint between the ridge and the river, for the most part, where we have the greatest density of people living, working and catching dinner or happy hour. This was also the greatest “danger zone” for transmission of COVID-19.

“I feel like a lot of those people really responded to the crisis. They went and put themselves in quarantine. They did not feel safe going out. They didn’t go to open houses. They didn’t go house shopping.”

As buyers shifted so did Mr. Collier, quickly, just like he did during the last recession. He armed himself with a PPP loan and changed the focus of his staff; less production to adjust to the impending oversupply in the 37408 zip code and an increased emphasis on understanding the buyer.

“If we aren’t going to respond to what our buyers need then we are not going to have buyers, particularly when those in the market dramatically decrease. So, we did that. We made significant changes on how we were serving those clients and we saw an immediate response in June with our best month we have ever had in terms of sales.”

With a rapid recovery in the works, Mr. Collier remains focused on the day-to-day business operations in the midst of social distancing and Zoom meetings.

“These are hard, hard times for sure,” he says. “This is definitely not my model for business. I thrive off of being in community with people, from our subcontractors to our architects, the Collier staff and of course, the customer. I miss just being with people.”

While Zoom meetings and phone calls now fill his days, Mr. Collier has been able to find some of that positive energy from his staff as they utilized the space in their office to social distance while continuing to work together, in person.

“We had to respond quickly with personnel furloughs, contend with the same unknowns of a dynamic situation facing businesses across Chattanooga. Certainly, this has created anxiety, even fear at times in all of us. And to see how my staff has responded by supporting each other and filling in the gaps created by a workforce reduction, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to cover… that’s unity. We are surviving an economic plane crash together or something like that. The crisis has produced a greater bond at Collier.”

The same thing happened with friends in the industry who became more…



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