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How Atlantic Builders survived the downturn
Date published: 5/10/2012
BY BILL FREEHLING
The staff at Atlantic Builders will meet at 7:30 this morning in downtown Fredericksburg to kick off what many would consider to be a dream workday.
The day will start at Hyperion Espresso, where workers at the Spotsylvania County-based homebuilder will get breakfast and coffee on their employer. They're then instructed to wear name tags while wandering around downtown, visiting the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Kenmore, talking to strangers and having lunch with colleagues, again on Atlantic Builders.
Nobody is allowed to do his usual job today until 4:30 p.m. They can't drive, use a cellphone or send an email unless there is an emergency. Each employee has just one task today: come up with an idea that will make Atlantic Builders a better company. Each idea will be presented at a staff meeting early Friday morning at the company's Ballantraye Drive headquarters.
CEO Adam Fried is calling the exercise FedEx Day, because of the need for employees to deliver an idea overnight. He expects to use few of the ideas, but is hoping someone hits on one that will improve his company.
That is the kind of creative thinking that has helped Atlantic Builders survive the worst housing downturn in generations and emerge as a lean, disciplined business.
There's a sense of optimism at Atlantic Builders that wasn't present during the heart of the downtown a few years ago. The company's 15-member staff--nearly double the number from a few years ago but still less than a quarter of the boom-time tally--is grateful to have work amid an industry decimated by the collapse.
Fried and business partner Tom Schoedel, the firm's president, avoided the fate of many now-closed local builders by making a couple of gut-wrenching decisions following the steep drop-off that started in late 2005.
They cut the staff to eight people, the absolute minimum to continue as a viable business. They worked with subcontractors to lower prices and share the pain. They sold many of their lots in late 2007 at a steep loss, but before prices fell even more. That move had tax benefits and allowed Atlantic Builders to pay back all its debt, keeping the company on good terms with lenders with whom it continues to work today.