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Building a Space for Your Business

Community Voice Michael Clarke of Hanto & Clarke General Contractors
Community Voice Michael Clarke, partner with Hanto & Clarke General Contractors

As a current or aspiring business owner, you know the importance of finding and developing the ideal space to grow your business.


But commercial construction is a complex process.

Whether it’s a new building, buildout of a lease space, or renovation of your existing space, it is difficult to traverse.  Many business owners, while experts in their field, have limited experience with commercial construction. So when faced with the challenge of developing your space that could cost millions of dollars, it can be overwhelming and even scary just deciding where to start.

Having successfully delivered hundreds of projects over the past two decades, I have found there are two things that are critical to the success of every project.

First, hire a trusted team of professionals. Make sure that they understand your vision and can walk you through their process for bringing your vision to life.

Second, getting very clear on your goals, priorities, and expectations is important, so your team can develop a plan to meet each one.

Knowing you have a top-notch team with a clear road map for success early in the project, helps alleviate a lot of the anxiety.

So, let’s talk about how to accomplish that.

  1. Hiring a Trusted Team

On each project, there are dozens of companies and sometimes hundreds of individuals that will have a hand in delivering your building. This means teamwork is critical in all phases of the project.

So, who do you need on your team?

A realtor.

Location, location, location. Everyone’s heard it, but finding the right property for your commercial building is crucial. Whether it’s a vacant lot for a new build, an existing building for purchase, or a lease space for buildout, it’s important to consider factors such as accessibility, visibility, and proximity to other businesses.

Next? A lender.

Many owners don’t have the capital to fund their projects out-of-pocket. Finding a lender that is not only willing to lend you the money necessary to complete your build, but is also able to provide you with outstanding service prior to closing and during construction, makes for a much smoother process.

Also key to the team? A designer.

Every building is distinctly unique. Whether it’s a healthcare office, restaurant, office space, retail space, hotel, manufacturing facility, warehouse, car dealership, school, or church. It’s important to find a design team that has the experience and expertise within your market.

Given the complexity of commercial design, permitting, and construction, there are several professionals involved including an architect, civil engineer, surveyor, geotechnical engineer, structural engineer, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer and each should have the qualifications to deliver your project.

And of course, a general contractor.

As is the case when selecting your design team, it is essential that your contractor has the experience and expertise in successfully completing projects of the size and complexity of your project. It is equally important to understand how they select their team of subcontractors and suppliers because a low bid is not always the best value.

Knowing who needs to be on your team is the easy part, but carefully selecting the right team can be difficult.

While Google and online reviews are very useful as a starting point, we recommend identifying these companies instead through referrals. Speaking with other business owners, whether inside or outside your industry, as well as individuals you know that work within the commercial design and construction space, is the best way to start your search.

Once you identify and reach out to these companies, it’s important to spend a considerable amount of time getting to know them since they will be responsible for delivering your multi-million dollar project.

This includes meeting and talking to them about their experience and processes. It is also important to review their website, project portfolio, and project photos. And we always suggest following up with references along with visiting buildings they have previously completed.

At the end of the day, you want to be confident that they understand your vision and have clear processes in place to extract and deliver that vision.

There is one last question many people ask… “But who do I call first?” We’ll discuss that in detail below.

  1. Setting Goals, Priorities, and Expectations

Without a clear target, it’s impossible to develop a plan for success.

There are three key areas that your team should work to establish measurable goals, a list of priorities, and any additional expectations that you may have for the project.

First is vision. Also known as scope.

And it includes asking questions like, “What is the use of the space going to be? How many patrons will you serve? How many employees will you have? How do you want the space to feel and look? What are your thoughts on flow and layout?

These are a sampling of the questions your team will ask to help begin to put pen to paper.

This is an iterative process, and oftentimes the longest stage in design because it requires communication and feedback until we reach a conceptual/preliminary design that you love and can see yourself operating in for years.

Second, the budget.

The project budget should encompass all costs including land, lending fees, design fees, construction costs, furnishings, equipment, and operating costs. No one has unlimited funding, so it is important to establish a total project cost upfront so that when making decisions regarding the project location, design, finishes, etc. the team can keep you informed as to how each decision impacts your overall budget.

And last, the schedule.

Commercial construction is a very involved and time-consuming process. For new construction it takes approximately 6-9 months to perform the necessary due diligence, design, and permitting, then another 6-12 months for construction.

Renovations and build-outs are typically less time but are at least 6 months and can often take up to 12 months for design, permitting, and construction.

It is important to let your team know up front, any specific deadlines that you must meet so they can develop a schedule to keep everyone on track.

Let’s round back to the question, “But who do I call first?”

As a general contractor, we encourage clients to reach out to us first.

Here is why:  we have experience with local realtors, lenders, architects, and engineers and can recommend companies that would be ideal for your project.

Bringing a general contractor on board early, also allows us to provide our experience and expertise in helping you perform due diligence on a potential property, whether a vacant lot, renovation, or build out to help ensure the project can be completed within your required budget and schedule.

Also, being involved during design allows us to provide cost feedback so that you don’t end up with a set of plans for a building you can’t afford. We can offer constructability and value engineering suggestions that deliver greater quality and value and a reduced cost.

And general contractors understand that time is money, so we can help drive the schedule during design, permitting, and construction to get you into your space sooner to allow you to begin serving your customers and making money rather than just spending it.

While commercial construction is never easy, there’s no reason it should be overly stressful.

As you embark on your journey of starting or growing your business, have faith and hope knowing that there is a team out there that can help and support you every step of the way.

Remember, as long as you take the time to carefully find and hire the right team and are clear in articulating your goals for your project, there are few things more rewarding than watching your vision for your new commercial building come to life!

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Mike Clarke


Hanto & Clarke General Contractors

(850) 393-6012



*Note from Local Pulse Editor: Michael Clarke is a part of our Community Voices series. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.