Kevin Hommes and Eric Williams met at software design school in Virginia. Working in the fire sprinkler industry for different employers, the two hit it off and began talking about someday starting a business.
Come graduation and armed with product and customer relations know-how as well as newfound software skills, the two went their separate ways but stayed in touch.
Eventually, Williams joined Hommes in Wilmington, and in 2010 the two launched Odyssey Fire Protection, a subcontractor to both commercial and residential builders that provides design, fabrication, installation and inspection services for a variety of fire suppression systems.
Starting a business in the midst of a deep recession wasn’t easy, but Hommes knew there was only one way to move – up.
“No bank would help us at the time,” Hommes said, “so I financed it myself.”
As the economy gained traction, “we put a little more risk into it,” he added, and at the end of 2013, the firm’s three-year growth stood at 1,630 percent, with 2014 revenues projected to be more than $3.5 million.
Much of Odyssey’s success has resulted from a spurt in multi-family construction.
A growing population of seniors and a steady influx of students are driving the area multi-family market, according to the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association, with the number of multi-family permits in New Hanover County jumping from seven in the 2010-11 fiscal year to 35 for 2012-13.
As growth continues, Odyssey is aggressively pursuing work at medical facilities alongside its multi-family activity.
“There’s a lot of ground to be had for the health care market,” Hommes said.
Recent additions to Odyssey’s project portfolio include work on fire suppression systems at Dosher Memorial Hospital and at Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City.
Odyssey is also booking business by moving across the state border.
“We’re really just moving into South Carolina at this point,” Hommes said.
To enhance customer value, Odyssey is now offering inspections to current owners of sprinkler systems and is also starting to sell and service fire extinguishers. While the latter market segment is competitive, “it definitely wraps right in with the services that we offer to property management companies,” Hommes said.
Odyssey’s co-founders play to their respective strengths. Each handles some managerial and project functions, but Hommes focuses on business development while Williams specializes in technical and design work.
“We’re the only subcontractor in commercial construction that creates our own design,” Hommes noted.
Odyssey Fire Protection will continue to focus on building and maintaining relationships with area contractors – a cornerstone of the young firm’s success – as it expands its geographic footprint.
“We’re dependent on each other’s success,” Williams said.