Then & Now: Corey Runnells charts own path, opens his own business

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 265 views 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in the May 14 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s  Forty Under 40 class.

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Corey Runnells always aspired to own his own business.

This past fall, he did just that, leaving a long-term career at one of the region’s premier real estate development companies to start Elevation Real Estate and Management in Springdale.

Runnells said the decision to leave his job at Fayetteville firm Specialized Real Estate Group — which is on a long runway for growth based on existing and planned real estate projects — was not made lightly. He spent 10 years at SREG, helping the company grow from a developer focusing primarily on single-family infill assets to one building large-scale student housing and mixed-use projects.

Runnells was a company vice president and led corporate operations in 2015 when he was recognized as a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

“The education I got there was what made [Elevation] possible,” he said. “They are very, very dear friends, and from a multifamily management perspective, I learned everything that I know from them. Business ethics, professional relationships in the office, how to treat employers and owners. Our business philosophy was quality customer service and good, clean, safe grounds, and that was certainly perfected there.”

After a long period of weighing several factors, though, Runnells ultimately felt like the time was right to chart his own path. The married father of three equated taking the plunge to having children.

“If you wait to have kids until you can afford it, you’re probably never going to have one,” he said. “It was an uncomfortable move for my whole family, but it’s something we all talked about together and decided to give it a shot.”

Runnells’ first day as a small-business owner was this past October. Elevation started its property management portfolio with 108 units in Siloam Springs. The company now has eight employees and just under 400 units under management, spread among three multifamily developments and a portfolio of single-family houses.

Runnells, 37, said Elevation’s niche is the middle of the market, a gap sometimes overlooked by the onslaught of high-end, luxury multifamily developments that have flourished in the region.

“It’s needed,” he said. “We are a down-the-middle type of company, because right in the middle is where most of us live.”

It’s a bit of a change from SREG, where Runnells helped bring to market several high-profile projects, including Uptown Fayetteville Apartments+Shops, a 14-acre mixed-use development at the corner of Steele and Joyce boulevards. It was completed last year and includes 308 luxury apartments and 17,000-square-feet of commercial space for shops and restaurants.

“From a project standpoint, it’s the first of its kind in this market, and I had never been part of anything of that scale,” he said. “And I can recall sitting in the office when we were hatching that idea. And to be involved from the idea to a living, breathing thing was amazing.”

Runnells said his business right now is “in a sweet spot,” where securing an additional property portfolio will mean an additional hire. He said the strategy to grow his own business will be based on a tenet he learned at SREG: building relationships. The goal for the rest of 2018 is to increase Elevation’s units under management to between 500 and 750. Growth will be organic, he said.

“I don’t want to get ahead of my skies, so to speak,” he said. “We haven’t really made a call on anybody. Since we started, it’s been word of mouth and referrals.”

Runnells admits being a small-business owner is no easy gig, balancing the effort it takes to focus on his clients’ business and focusing on his own.

He says the attention during the day is on property owners. There’s time at night to concentrate on Elevation.

“I’ve got an office at my house, and after we get the kids to bed, I can hole up in there and get some stuff done,” he said.

A Little Rock native, Runnells and his wife have three children, ages 8, 5 and 3, and they live in Fayetteville. He said they’ll be moving soon into one of his rental properties while they build a new home in the city.

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