Developers’ knowledge, relationships benefit construction company

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,056 views 

Eric Boen and Jeff Kemp, co-founders of Boen Kemp Construction in Fayetteville.

Fayetteville developers Jeff Kemp and Eric Boen have 38 years of commercial real estate experience, working with national and regional clients across multiple industries. The client relationships they’ve developed through the years have carried over to their growing construction company.

In 2017, the Commercial Realty executives co-founded Boen Kemp Construction. Recently, the Fayetteville construction company has grown significantly. The growth is expected to continue as it expands into new industries, such as hospitality and convenience stores.

Kemp attributed the recent growth to demand and having the right team. Boen said the construction business was taking more of their time and needed more staff to support its growth. The new staff allowed them to focus on their commercial investments and developments, creating a pipeline of projects for the construction company.

Also, Kemp expects the construction company to grow by taking on projects regionally apart from what they bring to it. Clients drive their development business, comprising retail and office centers, restaurants and car washes. Recent projects include the new Walk-On’s and Chuy’s restaurants in Fayetteville.

“Ten years ago, they [Chuy’s] asked me, ‘Do we go to Rogers or Fayetteville?’” Boen said. “I looked them in the eye, and I told them the truth: ‘We go to Rogers.’ That turned out to be a $6 million store. It’s a top five Chuy’s in the country.”

Their projects are mainly in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, but they aren’t limiting themselves to the three-state region. They’re also looking at projects in Mississippi and North Texas, Boen said.

Top clients include national chain restaurants, such as Chuy’s, Walk-On’s and Darden Restaurants. The latter’s restaurants include Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden. Boen said they handle new restaurant projects for those three brands in the three-state region. Other key clients include 7 Brew, AutoZone, Discount Tire and First State Bank.

Most are clients of Commercial Realty and Boen Kemp Construction. However, AutoZone and Discount Tire aren’t yet clients of their construction business because of timing.

Earlier this year, they landed a significant deal with Club Car Wash. Boen Kemp Construction has completed about $10 million in car washes for the Missouri-based company, Boen said. And the number is growing.

Company revenue is expected to rise to a record level this year, between $20 million and $22 million. Next year, it’s projected to reach $30 million, Boen said.

“We’ve already got a big book of business going forward,” he said. “For us on the growth, it’s just been a thing of we weren’t ready. We haven’t told the world yet, but now I think we’re there. And I think that growth will be exponential. We’re ready for it.”

New industries they’re expanding into include hospitality and convenience stores, said Don Clark, vice president of business development for Boen Kemp Construction. Without naming clients for the projects in the works, he said those have come about through their connections and development experience, along with the opportunities provided by the construction company.

Boen Kemp Construction has grown to 19 employees, with about a dozen added in the past six months, Kemp said. Commercial Realty has eight employees, including the main office in Little Rock.

Kemp said that before they started the construction company, they noticed a need for more communication between contractors and developers. That was one of the catalysts that led them to start Boen Kemp Construction — a better understanding of what was happening on the contracting side.

“The other [reason] is having the opportunity to have the built-in business of the clients we were dealing with — a good segue into the construction with a book of business already in hand,” Kemp said.

Boen pointed to understanding the complete development process and the relationships they’ve developed as what sets the construction company apart from others. He added that the new leadership team they’ve brought in this year to help grow the company builds on the knowledge of the entire process.

“We not only know about the deal before it even starts, (but also) we’re the ones that are growing that deal from the start,” Boen said. “So 50%-70% of business can be self-generated by either we’re developing it…or doing it for one of our clients. We can get into the process so early that we can meet their needs before they even know what their needs are because we’re pioneering it together. By the time we get it to a point where it’s ready to be bid, we have so much knowledge of the project that we may already have a jump on the numbers.

“We’re probably one of the very few in the state doing that — from the cradle to the grave. We see it all.”

Kemp said the process might range from six to 18 months, depending on the project. During this time, they can evaluate the budget and cost and help the client save money before plans are completed, he said.

Both Little Rock natives, Kemp and Boen attended the University of Arkansas and earned business administration degrees in 1999 and 2003, respectively. They met several years later while working for a local commercial real estate firm. In 2012, they started the Northwest Arkansas branch of Commercial Realty. The office is in a multi-tenant center they developed northwest of Van Asche Drive and Steele Boulevard and is adjacent to Boen Kemp Construction at 3680 N. Investment Drive.

Over the years, some of their most significant projects comprised retail centers, including their first in Beebe (White County). Kemp noted it was a 25,000-square-foot development.

“It started as 10,000 feet — we needed a million bucks,” Boen said. “We went to the bank — we needed $3 million. It was 25,000 feet by the time we got done with it to make the numbers pencil.”

While it was their first development, they understood the business as Boen’s father, Leonard, with decades of experience in commercial real estate, provided guidance. Leonard Boen founded Commercial Realty more than three decades ago. Eric Boen said he and Kemp likely wouldn’t have been as successful as they’ve been without Leonard Boen’s leadership.

“After we cut our teeth on those retail centers, we started moving in and doing a lot of standalone restaurants,” Kemp said.

Eric Boen said they seek single-tenant, triple-net ground leases, “which in our business are the mecca of what you want to do because it passes all of the costs to the operator. We’ve always had a dream to have two or three of those national tenants that we develop out for, and that’s been Olive Garden, LongHorn, Cheddar’s and now 7 Brew. We’re doing a ton of those.”