Labarre Associates offers clients one source, one solution
“Ask anyone what we do, and they’ll say we’re architects, which is true, but there’s much more to Labarre Associates. We’ve always tried to maintain a rather low profile, and we’ve succeeded almost too well,” laughed Jay Labarre. “So now we’re trying to let people know we’re here and that we’re not just architects.”
Labarre is the majority shareholder in Labarre Associates; his partners are Julie Brown and Roger Clark, and they have a staff of about 32 at all of their locations.
Founded in 1984, Labarre Associates, Inc. is a diversified organization that provides clients with practical, high-quality and cost-effective services from site acquisition to design to construction to facility management. The company has four divisions: facilities, architecture, construction, and real estate services. These divisions operate together, as well as independently, to provide clients with “One Source, One Solution” for their building needs. With its headquarters in Denham Springs and a branch office in Tallahassee, Labarre Associates services the Gulf Region from Texas to Florida.
“An important part of our company – and really it’s a larger part of our business than the architectural side – is our facilities management operations. This division has the potential to feed all our other divisions,” Labarre explained.
“We’ve been in facilities management since 1989 – since before it was called facilities management. When we went into this area, there was no classification for it in the yellow pages; our choices were to go under interior design or space planner. But even if no one knew what it was called then, businesses needed it, even if they didn’t realize it.”
Labarre’s facilities management services include a preventive maintenance program that reduces the annual maintenance cost for clients. Clients can focus more on their own business because their facility is being managed properly and efficiently, and problems are taken care of quickly. This often entails major issues such as heating and air conditioning systems, but can include minor ones as well as. Labarre related an example that was a relatively small issue that created a big impression; he was doing architectural and construction work for a credit union and was meeting with their officers to negotiate a management contract when a vice president walked in and complained about a long-running problem with a light in the drive-through area that had not been resolved. Labarre picked up his cell phone and called one of his strategic vendors, an electrician, to come check it out. They soon wrapped up their meeting and Labarre left, but he shortly received a call from the credit union saying the electrician had arrived and fixed the problem. He returned to the credit union where they signed the contract on the spot.
“I’ve also had people come in to talk to us about architecture, and we got to talking about their facilities, and when we finished our discussion, we signed a management contract,” Labarre said, “but, typically it takes longer than that. Whenever a potential client calls, we start a process where they learn what we do, and we learn what their needs are. We perform an in-depth evaluation of their facilities before we prepare a proposal, and then usually take four to six months to refine the proposal because of our attention to detail and making sure the client’s needs are fully met.”
Labarre added, “Basically, it comes down to, how much is your time worth? Think you can’t afford it? How can you afford to take time away from your business to handle maintenance problems? Maintenance is not a core mission of your business. That vice president never should have had to take up his time with a lighting problem. We tracked the performance of the credit union, and two months after signing, their performance skyrocketed, and we justifyably take much of that credit.”
Businesses with large and/or multiple facilities such as medical complexes, banks and credit unions, governmental buildings and libraries and among their clients, but it doesn’t matter what size a business is; large or small, Labarre’s services can be tailored for any company and handled efficiently by their staff.
Labarre Associates staff includes four licensed architects, two licensed general contractors, three certified facility managers, a CPA, two MBA’s and an MAI licensed real estate broker.
“To have this range and quality of people assembled in one business and in a city the size of Denham Springs is unbelievable,” said Labarre.
“We also write master plans and strategic plans for clients. We can help them decide whether to remodel or go with new construction. One such client was considering whether to build a new facility or acquire the Piccadilly headquarters in Baton Rouge. We would’ve made more money on new construction, but that was not what was best for our client, so we recommended acquisition and renovation,” he said. “Without a relationship there’s no success in business, and we consider ourselves to be strategic partners with our clients.”
“I never had business ownership as one of my goals in life,” Labarre reflected. “I got into business myself because of a disagreement with a former partner, and I chose to leave and open my own business. That was the 80s, and I had no business plan; the economy was tanking and wouldn’t recover until the late 80s early 90s; my only business plan was to survive to next week. As my business grew and my knowledge of running a business grew, I realized I needed people smarter than myself to help me.
“I built my business through many years of intense hard work. Six years ago, I was at the point where core values became very important to me. I developed an advisory board to review our operations monthly and comment quarterly, or as needed. Roger Clark was one of the people I looked to for help in choosing the advisory board. Roger is an MAI, which is an appraisal designation held by appraisers who are experienced in the valuation of many types of properties, and who advise clients on real estate investment decisions.
Labarre continued, “Roger was president of one division of United Companies. Subsequently, he became involved in buying and selling businesses, and he said he had never seen a business model like ours. He watched our company for three years before he came to me and said he’d like to be part of it. At the same time I was interviewing Julie Brown. I had my hands full trying to run the business day-to-day, much less trying to develop new business, so I brought her in from a high-performing corporate culture. Julie has been here seven years and has very successful in many areas.
“When she first came, we didn’t have our core values identified or our culture statement written, but I knew I needed that for my employees to look to, because management can’t be around all the time. We discussed and negotiated with my advisors and came up with a version that has been in place for six years now and has served us well. Our financial accountability is as good as any privately-held company in the country. Sometimes our core values have kept us from making money, but they keep us on the right track.
“We now interview prospective employees not only for professionalism and knowledge but also for core values and how they fit in with our business culture,” Labarre explained. “The last interview before anyone gets hired is with Julie Brown.”
Brown said, “Once I was in a meeting where a manager said, ‘It’s not my job to make my employees happy.’ I disagreed; I believe it’s a manager’s most important job. If employees are not happy, clients are not happy. When I came to Labarre Associates, I asked ‘Do we have the right people in the right position and with the right resources to make it happen?’ We have the right people in the right place now, and we’re spending a lot of money on training to give them the proper skill sets. We need them to be, and to feel, qualified to make the right decisions on their own and not lining up outside Jay’s office for him to decide for them.”
“Giving back to community is one thing that makes employees happy,” Clark said. “We encourage our staff to get involved in the community, whether it’s the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, the women’s shelter or other worthwhile effort. We have close to 100 percent of our employees participating, and the three partners are also involved on one or more boards.”
“Right now we’re trying to promote brand awareness as much as attract new clients,” said Brown. “We’re in a very good position to capitalize on the upturn in the economy. Lots of things can still derail the economy, but we took steps a few years ago to whether the storm and, barring extreme events, we’re positioned to expand regionally and then nationally.”
Clark added, “Our physical presence in Tallahassee is our steppingstone to creating a regional company. We’ve got the people, the talent and the core values that will let us take it as far as we want.”
With a sweep of his hands, Labarre said, “I couldn’t do this without these two people. Together we’ve assembled what I think is the best team – and the best-kept secret – in Livingston Parish and beyond.
While Labarre Associates continues to grow and mature as a company, Labarre has a transition plan in place for himself to gradually give up controlling interest – and he’s ahead of schedule in doing so.
“I’m not leaving,” Labarre hastened to add, “because I love what I do too much. It’s more about making room for the next generation to eventually take over.”
Labarre Associates, Inc. corporate headquarters are at 8385 Rushing Road East, Denham Springs, LA 70726; 225-664-1934; labarre-inc.com.
Location: Livingston, LA
Posted: April 30, 2012