Leacia Brilliant hails from Sugarland, Texas, just outside the Houston area, and when she started her Colorado Springs commercial construction company with her father, Wayne Burke, she wanted to make sure she didn’t forget her roots.
“We’re Brazos Builders, and that refers to the Brazos River in Texas,” Brilliant said of her company’s name.
Brilliant, majority owner and president of Brazos Builders, established her business in 2007, but said it was never her intent to be her own boss — especially not in construction.
“I grew up in the industry. I’ve been exposed to it my entire life,” she said. “Being in construction was not in my game plan, but sometimes life happens when you’re making other plans.”
Brilliant worked in banking and insurance and earned a degree in marketing and business administration. She said she got a job marketing for a site contractor in Colorado Springs, and that position morphed into project management. Her employer worked as a subcontractor with a company her father worked for, so they became temporary colleagues before deciding to make the arrangement more permanent.
“I encouraged [my father] to do consulting work and he wouldn’t do it,” she said. “So, in 2006, around Christmas time, I said we should start our own company. He said yes, that weekend I hashed out a business plan and shortly thereafter we launched. I didn’t want to give him time to change his mind.”
Brilliant said she and her father have been successful because they play well off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“He can go in and tell you, pretty accurately, what a job will cost per square foot just by looking at it,” she said. “But his strengths are not on the marketing or accounting side, and without marketing, you don’t have a business.”
Brilliant said their launch timing could have been better, because the construction industry was one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession that struck in 2008.
“We’re gradually recovering from all that,” she said. “The housing market went into the tank at the same time and then we had housing contractors trying to do commercial work. That’s not always a happy marriage. They flooded the market with crazy pricing and commercial contractors couldn’t compete against that.”
Recovery has included the hiring of five full-time employees since 2010 due to an increase in general contracting projects, which included renovated restrooms at Manitou Town Hall as well as contracts with Fort Carson and UCCS.
Although capable of taking on general contracting projects, Brilliant said Brazos Builders has created a niche working as subcontractors for much-larger general contracting companies, including Kiewit and Mortenson Construction.
“We found a tremendous niche there,” she said. “[General contractors] appreciate us for a couple reasons. One, we are a general contractor, so we operate as a general contractor even within the smaller piece of their larger project. We manage ourselves, we manage our [subcontractors] or vendors. They don’t have to babysit a bunch of people. They hire us and get the benefit of us and three or four other subcontractors, but they don’t have to hold our hand.
“We’ve developed that into a pretty strong section of the business we pursue. I keep thinking we’ll get out of [subcontracting] but it keeps growing and we get repeat clients. It would be foolish to walk away from that.”
[pullquote]“They hire us and get the benefit of us and three or four other subcontractors, but
they don’t have to hold our hand.” – Leacia Brilliant [/pullquote]Brilliant said there are advantages to being a woman-owned business, and she has pursued those benefits, including receiving 8(a) certification which, according to the Small Business Administration’s website, “is a business assistance program for small disadvantaged businesses. The 8(a) Program offers a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 [percent] by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
Brilliant said that certification provides contractors with incentive to hire Brazos Builders.
“Being a small business is a good thing,” she said. “Also, being woman-owned is a strong strategy from the federal contract side. We see the advantages some with local municipalities, but it’s really strong in the federal world.
“So far we’ve seen real success in subcontracting work from larger general contractors,” she added. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s where we need to start to gain comfort in the federal arena, and we’re starting to see opportunities to partner with larger companies to pursue larger work.”
Brilliant said local and federal governments attempt to use specialized and disadvantaged contractors whenever possible, and that translates to more work for Brazos Builders.
“When someone hires us, they get credit for using a small business, they get credit for using a woman-owned business and they get credit for using a business with 8(a) status,” she said. “We help them check a lot of boxes. Not only that, but they get a quality subcontractor, so it’s a win-win.”
Having just completed an entrepreneurial course administered by the SBA, Brilliant said one assignment was to create a three-year growth plan for her company.
“I have a wonderful plan I just spent seven months hashing out. Now it’s my job to put hands and feet to that and turn it into goals we can really experience firsthand,” she said. “One goal is to grow gross revenue by 30 percent annually for the next three years. It seems like a lofty goal, but we’re already on pace to exceed that this year.
“I think it’s realistic, especially as I learn to better market our 8(a) status and the strengths of our company. For instance, we don’t even have a website.”
Brilliant said her lack of web presence hasn’t affected potential contracts.
“We are not without opportunity,” she said. “I joke about what will happen when we actually do have a website and people can find us more easily. It’s a little scary.”