Sheila Adkins knows the secret to business success is hard work and excellent customer service, judging by the courteous and open nature of two of her employees.
Her story of becoming one of the fastest growing minority owned businesses in the Philadelphia region is one worthy of paying close attention to.
Adkins Management, incorporated is a family owned operation, with working crews made up of nearly all minorities. It was founded by Adkins and her sister Denise.
Sheila’s journey began 26 years ago when in 1983 — after working with Kenny Gamble and realizing she could do it on her own — she decided to strike out on her own as a recording artist manager.
She got into construction through a relative, who asked her to help manage him, because he wanted to know how to make his company legitimate, so he could bid on projects. In seeking to help that relative — who she told that she had no knowledge of the construction business but would try — she learned the processes, worked on the contract bidding process, learned which licenses were required, and became a self-taught expert.
When an opportunity came up for her to get into the construction business herself through the Water Department’s Water Conservation program, she obtained the necessary licenses, hired plumbers and was given small contracts to go into low income homes to do minor plumbing repairs at no cost to the residents.
Adkins realized then that she was onto something.
There were programs being managed — mostly by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) — that sought contractors to do the needed work in the homes of low income residents.
Adkins will be the first to tell you that she worked really hard, learned as much as she could, and only took on what she could slowly handle with her crew, which consisted of herself and two guys.“I was careful to only bite [off] what I could chew, and I worked really hard,” she said..
As a direct result of the continued City contracts, she was able to obtain and maintain, she had no need to do private contracts. Over time, she has been able to hire a total of 35 employees, who are split into several crews.
Adkins is the number one contractor for the City because of their integrity and work ethic. They never look down on their clients the city sends their way, and give their best work by treating all the clients the way they want to be treated.
Hard work brings results, Adkins said.
Zayd Alibey — who is Shelia’s nephew — is the procurement and construction manager who oversees the day to day on all the sites. According to Alibey, the crews work on 6-8 houses at a time.
The Philadelphia Housing and Development(PHDC) Corporation contracts with Adkins for their Basic Systems Repairs program that awards grants up to $17,000.00 and Rebuilding Together, a low interest rate loan through a company called Clarify for City residents. These are just two of several City contracts, procured by Adkins Management.
Families apply to PHDC, for grants that are funded by the city and state to have home repairs done, and have to meet basic income requirements. If approved, Adkins is called in with inspectors to do the work.
Aaron Cleveland, a good friend of Alibey, was convinced to relocate from Atlanta to Philadelphia after both attended Morehouse College, with the intention of being business owners. Alibey and Cleveland are learning all they can about the business so that they can expand to Atlanta over time. This makes Adkins happy, because her ultimate goal is legacy building.
“Aaron and I graduated from Morehouse with the intention of becoming business owners,” Alibey said. “Six years after giving a large business all my ideas that netted millions for them, I decided it was time to take my knowledge to the family business. I sat down with my Aunt Sheila and my mother, worked out the logistics, and relocated to Philadelphia so I could gain the knowledge to take an arm of this business to Atlanta.”
As a woman and minority- owned business, Adkins was encouraged to join the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program in 2017 after balking at first, because she thought she was doing well enough with a yearly net income of over $600,000.
Once she decided to participate in the program, and realized that she was missing key components to make her business grow even further, she put the missing pieces into place, and her company grew to 1.2 million the following year, to a projected $3.2 million, three years later, and landed her on the “Philly 100 list” of the fastest growing businesses in Philadelphia and the only minority company on that list.
Adkins will be quick to tell you that she was no overnight sensation. She learned through the Goldman Sachs program how to work on her business and allowed others to work in it. That helped the business to grow, and she is happy to see where the company is heading beyond Philadelphia into the future. She gives Goldman Sachs credit for her business growth, as well as her sister Denise for working alongside her from the very beginning. Adkins stressed that the business began with zero loans. She needed capital to pay people and purchase materials, so she relied on her relationships with stakeholders who were willing to invest in her so that she could get the first contracts with the City.
“Minority owned businesses need to go through the proper channels to get their licenses, business insurance, etc. preparation must be there,” Adkins said. “You must have a plan and do your research. Crawl before you walk. Volunteer to learn, be interns, decide on the expenses that you absolutely need, and stop everything else so your business can grow. In other words, a budget. You must be okay with taking calculated risks as business owners, too.
Alibey and Peterson wholeheartedly agree, as they also learned in corporate America before joining Adkins about all the moving parts needed to make a business successful.
There are no overnight sensations, says Sheila, until your hard work begins to pay off. Then, she says, you will become an overnight sensation. It took her 26 years, and to hear her tell it, she would not change a thing.
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