Whether talking to minority businesses owners or students he mentors at Wenonah High School, Bessemer Academy, and Wylam Elementary School, Curtis Richardson’s message is always the same—persevere.
“When I talk to black businesses, I don’t talk about what’s difficult—because all of it is. I tell them it’s important to surround themselves with a good network of people,” he said. “When I talk to students, I tell them education is important, even though that might sound cliché. … I try to show them that they can’t let anybody tell them it can’t be done, and I tell them to not listen to anyone who says they can’t do something Things are possible. … You have to find a way to make them happen.”
Richardson is the president, CEO, and founder of C&J Electrical Services LLC, which has done electrical work for various local hotels, including the Hyatt and Marriot, as well as for the Uptown Entertainment District, the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC), Aletheia House, the West End Walking Trail, the Birmingham Housing Authority, and all the Sonic Drive-In restaurants within a 60-mile radius of Birmingham. Currently, C&J has six full-time employees, but can have up to 22 depending on the number of projects in the works.
Richardson knows about perseverance. When he started his company in 2001, he refused to get any business loans.
“You have to be creative in how you get your money,” he said.
In some instances, he had to be willing to receive less to make sure his employees were paid and his supplies were ordered.
“I would ask businesses if they could pay up front, and some contracts had supplies provided,” Richardson said. “I would get less money on my end, but after a while I built up capital and was able to be stable on my own.”
As a black business owner, Richardson knows he will not have many of the opportunities available to others, so he utilizes programs like the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), which handles federally funded business contracts that require a certain percentage of minority businesses.
“I go after those projects, as well as the private-sector ones, which are relationship-built contracts,” he said. “After connecting with the Hyatt, I’ve been able to do more than $1 million with them within two years.”
Richardson, who is also president of the Birmingham Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, has noticed that some businesses want to expand overnight.
“Grow organically,” he said. “You could have a big business, have all this money coming in, and have all these investors coming in, but if you haven’t gone through the processes you won’t know what to do when you hit a couple of bumps. If you want to be a big business, just let it happen. Don’t force it because when you force it, things don’t always work out.”
Richardson, who got his training in electrical work at Lawson State Community College, spends most of his time looking for ways to grow C&J.
“As the owner and principal, you have to sit back and think. If you want to scale your business, you have to pull yourself out of operations and be the visionary,” he said. “I make sure we have projects for the rest of the year and for 2018.”
The way he grew up also has a lot to do with Richardson’s drive.
“I grew up in Kingston and never knew my dad,” he said. “That had a lot to do with the ambition I have. When you’re at the bottom, there’s no other option—there’s nowhere but up.”
For more information …
C&J Electrical Services LLC
Address: 201 Beacon Parkway W, Birmingham, AL 35209