VMC Facilities LLC: Beating All Odds

Gordon Bruner found his calling in 1998 when, at the age of 42, he founded VMC Facilities LLC (VMC) with just $1,500 and a pickup truck. Bruner finally parlayed his personal construction experience into a full-time job renovating and maintaining facilities for restaurant owners. Fifteen years later Bruner has beaten the odds, as VMC operates as a full-service facility support operation, providing disaster recovery, renovation and facility maintenance services to a list of clients that reads like a who’s who of the retail and restaurant industries. No matter the status of its clientele, VMC remains committed to simply delivering on its promises by approaching every project with Bruner’s entrepreneurial zeal and no-nonsense business philosophy.

“I’m a passionate guy and it’s crazy the way the business worked out, but I found something I absolutely love to do,” asserts Bruner, founder, owner and chief manager of VMC. VMC was initially Volunteer Maintenance Company, a company that provided building maintenance services to clients in eastern Tennessee from headquarters in Knoxville. Growth came organically as Bruner hit the pavement searching for new opportunities, armed with a passion for the business in addition to an arsenal of audio books on business management strategies and personal development to keep him company on long drives.

VMC’s first big break came in 1999 when Danny Koontz, director of facilities for Ruby Tuesday, provided the opportunity to work within the restaurant industry. Koontz took a chance on Bruner and VMC, and successfully developed a relationship that still exists today. VMC’s second big break arrived in 2000 when the company landed a contract with Brinker International Inc. (Brinker), a leading casual dining company whose portfolio of brands includes Chili’s Grill & Bar, Maggiano’s Little Italy and Romano’s Macaroni Grill.

“I met with Dan Gibbons [current director of facilities at Brinker], who asked me a lot of questions beyond just building maintenance,” explains Bruner. “Dan, who was brought in mid-year by Brinker, finally threw down this massive book and said, ‘Here, this is everything I’ve got in 12 states and I’m six months behind. How soon can you leave?’ I left the next morning and spent most of the next 10 years on the road working.”

One location eventually became six and, as of 2013, VMC will operate with a network of six regional managers and a dedicated workforce of some 70 professionals working in virtually every state east of the Mississippi River. VMC’s coverage area stretches as far north as Michigan and Massachusetts, and down to Florida and Louisiana. VMC provides full-service building maintenance support, including electrical and plumbing trades, as well as specialties like painting, tiling and installations of doors and windows. Clients rest assured that VMC mobilizes its resources swiftly when a service call comes in and that employees arrive on site ready to not just fix the problem, but to leave the site in better condition than it was originally.

Working Together

VMC remains focused on the restaurant market, and Bruner remains adamant that VMC will never become a ground-up construction company. Instead, VMC will play to its strengths and focus on supporting clients whether the job requires just a quick doorknob replacement or a major disaster recovery and renovation. Disaster restoration and renovation came as a natural extension of VMC’s renovation services, and the company’s overarching goal to provide comprehensive support services with the needs of the client in mind.

VMC succeeds in part by remaining flexible and maintaining a diverse and broad range of subcontracting partners. This allows VMC to support a client with a set network of suppliers and subcontractors already lined up, as well as it supports clients without those partnerships. In both cases, VMC plays to its strengths to mobilize resources and deliver results on the client’s schedule, which is no small feat considering basics like generators, air scrubbers, lumber and fresh water are usually in high demand following a major disaster.

VMC counts on the support and strength of its regional partners and dedicated employees to make miracles happen, which is exactly what the team did in the wake of Tennessee’s 2010 floods. The National Weather Service recorded some 19 inches of rain fell in some areas over the course of May 1 and May 2, 2010, leaving many Nashville businesses with up to 10 feet of standing water. Nashville and Davidson County were declared a Federal Disaster Area on May 4, 2010, but by then VMC had already sent out the signal. The VMC team was busy rounding up the resources it knew would be needed in order get clients back in business as quickly as possible.

No Time to Lose

VMC took on a total of six projects in the wake of the flooding, including the demolition and renovation of the Romano’s Macaroni Grill near Nashville’s Opry Mills Mall. The team also rebuilt the flooded basement of Nashville’s Hard Rock Café. But the crown jewel in VMC’s post-flooding crown was the complete reconstruction of a Joe’s Crab Shack restaurant in The District, Nashville’s historic downtown area. The job required VMC to deliver a project that normally would take three months in just five weeks.

The schedule was all but set in stone, as the restaurant needed to be up and running in time for the annual Country Music Association (CMA) Fan Fair from June 10 through June 13, 2010. The annual country music festival brings record levels of business for District restaurants and 2010 was no exception, as the event drew a record-breaking 65,000 attendees per day that year. The Joe’s Crab Shack location’s general manager estimated that the event brought in anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 patrons in years past, but that the expansion of the Fan Fair, combined with an outpouring of support following the flood, might bring anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 patrons.

Not only that, but two of the estimated five weeks of work were reserved for Cotton Demolition to completely gut the structure, since the building sat in over four feet of water for more than 48 hours. “By the time we got in, all that was left were the concrete floors, metal studs and the exterior walls,” recalls Bruner. Both the restaurant’s front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff pitched in to help with the immediate cleanup, once the mold remediation crews wrapped up work. According to Bruner, VMC managed to secure the first building permit issued in the wake of the flood, and a team of 30 professionals worked around the clock to re-plumb, rewire and rebuild the restaurant, furniture, fixtures, equipment and all.

Ultimately, VMC delivered the job in 21 days, giving Joe’s Crab Shack enough time to settle into the new space before welcoming the masses of CMA Fan Fair attendees. “I don’t think I slept at all for 21 days,” admits Bruner. “But all it costs is money for us to pull off miracles.”

Ever since, Bruner and the VMC team stayed busy with back-to-back rebuild jobs for two Romano’s Macaroni Grills that burnt to the ground and required eight weeks to rebuild. VMC also picked up a few contracts to convert a few Ruby Tuesday restaurants into a new seafood concept restaurant Marlin and Ray’s Seafood Bar & Grill.

Hurry It Up

On top of all VMC’s projects, Bruner lost 65 pounds in 18 months, completed four half-marathons, beat the odds again by overcoming cancer, and developed a professional and personal improvement program called Hurry It Up, a 50-day program to improve both personal and professional lives. “Once I figured out I really loved this business I spent a tremendous amount of time educating myself,” adds Bruner. “What I realized is that the basic philosophy is pretty concrete, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there in overalls and a pickup truck bringing this information to people in a no-nonsense kind of way.” Bruner hopes that Hurry It Up will help inspire other motivated people to beat the odds; he is offering a 50-percent discount to readers that use coupon code USBUSINESS.

Hurry It Up launches in 2013, just as VMC moves to continue to grow retail services. Rather than pursuing a national expansion, Bruner believes the retail industry will allow VMC to remain a regionally focused company providing the high level of comprehensive support that defines the team’s approach. “I’m lucky enough to have a great group of people who really know what they’re doing,” says Bruner. “It’s with their help that I get to truly own my life.”

VMC has won multiple industry awards, including awards from Brinker and RFMA, only enhancing the company’s reputation. Whatever venture catches Bruner’s eye in the coming years, one thing is for sure: Bruner isn’t giving up. With the help of a dedicated staff and a deeply ingrained drive to succeed, VMC Facilities LLC will remain the facilities support contractor of choice for years to come.