As an employee with Publix and Disney, Bradley Lunz, President of The Lunz Group, a full-service architectural and interior design firm, learned at a young age the importance of exceptional customer service. Both organizations instilled a strong sense of culture and service that profoundly influenced Lunz’s professional growth and impacted his delivery of professional architecture and interior design services. Lunz shared the story behind his personal journey and how he’s positioning the family business for tremendous growth through mergers, acquisitions and expansion.
“I always thought I wanted to be an engineer,” Lunz said. “I went to Georgia Tech to study Civil Engineering. While there, my father encouraged me to get out in the field to gain some experience on the surveying side of things. Cutting lines and taking measurements in hot swamp water taught me a lot of respect for surveyors.”
Lunz continued, “Not long after moving to Atlanta, I realized that engineering was not what I wanted to do. I had a conversation with my dad about my future and decided that I wanted to pursue architecture. I moved back to Lakeland and, while determining where to go for architecture school, I took a job working for an electrician. I wanted to learn the electrical side of commercial and industrial projects. Along the way, I learned the pride, values and craftsmanship behind construction. It was a great experience.”
After attending and graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Architecture in May 2001, Lunz was set to start an airport planning position in Seattle that October. Unfortunately, the tragic events of September 11th deviated those plans. Forced to look for a job closer to home, he accepted a position in Bartow, FL, doing school board and county work.
“I was doing entry-level stuff like drafting and toilet details, but it gave me a strong appreciation for technical nuances,” Lunz shared.
After a year in Bartow, Lunz moved to Tampa. His last experience prior to moving to Lakeland was at Baker Barrios Architects. He was one of the first to join their firm at their Tampa office. It was during this time that Lunz learned what it took to grow another office through first-hand experience. He still harbors a wealth of respect and speaks highly of Carlos Barrios and Tim Baker, both whom he still considers mentors.
Next Level Growth
By 2008, he was ready to contribute to the family business.
“I joined as an Associate Architect in 2008 and was promoted to President in 2014,” Lunz said. “When I was given the reigns to create a strategic plan, we identified healthcare as a good sector to get into. As a cancer survivor it helped me to paint a need for a patient-perspective of the design process. We initially tried soliciting to look for healthcare architects, but when that didn’t work, we said, ‘let’s go all in and look at acquiring a separate practice.’ There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity with firms in the 30-year rage that don’t have exit strategies. In 2016, we acquired one of those firms – Graham Design Associates based in Dunedin, FL. Our two firms were very culturally aligned.”
In 2017, The Lunz Group opened an additional office location in Celebration, FL. According to Lunz, this was done to better position the firm to serve clients throughout the Central Florida region. They also brought on board Tim Wagoner, a seasoned architect with expertise in higher education, another sector Lunz identified for additional growth opportunities.
The firm’s most recent merger in 2019 with Lakeland-based WMB-ROI created a mutually beneficial partnership between former competitors.
It started with a project they were working on for the Lakeland Economic Development Council (LEDC): an expansion of their coworking and entrepreneur space – Catapult – to a brand new, 40,000 square-foot facility in the heart of downtown Lakeland.
“They wanted a new building,” Lunz explained, “and were going through the process of soliciting the design work to several local architecture firms. After the LEDC presented the project, we were in awe of what this facility could do. In the spirit of collaboration, ‘why don’t we all work together on the design for Catapult?’ From there, we convinced the client that this idea as worth something, and with an enthusiastic ‘yes’ from them, we got to work.”
All three firms worked together to present the final designs to the LEDC over the next several months. One of the firms involved, WMB-ROI, and Lunz developed a deep mutual respect and, “because our markets were highly complementary and our teams had similar skill sets,” according to Lunz, both firms decided to join forces.
“So far, it’s been phenomenal,” said Lunz. “The merger gives us additional reach and layering.”
What makes The Lunz Group different from their competitors is culturally how they approach projects. The architects align their values, along with those of their clients, to promote better ideals. They look for economic solutions to create more employment. They also incorporate wellness and health and look at projects from a very diverse and inclusive perspective. Every architect with The Lunz Group is given the opportunity to speak and be heard. “This seems hyper-altruistic, but the more perspectives we get during ideation, the better the consensus will be when we build,” Lunz shared.
An on-going challenge and a potential barrier to future growth is finding the next generation of highly qualified architects. As Lunz explained, the availability of architects is low industry-wide. The 2009 recession hit middle-aged architects hard, forcing many to seek out other professions. This left a significant talent gap that The Lunz Group and other firms have to contend with.
The Lunz Group currently has 45 full-time staff members and will, at times, subcontract out engineering type work. When it comes to company culture and community involvement, Lunz focuses on empowerment and individual expression to create one cohesive team.
“We spent a lot of effort building our staff,” he said. “There are three things I want our team to have. The first is to feel empowered. We brought them on-board for a reason. We want to hear what they have to say. We also want them to have confidence that we brought them here for a reason. Lastly, we want our employees to express themselves through their own unique voice. Everyone has a unique background and perspective on life. That’s a valuable quality.”
Lunz added, “When it comes to community support, we give our employees paid time off to use at their discretion for things they’re passionate about. Rather than forcing them to support a cause we’re passionate about it, we give them the option. When it comes to monetary contributions and in-kind work, we have worked with Habitat for Humanity and Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine.”
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
“It’s created a sense of excitement within our team,” Lunz said. “They see hard work paying off. It's humbling and says we're doing the right thing. It’s also a wonderful honor to look at our state and be one of 50 that were recognized. That also means we have a lot of eyes watching us. We need to honor and respect the award.”
Lunz added, “In terms of why we were selected, I think it comes down to three things. The first is the financial aspect and the impact we have on job growth and our increased revenue. The second is culture, our high retention rate and how we approach professional development. The third is the overall physical impact we’ve had on the state. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for my father’s vision and developing the foundation of our company, my six partners and their support of our strategic growth plan and our 45 team members. Without everyone’s contribution, we wouldn’t be where we’re at.”
Looking ahead, Lunz and team have identified a few strategic markets they want to enter. They recently launched a full healthcare division and have plans to enter another market they’re not at liberty to discuss just yet. Stay tuned.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“Establish your values and align them with your objectives,” Lunz said. “Whether you sell bottled beverages or professional services, find a way to add value. Also, do the small things right and never lose sight of your initial vision. You need a ‘chop wood and carry water’ mentality. Look at your business from not just the P&L side, but also the emotional impact you have on your customers. Also, what are the added pieces you give to the community? Identify that hurdle and find solutions to overcome it. By getting over the first hurdle, you’ll create the inertia needed to get over the second and third and to keep going.”