After graduating from college, Thomas Mullins, owner and founder of Thomas Mullins and Associates, began his career by pursuing his original passion of helping individuals with substance abuse issues. He moved from California to Portland, OR, where he opened five half-way houses. Unfortunately, much of the public support and funding for his operation dried up. This left Mullins in a tough situation. Instead of panicking, he made lemonade with lemons and turned the houses into rental properties. Suddenly, he was in the real estate business. As Mullins shared, this was the start of an unexpected journey that ultimately led to his present day business.
“After rehabbing and converting the half-way houses, I did more rentals,” he said. “Before long, I had nearly 500 of them. From there, I really got into real estate and started acquiring land and building new subdivisions. At one point, we were the 10th biggest real estate company in the country. Along the way, we started building things according to the code established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. During that time, I also had a real estate school and a finance company that financed large commercial projects. Those were some fun years.”
Mullins eventually sold his company and got into construction consulting. He spent five years in China, working as a contractor for the federal government. He helped with energy and power plants and worked closely with the Chinese government. Once back in the states, Mullins identified a new opportunity and shifted gears.
“When I came back to Portland, I saw that the ADA was gaining traction and that more companies wanted to build things to code,” he said. “That’s when I decided to launch a new business centered on ADA compliance and accessibility for schools, municipalities, churches, medical facilities, non-profits and for profit businesses. There was a great need for that and still is. Slowly but surely business picked up and we opened a second office in San Francisco.”
Mullins also expanded to the east coast. An opportunity to evaluate the Citrus County School District brought him to Citrus County. While onsite, Mullins built a plan for their approval, measured and designed everything. He worked on buildings and parks and also delivered a software program that allowed officials to enter into a new phase of compliance. Along the way, Mullins purchased a home in Citrus County and took up residence in the Sunshine State.
As an ADA expert, Mullins has served his clients and assisted with their efforts to complete their ADA required self-evaluation documentation and plans review for approved permitting. He’s done projects for Bank of America, the Small Business Administration, FEMA and many others. His children now own and manage his offices in Portland, Houston and Dallas. As Mullins shared, part of his growth strategy was establishing strong relationships with referral partners.
“We partnered with architects, engineers, facility owners/managers, construction developers and builders as their advisor and consultant,” he said. “As a result, we’ve become the largest and most respected ADA consulting firm in the United States. We've assisted the Federal Access Board in writing the ADA laws and the ADA accessibility guidelines. We also work with the SBA on disaster activities, we're certified mentors with SCORE and I serve on the Government Counsel of the Citrus County Builders Alliance."
Looking ahead, Mullins, who thoroughly enjoys helping his clients save money while becoming ADA compliant and accessible with their programs, services and activities, is focused on mentoring and training the next generation of ADA inspectors and consultants. He's in a position where his children are actively involved in the business, which allows Mullins to slow down a bit and be selective with the type of projects he wants to work on.
What advice does Mullins have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "In general, it's important to have a strong business plan that clearly describes your purpose and goals," he said. "Business capital will find these entrepreneurs. Also, become an expert in all aspects of your business and always give 110% of what your client expects from you. Lastly, success takes time. In some cases, it can take up to 10 years to mature out your business."