GULFPORT -- His former teammates make $8 million a year in the National Hockey League. But Brandon Elliott doesn't look back on his decision to give up his professional hockey career to build Elliott Homes in South Mississippi.
The one thing he'd change: "I would
have hired better staff earlier," he said.
At age 20, the Canadian native was a fifth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. At 23, he hung up his skates. Now at 31, his goal is to build 52 homes this year -- one a week -- and achieve 100 percent customer satisfaction.
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The same aggressive stance he brought to the hockey arena, where he spent a record number of minutes in the penalty box, he now concentrates on building homes and community.
In 2015, his company won best in state from the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi for the conversion of the former FEB Distributing warehouse into Elliott Homes' 29th Avenue office, complete with a New Orleans-style courtyard.
The Kennedy, a home the company built on Second Street in Gulfport, won a national award for excellence and several state awards, including best kitchen.
Last year, Elliott was named to Builder Magazine's Top 40 under 40.
Awards are nice, he said, but they're not his focus.
With his 6-foot-4 height, athletic build and easy smile, he makes a big impression on the people he meets, even when he characteristically arrives a few minutes late.
"That's Brandon," say people who know and work with him.
"He's definitely aggressive and has his eyes on the future," said Kenneth Jones, a commercial agent for Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty who sold the Elliotts the building for their office.
"He's just honest and straightforward, builds a great product and really cares about the people he builds for," Jones said. "It's amazing what he's been able to do in a short amount of time."
Elliott's wife, Adrienne, is Elliott Homes' designer and decorator, and as they've been building the company together they've been asked repeatedly to star in a reality-TV show. They've turned down those offers in favor of a personal life, he said. They have a 15-month-old daughter, Kennedy -- namesake of their award-winning home.
Along with growing their business, they are active in a long list of community causes and Elliott is president this year of Home Builders Association Mississippi Coast.
"I think he's energized our association with his style of leadership," board member Woody Bailey said. "We're looking for a great 2016 with him at the helm this year. He's come from the hockey arena to be a builder and he's done remarkably well."
Though the growth of Elliott Homes has been relatively quick, it hasn't been so easy. Elliott came to South Mississippi from the Norfolk Tides in 2007, when the Mississippi Sea Wolves resumed play at the Coast Coliseum after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He began to have concerns about his health if he played hockey for nine more years, when most hockey players peak. He left that arena.
"It was definitely a decision a lot of people were not happy with," he said.
But he knew it was right. "I had memory problems for about three years after I stopped," he said.
Equally important to him, "it was a way to put the fate of my success or failure in my own hands, not on the scout."
In 2009, just as the national recession hit South Mississippi, he and his wife started Elliott Homes. The company grew too fast, he said, and 2012 was a "terrible year." He learned a lot that year, especially the difference between being a contractor and a business owner, and he now focuses on hiring people who can build the houses while he runs the business. Elliott Homes has 11 workers on staff and crews of subcontractors.
Last year, they built 48 houses, including a St. Jude home, which got raffled off to raise money for the children's hospital. The company is building a $350,000 St. Jude home this year.
"My wife and I really have a passion to serve," he said. They've enjoyed building single homes, but "now we're into building a lifestyle," he said. Their subdivisions have walking trails and other amenities.
Elliott Homes has turned the home-building business into a great experience for buyers, he said. Customers can design their homes online and get constant Internet updates on the progress of their build. They are assigned a concierge to personally handle their questions.
Elliott said his staff works like a professional sports team -- passionate and driven by goals and their team.