When Sean Richards, 38, leaves active duty after 20 years in the military, he’s ready to make a smooth adjustment to business ownership thanks to a fellow veteran.
“When I started looking at transitioning about a year and a half ago, I decided the entrepreneurial route was where I wanted to go,” Richards said.
Growing up in Florida, he’d worked in construction starting in his early teens. He is comfortable in the building trades and figured that would be a good place to start, setting his sights on opening a home inspection business close to home.
“In the military I had done everything but construction, but you get these other skills. I know I have a good business mindset, so I knew I could apply that,” Richards said.
But getting started meant building a network of support outside the military. While participating in a program for transitioning Special Forces soldiers, he reached out to a friend and mentor, retired veteran Mike Denehy, the owner of a Georgia-based microbrewery.
Denehy recommended he intern with a local home inspection company. He knew another army veteran, Mike Ratkowski, one of the founding owners of Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen who had also established Atlas Inspections, a Moore County-based home inspection business.
Ratkowski agreed to take on Richards as an intern, allowing him to shadow him and his team on home inspections since January.
“I asked him, “Hey, can I look over your shoulder?” But what I got instead just blew me away. What I received from Mike was 200 percent more,” Richards said. “He proved to be absolutely invaluable in my training, certification and licensing as a Florida home inspector.”
“He really took me under his wing. Teaching me, mentoring me on how to do a home inspection, but also how to run an efficient company overall. I couldn’t believe how much he put into this, especially for an unpaid internship. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it was not for Mike and his team.”
Ratkowski founded Atlas Inspections a little over five years ago as a one-man shop. He later sold his interests in Railhouse Brewery.
“It has taken a while to be known as the home inspection guy and not the beer guy,” he laughed.
Atlas Inspections employs a team of five home inspectors plus an office manager. Ratkowski also noted North Carolina has beefed up its licensing requirements in recent years for a lot of building industry fields including home inspectors, real estate brokers and general contractors.
“Moore County is arguably one of the most desirable places in North Carolina to move to. If you look at home sales, you’ve got a constant turnaround because of Fort Bragg and its PSC season twice a year.”
That dynamic is predictable and, therefore, not necessarily volatile. “Having this market makes us less vulnerable to a recession,” Ratkowski noted. “And we’ve also seen since the USGA announcement for its second headquarters in Pinehurst, property sales prices have gone up.”
There are more people looking to buy and renovate homes for rentals or so they’ll have a place to come during upcoming golf championship events, Ratkowski said, which had an immediate impact on the Pinehurst residential market.
In 2020, the Atlas Inspections team performed 990 home inspections. This year with the addition of more staff and expanding its service territory towards the Raleigh/Garner market, Ratkowski said they’re on track to double that output.
“Moore is my bread and butter but I also try to hire new inspectors geographically. The less miles we have to drive (to a job site) the more efficient we can be,” he said.
For his part with the transitional program for outgoing Special Forces soldiers, like Richards, Ratkowski said it’s been an excellent fit.
“Basically, Sean was put on orders that his duty station is to work for me. That gave him a chance to ride along on home inspections and other field stuff, and he and I got to spend time together so he could learn the business side too. The only cost was my time.”
Richards’ final test was a soup-to-nuts inspection of Ratkowski’s own home, starting with scheduling the appointment to finishing the report.
“As a veteran and entrepreneur, I love working with guys who want to get out and start a business,” added Ratkowksi. “Our area thrives because of the military turnover here. If this is what I can do to give back, I’m more than happy to do it.”