Lucas Platt, owner of Montclair’s Property Lab LLC, spoke to us about his humble beginnings, career in the film industry and his hopes for his design and build construction firm.
In the midst of the current global pandemic, many of us have been thinking about our own small businesses or the local small businesses of others. We spoke to Lucas Platt, who owns the Montclair-based design and build construction firm Property Lab LLC, about his story.
Platt grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, where at just 16 years old, he started his first construction company.
“I called it AmPro”, says Platt, “Amateur prices with professional results”.
“Our rates were really good because we were living at home”, Platt said with a laugh, “so we got a lot of work”.
He acquired a pickup truck and got two friends to join him. At first the group mowed lawns and moved furniture, eventually they started building decks and getting indoor work during the colder months to redo kitchens and bathrooms.
Right before Platt entered college, AmPro was hired out by an older group of contractors, meaning Platt had to give up construction. He looked to try his hand in the world of film and television. After graduating from Wesleyan University, Platt had a successful career in film and TV.
“I knew I was always going to get back to construction eventually”, said Platt.
Similarly to film and television, Platt found satisfaction in being able to physically show others what he had worked on creating.
“There’s something really gratifying about being able to say at the end of the day, ‘I built that’”.
Platt said he gave himself two years to make it in the TV and film industry.
“It was a dream and I didn’t know anyone in the business, so it was a complete abstraction for me, and I was terrified of doing it.”
Two years turned into 24 successful years in the business as a producer. In 1989, Platt got a job working for the renowned filmmaker Jonathan Demme, whom he worked for three years. After working with Demme, Platt began his freelance production career.
But like many others, Platt’s plans changed due to the Great Recession, saying show budgets were not what they used to be. He admits that leaving a successful career behind and starting his own small business was scary, but was confident that his skills as a freelancer would serve him well.
“I had a certain faith in myself and an ability to pitch my talents. I do not take this granted for a second. I am honored to be able to go into people’s homes and suggest changes that could be very scary for them, and have their confidence to do it.”
Platt worked as a show-runner, a senior position that includes logistics for large crews, distant locations, difficult talent, and more. But he was also able to explore his creative side in this position.
“I think what I was able to do as a TV producer really well was balance the creative and logistical aspects. Being both a manager and a creative mind.”
Platt honed these skills for a number of years, which he says serve him well as a contractor.
“I go into a house, I get a sense of the style of the house, and what the style of the homeowners are. I can make strong creative suggestions for ways they can improve their house, from minute details of the tile, to the larger details of adding an addition onto the house.”
Platt prides himself on the fact that his crew shows up on time, they never stop a job until it’s done, and he holds his team to a high standard of professionalism.
“I hear horror stories of contractors who disappear for weeks at a time and the clients can’t get them on the phone. I would never do that, you can call me and text me, I’m there.”
Similarly to building a team for a television production, Platt had to build his team of contractors to work for him.
“It took me a long time to build up the team that I’ve got but I’m proud of them and I think they do good work.”
“There are a lot of great construction companies out there”, and at Property Lab, says Platt, “We do what we say we’re going to do. We show up when we say we’re going to show up. My estimates are accurate, I don’t ask for more money if they’re not. We deliver a great product.”
When asked how the pandemic has affected business, Platt says it’s been hard like it’s been hard on everyone, but he is fortunate that he’s been able to keep all of his team employed, which is very important to him. They’ve taken on some extreme safety measures to keep everyone safe.
When Platt eventually retires from his construction business he wants people to say, “Wow, that was a great company, we are really sad to see that company go.” Platt believes there are a few companies in the Montclair area that have that reputation, and he wants Property Lab to be one of them.
Platt’s advice to someone who’s going to make a significant career change, “Do something you love, because you have to wake up every morning passionate about what you’re doing, or people will know that you’re not excited to be doing what you’re doing and they won’t necessarily have faith in you. You need people to believe in you, that’s how you get the work.”