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Putting a different spin on construction

Shoreline Commercial enjoys growth in the Lowcountry

STORY AND PHOTO BY TONY KUKULICH

Chris Dalzell, owner of Shoreline Commercial, is a different kind of businessman who runs his business differently. 

The first clue to that is evident upon entering the company’s office in Old Town Bluffton. Displayed prominently in the office is a banner with the Shoreline Commercial’s mission statement.

It reads, “We design, build and deliver peace of mind.”

It’s probably a safe bet that few commercial builders place their customer’s peace of mind at the core of their business strategy. John Ussery, vice president of sales and marketing, anticipated my first question. 

“I can assure you that we didn’t just put that up because we knew you were coming by,” he said. “That’s always there.”

Dalzell started the conversation by offering his vision of what sets Shoreline Commercial apart. 

“We like to put a different spin on commercial construction,” Dalzell said. “We feel that we’re going to do business differently from a lot of big general contractors around here. I think it’s appealing to our clients. We want to deliver a world-class client experience. We want to make that our focus.”

Shoreline Commercial’s fingerprints are all over southern Beaufort County. Most notable among the company’s high-profile projects are Burnt Church Distillery and the mixed-use commercial and residential projects at 71 Calhoun Street and Old Village Square.

“My experience with them is beyond having just a good experience, because I know I have a team of people who are working with me in the spirit of friendship, collaboration, and it’s not merely transactional at the end of a project,” said Billy Watterson, CEO of Watterson Brands and co-founder of Burnt Church Distillery. “They have stayed in contact with us, supportive of our goals and future endeavors, and honestly, I have become good friends with Chris and his team over the years.”

Dalzell, a native of Augusta, Ga., came to Bluffton straight out of Georgia Southern University with a degree in construction management. He took a job working in Sun City, but an economic downturn cost him his job. Undeterred, Dalzell took the opportunity to create his own company, and Shoreline Construction came to life amid the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression.  

The company got its start doing renovations and remodel work. In 2010 it started building model homes and the residential side of the business took off. At the same time, opportunities for commercial work started to flow in. The May River Montessori on Calhoun Street in Bluffton was one such early commercial project. 

“About four years ago we fully committed to the commercial,” Dalzell said. 

Today Shoreline Construction has three distinct divisions that operate independently, but share back-office resources: Shoreline Commercial, Shoreline Residential and Furnish by Shoreline. Dalzell and Ussery both believe adamantly that residential construction and commercial construction are different endeavors and need to be managed separately.  

“They do not overlap,” Ussery explained. “The culture is the same. Values are the same. The mission is the same. Back of house is the same. The team is different. The language is different. The mechanisms of residential and commercial (construction) are different.” 

GROWING BUSINESS MODEL

Over time Shoreline Commercial’s business model grew from an organic blending of Dalzell’s vision and the practical reality of the opportunities that were available to the company. 

The company’s success came as Dalzell and his team identified a gap in the commercial construction market. Projects that range from $2 million to $15 million are often too big for small, independent general contractors and too small for the large, regional outfits. As it turned out, Shoreline Commercial was perfectly sized to exploit that opportunity. 

“The competency is there with the big boys, so to speak,” Ussery said. “But the ability to deliver a high-touch, white-glove, client-first experience is not their core business model. It might be the luck of the draw which project manager or superintendent you get from that firm.”

Among other work, Shoreline Commercial is working on two more projects with Watterson Brands. The company is also planning to join its two sister companies in a move to the old Savannah Bank building on Bluffton Parkway, the first time all three divisions will be under a single roof. 

Dalzell feels good about the future. 

“The unknown is the unknown,” Dalzell said with a laugh, repeating an often-repeated company axiom. “The next five years will define our next 10. I think we’re in a perfect position to capitalize on a market like this. We’re not going to stay stagnant. We’re going to try to work with our trade partners for them to improve. We’re not going to sit back and be reactionary. We’re going to be proactive. I know the next two years are going to be busy. What we’re seeing, we don’t anticipate that to slow down. I feel pretty good about it. I’m looking forward to it.”