By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 27, 2017
Charlie and Robin Loudermilk have come home.
The father and son have moved their business offices back into the building where they worked for decades.
Built in 1963, the office tower at 309 East Paces Ferry Road was the first high-rise in Buckhead. Charlie Loudermilk bought it in 1970 and for more than 40 years it served as the headquarters for Aaron’s Inc., the furniture and electronics rental company he had founded in 1955. Aaron’s used it as its home base until a couple of years ago, when the company moved to a new headquarters at 400 Galleria Parkway.
By that time, the Loudermilks were no longer in management positions at Aaron’s. The Loudermilk Companies and partners bought back the high-rise from Aaron’s in 2016 and have turned it into a boutique office building. The Loudermilk Companies have just moved to the top floor.
“Everyone is back in their place,” Robin said in an interview with his dad. “This was my original office — in this corner. My dad’s office is where his office used to be — on the other corner.”
The move back into the building symbolizes a coming back together for both the Loudermilk Companies and the family. Robin’s son, Charlie Loudermilk III, also is working for the company.
“We have three generations working here in this building,” Robin said proudly. In fact, the Loudermilk Companies is developing a three-sided condominium building in Buckhead called “The Charles” in honor of the three generations.
The family has survived the ups and downs that often come with a family-owned business that grows into a major enterprise with pressures on a younger generation to carry the torch.
Robin had stepped down as CEO of Aaron’s in 2011. It was a role he had inherited from his father, but the “rent-to-own” business was never his passion.
His father then stepped down as Aaron’s chairman in 2012. After some estrangement with the company he had founded, Charlie Loudermilk is at peace with the company and its management.
“I really do like the guy who is there now,” he said of Aaron’s CEO John Robinson. “I had a lot of stock, and I sold most of it and put it in real estate. The stock that I kept continues to go up. Aaron’s has treated this family very, very well.”
The relationship between father and son has always been close, even when Robin pulled away from the company his father had founded.
“It wasn’t my cup of tea,” Robin said. “Real estate was my true love. Aaron’s gave me and the whole family the opportunity to pursue our passions. I just wasn’t a rent-to-own person.”
“He came to me two or three times telling me he was thinking about resigning,” Charlie recalled. “I kept saying, ‘you are doing a great job.’ ”
When Robin joined the company after working for a couple of different firms, his father told him he had to start at the bottom, working in a store.
“The bad thing about the rent-to-own business is that you’re dealing with people who have not handled their money or their life responsibly,” the elder Loudermilk said. “You have to go and repossess things. Robin didn’t like to do that.”
“I was the repo man for about 15 years, and that was tough,” Robin chimed in. “It played on me pretty big. Psychologically it was pretty tough. I crashed and burned, and I had to take off work for a couple of years to rejuvenate.”
“He had depression and anxiety,” Charlie said.
“After I had my bout with depression, I was never comfortable walking back into a store. It made me feel anxious,” Robin added. ”I don’t think there was ever tension between us. I did it because I wanted to. I wanted to build the business. I never felt as though I couldn’t walk out the door.”
Before becoming CEO, Robin had worked on the real estate side of the business, and that was his true passion — one that he’s been able to pursue at the Loudermilk Companies.
“Robin wanted to buy this building back,” Charlie said. “He’s smarter than I am.”
“My dad provided most of the capital, $14 million,” said Robin, adding that their partners invested 5 percent to buy the building.
The Loudermilk Companies has been instrumental in the transformation of the Buckhead Village. It currently has five real estate projects under development in Buckhead: The Charles Condominiums, the Buckhead Theatre Retail, 371 East Paces, 359 East Paces as well as 309 East Paces.
“I work for him, but I write the checks,” Charlie said. “I’m not sure I’m getting paid.”
“He gets to pay to work here,” Robin laughed.
“The goal is that you leave your family not under the bridge,” Charlie Loudermilk explained. “I’m lucky as hell. I have three kids and five grandchildren. I wouldn’t change any one of them in any direction. They are all doing really well.”
The camaraderie between father and son is evident.
“I call him ‘old man,’” Robin, 58, said of his father who is 90.
“I can’t argue with that,” Charlie said. He then recalled a time, years ago, when they were on a raft at the beach. “Robin said to me, ‘Isn’t it nice to be just the two of us?’ We’ve always been close.”
Now they are together again.
“This is home to me,” Charlie Loudermilk said. “I was here 40-something years. I have a good feeling about coming in the building and sitting in the chair and looking around. They did an excellent job restoring this building and expanding the windows.”
Then he looked towards his son.
“Robin gave me the best office up here. I wanted him to have it,” Charlie said. “How many more years do I have?”
Robin could not be more pleased with the situation.
“I’m here on my own terms, doing my own thing. I’m doing what I love,” he said. “And my dad is doing it with me.”