Following at the boots of my dad and grandfather I saw the ins and outs of big-scale commercial construction as a kid in the 1960s. Now a third-generation builder, the best lessons learned are: Be confident and skilled in your ability to provide the best service available while expecting to be fairly compensated; Do not be afraid of trying something different, and; Watch the overhead.
At age 24 I started my own custom home building company in Fredericksburg. The 80s were tough times here in Texas. I was lucky and picked up enough work to keep myself and two carpenters busy. We worked 50 hours a week and then I figured jobs, sent bills and met new clients on the weekends.
The late 80s were the toughest. Most of the crews in town had little or no work for weeks on end, but those hard times turned out to be the best thing for our business. Many of the established builders were set in their ways, which was an advantage for my young company. By adapting to the market and maintaining a low overhead, our business grew. While others laid off employees, I was hiring the best craftsman to meet the increased demand. Diversifying into everything from fence building to house painting we worked through the toughest of times while others watched.
Twenty-seven years later things have evolved as we continue adapting to the market. We are now the area’s most recognized design/build firm. We build and restore custom homes throughout the Texas Hill Country ranging from $200,000 to $3 million and offer in-house design services nationwide, while also working alongside some of the area’s finest architects. Our scope of work includes high-end custom, historic restoration and whole-house remodel; everything from horse barns to airplane hangars. We have an office staff of four and 10 full-time carpenters. Everyone is cross-trained and multi-skilled. As designers, we manage our own projects. Lead carpenters order materials and oversee jobsites. This allows us to fast-track projects and brings jobs in on time, within budget. While others have cut prices and quality, we have maintained our margins and increased our work load.
The one thing that has not changed is that it still requires a lot of hard work in meeting and exceeding the client’s expectations. I still meet with clients on weekends and spend many evening hours designing future projects.
Another important factor that has set our firm apart is we continue to be one of the few fully insured builders in the area. We carry workman’s compensation, general liability and commercial auto insurance. We maintain subcontractor agreements and insist that jobsites are kept clean and smoke-free at all times. Our policy is to pay all bills before the due date on completed works. This ensures loyalty with trade partners. We include this information in our marketing materials provided to prospective clients.
Market perception has played a key factor in our success. “Laughlin Built” has become the standard for quality in our community. Clients know going into a project that while things may not be perfect, we stand by our reputation and make them right at the end of the day.
We owe much of our success to the media. Our projects have been featured on HGTV and published in more than 30 national publications including Residential Design+Build. We were the builder of the 2009 Progressive Farmer Idea House and have won more than 50 design and parade awards. These accolades give potential clients a positive perspective before we ever meet. Our goal is to continue to set the benchmark for the industry.
Growing up in small-town America I was taught to respect your elders, not to be wasteful and to work hard. Fredericksburg, Texas (population. 11,000), where Laughlin Homes & Restoration is based, remains a unique market today. The National Historic District draws more than a million tourists each year who enjoy eclectic galleries, diverse lodging and amazing restaurants. But, it’s still a place where builders strap on their bags and frame a roof, demo a remodel or trim a fine staircase alongside their crews. It is an “old fashioned” place where the builder is expected to have the skills of all the tradesmen on the job, not a used-car salesman.
Living in a vibrant community requires the work of its citizens as well. All of our employees are involved in civic and church events. We were privileged this year to help build a home for a wounded soldier. I recently was personally honored by the Rotary Club with the Vocational Service Award exemplifying service above self. Being involved in numerous civic originations has been very satisfying personally. I have also found that people that volunteer together end up doing business together. More than 90 percent of our business is by referral.
I finished the year once again by giving all employees a cash bonus greater than the prior year as a way of saying thank you. As we have for the past fifteen years, we entertained 130 clients along with all of our team at our Christmas party. By pairing with a local 5-star restaurant we provide an upscale evening of fun and social networking where past clients and staff intermingle with prospective clients in a relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant benefits as well by being exposed to our clientele. This one event has brought about more good will than any other.
With a new year upon us I look for continued growth in the market. Current plans include adding an additional designer/project manager and at least three more craftsmen. We will continue to update our design software and I plan to launch a social media site. I feel we will continue to expand into new markets while maintaining our strong local foundation.
I have learned that you never go wrong by doing the right thing, and that enduring an economic decline takes foresight, flexibility and perhaps just a little bit of luck, so dig in your spurs and let-r buck! Best wishes for 2012