Each summer through high school and college, Blair Edwards labored for a custom homebuilder who self-performed every job. The company never subcontracted any work and instead provided him the necessary tools, trusting that he would figure out and complete the task. After graduation Edwards toiled in accounting and finance until he was introduced to Doug Ford.

“Doug had built a reputation on principles and values that were consistent with my own; it was do the right thing by everyone, and it’ll work out for you in the end,” says Edwards, who ended up replacing the controller at DD Ford Construction, the company that Doug founded in 1979. “I had just enough of the construction knowledge and experience to make the numbers more than just reporting, but actually use them and try to improve the operations of the business. That was exciting to me.

“The number side of of the business, those are symptoms,” he adds. “The interesting and critical part is diagnosing the symptoms in the data to inform what we can do to improve, grow and change. It’s a matter of continually learning how we can not only be great builders but also be excellent as a business.”

The accounting role evolved into more of an operations management position for Edwards, who still maintained his controller responsibilities. Nine years ago he and Ryan Prahm, the manager tasked with building out a separate home remodeling and maintenance division starting in 2004, became partners in the company with a plan to take over ownership and leadership. “Our roles have morphed, so he is looking outside the company on the business development side of things, and I’m looking inside at operations and production,” Edwards says.

“Our partnership is key to our success. It’s a beautiful marriage. Our strengths complement each other, and we respect and appreciate our differences. We support and motivate each other and regularly remind each other how thankful we are for our friendship and partnership.”

Although the quantity of leads has declined since a COVID-19 peak, the size and complexity of projects continues to rise, he notes. DD Ford essentially contracted most of its work for this year and is working on early-to-mid-2024. The company will match or slightly top its sales revenue from the previous four years—the highest it has ever been and twice the average revenue from 2005 to 2017.

“The ability to produce the work has gotten slightly easier compared with the last three or four years, where it was like pushing boulders uphill,” Edwards says. “The supply chain has improved, and there has been a shift on the hiring and recruiting front. A year ago there were very few interested, quality candidates, and you couldn’t find anyone for a rate that was even in the ballpark of reasonable; everyone was asking for astronomical numbers if they were looking at all. It seems in the last year, things have loosened.”

During COVID-19 people were stuck in their homes, which led to an extensive boom in smaller improvement projects, he adds. “There are only so many kitchens and bathrooms out there. Now, everybody’s back to work and back to the busyness of life, and they aren’t wanting to do smaller projects. Also, those small projects are more dependent on interest rates, I think, and our bread-and-butter core business isn’t dependent on interest rates.”

Eighty-seven percent of new leads for DD Ford come from referrals, oftentimes by a designer, architect, Realtor or past client, Edwards notes. The company basically cut its marketing budget to nearly zero because of the 20-plus DD Ford trucks driving around in addition to the signage on jobsites. The remaining 13 percent of leads see these trucks and signs, or they materialize through the internet.

“Roughly 60 percent of the time, clients go to their architect or designer first when they want to start considering a project,” he explains. “They are an enormous source of our partnership in the community. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship where we deliver clients to them, and they bring clients back to us. If we are doing [design] in-house, now we’re a competitor with them.”

Most clients want to do something architecturally significant and create an experience or evoke an emotional response in their living spaces, so they pursue A-list designers and architects, Edwards says. “We try to be ‘best in class,’ where the A-list designers can trust us to execute their A-list designs and vice versa. The way we often talk about it is if Ferrari is building a race car, they’re going to find the best driver they can. Our clients are on that level: They want the fastest car, but they’ve also got to find the best driver.

“Our architects and designers are going to design that race car, but they also need a driver capable of executing that design,” he adds. “So, we partner with them rather than try to do it for them and try to make them look as good as we can.”

Fatigued after several years of the industry running hotter than ever, business owners must remember that humans lead businesses, which are not just financial reports or run by robots. “It’s been harder than ever to get anything done, and the expectations are higher than ever,” Edwards says. “The biggest challenge is leading and supporting the people in our businesses to help them be healthy and help them thrive.” QR

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