Prior to attending the awards luncheon in October 2008, Ed Nikles Sr. learned that a colleague had submitted an application on his behalf to be named the 2008 NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year. He also knew the level of competition he faced, so he wasn’t expecting to win that day.
When Nikles, president/owner of Ed Nikles Custom Builder in Milford, Pa., realized he won the award during the 2008 NAHB Custom Builder Symposium in Austin, Texas, he was humbled. “It’s a great feeling to know you’re being recognized for the work you do for your customers and your community,” Nikles says. He knew other builders under consideration built bigger homes than he did, but ultimately learned there was more to the award than the size of the homes he builds.
It was the work Nikles does behind the scenes and within the community that contributed to winning the award, says his son Ed Nikles Jr. “There are a lot of things people don’t see on a daily basis. For example, we use a lot of subcontractors that he helped get started in business. One of our plumbers retired, so dad took [the plumber’s] helper and got him started on his own. He also has mentored a lot of other young builders in the trade who now come to him for advice. He really enjoys his Builder 20 group as a way to help others.”
Nikles Sr. launched the local Home Builders Association, served at the state level, as state president, and has been a strong voice in the community. “He is the most self-motivated person I’ve ever met. It’s extremely exciting from a company perspective, and a personal perspective, to see my father win the award,” Nikles Jr. says. “Seeing what he does on a daily basis, what he has done for the local home builders association as the founding president, state president, and serving within NAHB for many years, he definitely has earned it. He has worked his whole career to better himself and the industry in general, and I’m proud of what he has created.”
In His Blood
Building has always been in Nikles’ blood. As a child, his favorite toys were building blocks and Lincoln Logs. He was always building something, including in high school when he’d sign out of study hall and walk into industrial arts class to work on various projects.
Nikles’ key to success is to do the things you love to do. “I’ve seen some builders get into this market, get off on different tangents, and they don’t concentrate on the core of the business, and are not successful doing that. Focus on what you can be most successful at, stay focused on that direction, and you should be the most successful. And don’t be the same as your competition; be different so you stand out,” he advises.
Innate drive, differentiation and a commitment to doing what you like are a few ingredients for success, but a bit of luck never hurts, either. Nikles admits he has been fortunate at times. “At one point we were stuck with spec homes that we were able to rent out. Eventually we sold them to those who rented them. So it seems that every time a tough situation like this came around, something always occurred that got us through it,” he says.
Ed Nikles Custom Builder focuses on being on the cutting edge of the industry, trying new products or systems, implementing what is learned from Nikles’ Builder 20 group, going to trade shows, and in general keeping the business ahead of the curve, Nikles Jr. notes. “If green building will be the norm in five years, then we must be doing it now so when five years comes around, it’s old hat to us,” he says.
How it Began
Nikles began his home building career with a partner doing remodeling and renovation work referred from his father who sold homes that needed improvements. The two grew the business and built their first house in 1966. Soon after, their cleverly placed model home landed a deal to build about 100 homes annually for a local developer.
The defining moment in Nikles’ career arrived when he and his partner split after 20 years together. Nikles’ wife and he started Ed Nikles Custom Builder, getting most of their business from referrals. Nikles’ son came to work for his father soon after the company was launched, starting at the bottom at his father’s insistence and working his way up, all the way to full partner today.
“Dad’s salesman was retiring so he started me as a salesperson, working on estimating and pricing jobs,” Nikles Jr. says. “Especially with estimating, I’m glad I started at the bottom. I spent a lot of time putting data into the computer, creating models of pricing so we could more accurately price houses than the competition.”
In 1991 the Nikles duo launched its own real estate company to fill a need for land services in the area. As lot prices rose, general realtors re-entered into the picture while the Nikles team continued to buy inventory of improved properties. The company now owns 45 lots.
Ed Nikles Custom Builder not only supplies land to build on, but it’s a full-blown design/build firm. When Nikles realized other builders were working from plans they didn’t get paid for, he adopted the design/build process and hasn’t looked back.
Ed Nikles Custom Builder signs up clients on a design contract and collects a fee that’s applied to the cost of construction. “The plans stay with us, and usually clients build with us. If they don’t build with us, it’s usually because something financially happens where they can’t finance it anymore,” Nikles Sr. says.
If confronted with a client who doesn’t fully understand the value in the design services his firm provides, Nikles makes the analogy of visiting a doctor. “The doctor gives you advice, and drugs, and a bill when you walk out. I’m not a doctor but I’m still a professional, and what we’re providing clients is a professional service. An architect would charge clients for drawings, and we’re providing the same services but charging a fraction of the cost. Those who are shopping on price are not our customers anyway,” he says.