Leading by example

Talk to executives at 12 design/build firms in one week and you’ll get a crash course in the state of the residential design/build construction industry. You’ll also learn about the typical successes these firms enjoy and the common challenges they face each day.

While preparing profiles for our 2005 Leading Residential Design/Build Firms section beginning on page 31 of this issue, we interviewed the principals of this year’s class who reaffirmed some truths: finding and acquiring good land is tough in every part of the country; establishing and maintaining good relationships with subcontractors is important to the success of a residential construction business; good employees are hard to find and just as difficult to retain; and sticking to a production schedule is tough to do.

None of these truths qualify as earth-shattering news, but the fact that we discussed these subjects with every design/build firm we interviewed makes us realize there’s no escaping these problems, no matter where you go, or how successful you are.

To overcome challenges, a few of these firms have hired extra architects, designers or even interns to handle increased work loads, to improve efficiency, to bring in fresh ideas or to compete in their markets. One firm, Calvis Wyant Luxury Homes, requires that its staff of architects make at least one educational trip each year — and many times more than one — to stay sharp, and to bring innovative design ideas home for the benefit of its clients. Actively seeking improvement is an admirable activity, and one to applaud.

Several of this year’s leading design/build firms owe some of their success to offering extra services to their clients. One firm arranges financing, and another offers services for post-construction maintenance or even additional construction work. And if they can’t do it themselves, they’ll refer the client to a contractor that can. Staying in front of past clients like this increases the chance of getting referrals, and even receiving additional business directly from these same clients.

Any way you evaluate our class of 2005 Leading Residential Design/Build Firms, you’ll agree that what they’re doing — and their approach to doing it — makes them market leaders. Sitting still and letting business come to them is not how these firms operate. They are proactive, and successful as a result.

I hope you enjoy meeting this year’s group of design/build leaders.