"We don’t build on our property. We build on our client’s property, and ownership is nine-tenths of the law." That’s Orren Pickell’s take on the definition of true custom building, a philosophy his Lincolnshire, Ill.-based design/build firm has embraced.
A self-labeled perfectionist, Pickell’s intention is to build the most efficient machine in the homebuilding industry. A strong need for control coupled with a divide-and-conquer mentality have guided Pickell in growing a business from a family-owned shop into one of the marquee custom home builders in the nation.
At Orren Pickell Designers and Builders, 120 employees have the opportunity to learn and grow within the company and find the "hat" that best suits their interests and abilities. Separate divisions of the company — carpentry, custom homes, remodeling, maintenance, architecture and CabinetWerks (a kitchen design studio focused on cabinetry and woodworking) operate independently, but synergistically, and bring nearly every facet of home design and construction under one roof.
"The reason I say synergistically is that all of these businesses bring in business for the other divisions," Pickell says.
The makeup up of the company includes employees in executive and departmental management, sales and marketing, estimating, architectural design, purchasing, construction, accounting, finance and information technology. With a tight culture that emphasizes client service, flexibility and creativity, the company is held together by a progressive technology infrastructure.
"For more than a dozen years, I’ve run the company as a project," Pickell says. "I use Primavera to run the company. Every project has 650 process points. Every time a point happens, each department that needs to take action gets a note. So all departments know exactly what is going on in the company at all times."
When all departments and duties are on the same page, an accurate picture emerges of details such as cash flow and scheduling, Pickell says.
Additionally, the firm has developed a software program whereby each home project is given a website that functions as a communication hub for all parties involved in the process, including the client. Pertinent information is catalogued, including contracts, change orders, plans and schedules. The system is filtered based upon the user, and the client is able to view project timelines and photos, even make product selections online, which are transferred to the project manager and appropriate vendors. Subcontractors can log in, fill in their progress, saving time and allowing them to get paid faster.
During the past couple of years, Orren Pickell Designers and Builders has used its streamlined infrastructure and buying power to serve a new market it discovered. The Custom Series of homes, starting at around $600,000, is aimed at younger buyers who are interested in Pickell homes but are not yet financially ready. The company also has made a formalized venture into the vacation market, expanding its business into neighboring states Wisconsin and Michigan. "We’re serious about it now," Pickell says. "I believe the vacation market is huge. Everybody still points to real estate as a solid investment."