Is your business showing signs of recovery from the recession?
We’ve never had a problem. I built production at beginning of boom, I was forced too, I didn’t have the capital to develop. I participated out of necessity. Then when I started to seen things turn - I started doing small custom infill, now I do all custom - 3 to 5 projects a year. Never really slowed down.
Currently, what are the major impediments to your business’ growth?
Can’t create more of me - there’s only one! So much relies on my experience. I have a different vision of housing from most people, which has made it more difficult to find like minded people.
How is your business responding to:
Depressed home prices and excess inventory? Excess inventory hasn’t had an effect on us. We don’t build to just build. Since our projects are all custom we don’t compete with other portions of market. We don’t have to compete with the excess. We build higher quality to begin with so there’s a larger degree of value. People want value for what they are spending. We’ve seen a turn from monetary value to value as it relates to living - peace of mind, the “feel good” factor. People start to leave money value out of equation in exchange for doing the right thing as they see it. There is a passion that’s driven through education of the consumer.
Appraisals and valuations that don’t incorporate energy and sustainability metrics? All my clients are cash buyers - appraisals haven’t effected my business yet. There is a learning curve with appraisals. It takes time to demonstrate the extra value to appraisers (it takes time and documentation). I’m largely immune because the bulk of their clients are affluent and they’re building their “last time” home and they don’t really care about the appraisal.
Changing codes and regulations? My company has been building so far ahead of codes that it really hasn’t effected them. In Florida, there is an uphill battle against hurricane codes. They have the FL product approval in addition to other codes and it’s an expensive testing process.
Is sustainability more or less important to you than it was before the downturn? It’s always been a priority to me personally. I grew up in a small town in FL, in a small house that had rain sistern. I’ve watched irresponsible growth and reckless strategy and it’s bothered me all along. Now I have a venue to participate and improve growth. I started seeing interest in the “middle of the madness” - people had had enough of the 18,000 sq ft monstrosities - it was time to change.
In what areas is sustainability a competitive advantage? I believe marketing is most important - promoting our news to potential and existing customers and the industry. We’ve had very little market competition. We’ve created a niche market, which has helped with our advantage. We focus on regional styles and regional products. Part of our business model is based on how the supply chain is so in-efficient now. tree & landowner - sells to logger, cuts tree - sell to rough mill - shipping - manuf plywood and hardwood - ship to finish mill - sell to cabinet shop - produce cabinet - another shop buy door materials, then both finished, re-distributed to wholesaler then to retailer then to contractor then to consumer. They just buy direct from lumber mill and make cabinets. Accountability! When you buy local, buck stops here. If you can’t buy local - you DON’T need it.
What can manufacturers do to help your business given today’s market conditions? They can offer regional production of their products vs. production in China. Make better use of local resources, reduce shipping, improve accountability, use local product. In general, they are moving in right direction. Healthy products have improved. But there is an uphill battle in green building. I feel like if manufacturers build it, builders will come...but they need to build and bring value to the product. If they can demonstrate the value of the product - is it energy efficient, water efficient, then it will sell and be used. The primary concern of buyers is value. They want to see the big picture.
What’s the most important element of sustainability to your business? If I had to choose just one - Energy efficiency only because that’s what people are most focused on right now. Local efficiencies in general are very important.
What’s the most important green product to your business? Any product that I can get regionally. It’s hard to find a regionally available product.
In your opinion, what will be the next ‘game changer’ in sustainability? Cost-effective SIPS panels. We’ve been using concrete masonry unit which are is the same building technique FL has used the past 60 years - its an archaic process. When someone can make right SIPs panel work for FL that offers value, simplicity, is regional, durable, and well insulated - it would be a game changer. Most of their current local manufacturers are too small, but if a large conglomerate jumped in - it would be big!