How I Built My Business: Bluestem Construction
I got interested in remodeling by renovating properties for myself about 20 years ago in Denver -basically because I couldn’t find a home that I could afford to own. I had studied art and education in college, and started my career working in a large engineering firm working on environmental and infrastructure projects. I also worked as a project manager for a full-service architecture and graphics firm specializing in commercial building.
I started my company from scratch, just me and a part-time designer, but I had always liked to build things and had come from a family of builders, designers, and engineers. I educated myself by reading and talking to everyone I could. Today, I’m starting my 15th year of business in Minneapolis with my business partner (and original designer), Mark Hauck, and six employees. We’ve grown from doing 6 jobs a year to over 30.
In the early days we did almost everything. We would joke that we took on the pain-in-the-neck projects that scared other people. But as the company has grown, we’ve focused on what really living in a home means to people. We want to provide the types of spaces that are nurturing, aesthetically appealing, and highly functional while considering the financial and life circumstances of the client.
I’ve always been interested in the environment. Part of the reason I became a NARI Certified Green Professional is that I’m interested in how the building process affects people and the global environment. As a matter of course, my company incorporates green choices into the process. We automatically look for ways to reduce waste and opportunities to increase energy efficiency. Today, people are talking about their concerns with indoor air quality, mechanical systems, or radon. Green isn’t a trend—it’s a basic approach to quality construction with long-term value.
Because my partner and I had worked for larger organizations, we have always been very systems driven. Early on, we actually lost a few potential clients because they thought we were too big based on our clear process and business systems. Our robust and always-improving systems support our ability to deliver our standards and values
We incorporated technology early on. We use an online project management system available for clients and staff. It gives us the ability to put files, basic schedules, and messages in one central place accessible anywhere you have email or internet. So, if you’re in the field, you can use a cell phone to check in, verify the schedule, and send a message to the whole team or post pictures on the progress of the job. Right now we have 15 projects running and I don’t think we could do it without this system.
I also feel that I can’t stress strongly enough how valuable our NARI membership has been. It’s really improved our visibility and understanding of the industry. Going to meetings, being on the board, volunteering, and connecting with other members outside of meetings has really helped me to know more people, find vendors and craftspeople, and better serve our clients.
I think one of the biggest challenges in our industry since the bubble and collapse is the homeowners’ ability to obtain financing. Remodelers have to stay flexible, offer options, and build delays into the construction start lead-time to accommodate slow loan approval processes. It also seems that many suppliers are reducing inventory, which creates delays and makes clients frustrated having to wait for tile or special finishes.
Today’s economy is also prompting us to do more formal marketing to reach potential clients and not rely solely on word-of-mouth. This year, we will be doing more with social media and other marketing that encourages a personal connection—our best clients are the ones who have to come know us and our values.
Our company’s name, Bluestem, comes from a native prairie grass. It was used to build sod homes and it’s very beautiful when seen in large spans. It also has the neat capability to replenish, rebuild, and repair the soil. It has deep roots and the image fits what we are working towards—being connected and reparative to the community.
I’m a remodeler, not just for the client or financial gain. I have a responsibility to the community because when I touch a house, my work — the quality and aesthetics — will last for a period of time. It’s important to bear those things to mind if you want a business to grow for may years to come.
Timothy Ferraro, CR, GCP, is co-owner of Bluestem Construction which specializes in design, building and residential remodeling in the Twin Cities. His Web site is http://www.bluestemconstruction.com.
| 2/3/2014 12:00:00 AM