HighCraft Builders building solid reputation

Remodeling company growing quickly on customer satisfaction

FORT COLLINS — Though the residential building market in Northern Colorado has been hotter than a New Mexico chile the last decade, the home remodeling market has not experienced the same amount of sizzle. For many homeowners, it simply made more financial sense to buy new rather than redo.

But that seems to be changing, and one firm ready to grab the market by the horns is HighCraft Builders, a Fort Collins remodeling firm co-owned by Bryan Soth and Dwight Sailer. The company doubled its revenues from $541,000 in 2000 to $1.2 million in 2001. Projections for 2002 are between $1.8 million and $2 million.

Founded in 1998, HighCraft Builders has eked out a niche with a firm business plan in hand and a mission statement that covers just about everything, from treating each project as if “it were for one of our parents” to “using our heads as much as our backs.”

Both Sailer and Soth bring hands-on experience to their company. Sailer, who grew up in California, apprenticed with custom-home builders in the Carmel, Pebble Beach and Monterey area. When he was ready to strike out on his own as a general contractor, he figured Colorado would be a better location than overgrown — and overbuilt — California.

Soth, on the other hand, pursued his MBA at the University of St. Thomas at Minnesota. Out of economic necessity, he and his wife bought a fixer-upper as their residence and set about remodeling it. “It was too much fun,” he said of working with his hands. “I was doing something concrete.” It was so much fun that the couple bought, remodeled and sold another 10 fixer-uppers in the Minneapolis area.

Remodeling was also a lot more fun than working for a company that imported and distributed medical products, which is where he spent his days after graduation from business school. So he and his wife — for lifestyle reasons — decided to move to Colorado.

Partnership formed

And that’s where he and Sailer hooked up. Colleagues at a commercial construction firm, Soth and Sailer discovered they each preferred the residential remodeling market. Going into business with someone else went against everything Soth had learned in grad school. “They tell you don’t go into a partnership, the odds are against you, and that it’s more efficient to go out alone.”

Yet both had separate skill sets to bring to the table — Sailer has the construction know-how and Soth has the business savvy — and they felt the partnership would be a good one. Even with that, they recognized being compatible partners wasn’t enough. They needed to somehow set themselves apart from other remodelers in the area.

One way they achieved that was — instead of operating out of a truck or a home office — they set up shop in an office. First, it was an indistinguishable location off Harmony. Since January, they’ve been located in a red brick home-cum-office at the corner of Mulberry and Howes. They’re in the process of remodeling it, too.

It didn’t hurt, they said, when one of their remodeling jobs was just up the street on Mulberry and passers-by were treated to twice the amount of signage — one at the office, the other at the job site.

They’ve also built up their own work force — from three to 16 in a year’s time — and, thanks to a generous benefits packages, turnover is rare. Employees are expected to keep neat and clean appearances and to wear HighCraft shirts while on the job. It’s important, the co-owners said, that people who open their homes to workers for any amount of time feel comfortable having them in their house, tearing down walls or putting up new ones.

Growing beyond basement finishes (many of which include upscale home theaters and game rooms) was a difficult process, Soth said. “We got over certain hurdles, and it opened us up to do larger, more extensive projects.” That included whole-house remodeling projects and room additions. Soth and Sailer said they like to be involved in the design phase of the project as well as the actual construction.

Word-of-mouth advertising

Though they’ve tried print advertising, it’s home shows and word-of-mouth that has garnered them the most business. That’s how they picked up clients Don and Dierdre Cook of Loveland. The Cooks wanted to turn their ho-hum 1963 ranch sitting on Lake Loveland into into something that would aesthetically fit in with its surroundings

“When we put the project out to bid, a lot of contractors came to look but they never got back to us,´ said Dierdre Cook, principal at Centennial High School in Fort Collins. HighCraft Builders did get back to them and they got the job. “They redid the entire front of our house,” Cook said.

Cedar siding was replaced with stone and stucco and a front porch with pillars, reminiscent of Mission architecture, was installed. The company also converted a spare bedroom into a home office that opens into the family room and replaced all windows.

“Did our first impressions hold up? They certainly did. They came right in on budget. They are so organized and so precise. If there was any issue, they discuss it before they did anything and had options laid out,´ said Cook, adding, “We think the world of them.”

HighCraft Builders is striving to be the home remodeler of choice for high-end homeowners. That seems to be happening. A fair amount of work is coming out of the tony Ptarmigan subdivision west of Windsor, where homeowners are not only finishing their basements, but tweaking floor plans on the main levels as well.

In the meantime, the business is right about where it should be, the co-owners say. “We need to grow a little bit, but we want to be careful,” Soth said. In five years they hope to be “very well established in Fort Collins and more involved with larger upscale projects. We want to be one of the foremost high-end remodeling companies,´ said Soth.

And though the business has become such that Soth and Sailer don’t lift their hammers as much as they did in the beginning, both do maintain shops at their homes where they can do as much hands-on work as time allows. “It’s not something easily dismissed,” Sailer said. “We both love what we’re doing.”