For more than 30 years, Stylecraft Builders has been the prototypical family-owned home builder. After selling his child care centers in 1982, Randy French began building in his hometown of Bryan/College Station, Texas. Over time, he took the firm from four closings a year to more than 300.
In 2013, Randy's son, Doug, began to take the management reins in the company with the full support of his father. For the most part, it was business as usual. In fact, on the surface, things were great as Stylecraft continued to grow. But as the company ventured out of Bryan/College Station, the younger French noticed problems.
"A lot of companies are built for growth," French says. "We were not. We just organically grew. We were building a couple hundred homes in Bryan College Station, and we entered another market and another market and all of a sudden we woke up one day and said, ‘My goodness, we need to redo all of our scopes. We need to redo all of our specifications.'"
The problem Stylecraft encountered was fairly common—the builder was outgrowing its platform. So French revamped his construction process and management team as he continued to pick up land. That, along with a surging Texas economy, set the stage for a huge 2014, when it increased closings 190.54% percent—giving it one of the largest increases of any company on the latest BUILDER 100 list.
Stylecraft's biggest logjam was its pre-construction department. French says, at one point, it could build jobs faster than it could get them out of pre-construction. So, he tabbed the department's head, Emily Runnion, to lead the effort to revamp the company's construction process. The builder established an even-flow process where it released 10 projects a week instead of just opening them in response to surges in sales. "We can get more jobs out now than we can build," French says. "Once that started to happen, then we had this growth."
In addition to revamping Stylecraft's construction process, French also added a new layer of middle management. "We used to have a vice president of operations," French says. "Superintendents would report to that VP of operations. Now we have a VP of operations and area construction managers and superintendents."
Now French, who is only 31 himself, has a young, dynamic leadership that is largely made up of executives under 40. "I think it brings an energy and a new way of looking at things," he says. "They've basically revamped our whole entire company."
Stylecraft also found creative ways to collect land, whether it was buying undeveloped lots from individual owners who bought at the top of the previous cycle or following friendly developers to new areas in Texas. Stylecraft moved into a number of new Texas markets, including Killeen, Conroe, and Waco.
"These markets are C or D," he says. "You won't go in there and build 100 homes a year, but you might go in there and build 30 or 40. You do that three or four times in three or four different markets, it starts to add up."
And in 2014, it added up in a big way.