Fresh out of Penn State, the ink hardly dry on his civil engineering degree, Michael Burkentine started preaching the gospel of the Apple iPad to his home builder father.
The device could make the company’s operations more efficient and giving one to every home buyer would energize sales, Michael, 23, told his father, Paul Burkentine, who founded Burkentine & Sons in Hanover, Penn., the year Michael was born.
Paul, who had given his own iPad to Michael because he only used it for e-mail, was somewhat resistant, Michael says. So he used his own money to buy the first iPad for a customer after they signed a construction contract.
“He didn’t know that it would work,” Michael Burkentine said of his father’s reaction. “But it created quite a stir in the marketplace. We have a lot of customers coming into the store to see [the promotion.] It opened my dad’s eyes.”
“We were already giving a lot to our customers,” said Paul Burkentine, explaining his initial reluctance. “We do a lot of things above and beyond what other builders do. I felt like we already had an edge, then to add an iPad, geez that’s more money.”
Then he started noting buyers’ reactions and changed his mind. “It helps seal the deals,” he said, adding that it impresses all ages of buyers, from young customers to a recent buyer who is 80-something. He got further validation that the idea is a good one when a large national home builder, who was buying land from Burkentine came into the office and saw the small sign advertising the free iPad with a home purchase.
“These guys were national guys and they said, ‘Wow, that is a pretty good idea,’” Burkentine recalled.
Three Burkentine home buyers now have iPads that were given to them when they signed a contract for a new home.
“They are fully loaded with all kinds of stuff,” said Michael. “Customers are able to walk through the house [plan they chose] in a three-dimensional setting. Every piece of paper [in the buying process] goes on the iPad—the contracts, the documents, the addendums, and change orders.”
One of the first things home buyers do is use their iPad to select appliances, colors, and products, and design their kitchens at home before they go to the color selection meeting.
As the homes are built, buyers can see pictures of the progress on their house’s Facebook page, which they can share with family and friends. And, after they move in, the iPad reminds them to do maintenance, sending reminders for things such as air filter and smoke detector battery replacements automatically.
Michael is in the process of rolling out iPads to the company’s field employees now, something he says he did as a college intern for Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, a civil contractor. “I have that down to a science,” he said. “It’s just a matter of implementing it.”
Burkentine & Sons has been building between 20 and 30 homes for customers a year. To supplement business during the downturn, Paul said he has been building townhomes and renting them out. But now that more buyers are showing up, the built-to-sell portion of the business is growing again.
The successful iPad integration into Burkentine & Sons has shown Paul, 48, how quickly the right young employees can add value to an organization.
“You think you are hiring someone right out of college and you are going to have to wait for them to offer something to your business,” he said. “This shows how it does wonders to have young people in your business. It’s awesome; they bring a lot to the table.”
There are more young Burkentine's destined for the family business. Paul has a set of twins who have just started at Penn State, also pursuing engineering degrees. One built a spec house last summer and the other will build one this coming summer.
So the business that he added “& Sons” to the name of after the birth of the twins 20 years ago this month is finally starting to live up to its name.
“Back then people assumed that I was the son,” laughed Burkentine. “The point it made was that we had a family business and people liked that.”
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder.