Sometimes geography provides the best niche of all. For years, Lance Johnson had wanted to build single-family homes, and when he moved to Northwest Arkansas, he decided to do just that. It proved the perfect choice. “I had no concept of how much we were in the right place at the right time, because of what Wal-Mart has done in the past 10 years,” says Johnson, president of Lance Johnson Building Co. in Rogers, Ark.

What Wal-Mart has done is expand tremendously—and required its suppliers to do the same, especially in the area surrounding Bentonville, Ark., where the discount retailer is based. It has benefited small builders like Johnson, whose 40 closings and $9 million in revenue for 2003 make him a good-size builder for the area. “We sell a lot of homes to Wal-Mart employees, but as Wal-Mart grows, they are requiring all the vendors who do business with them to have a local office,” says Johnson, who notes that new subdivisions get dubbed “Vendorville” because of the obvious connection between the new residents and Wal-Mart.

Despite the absence of national builders, Northwest Arkansas remains a competitive market. “Everyone's a home builder,” Johnson says, and “everybody's who's not a home builder is a developer.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Fayetteville, AR.