Semmes & Co. Builders, Atascadero, Calif.
Type of business: custom builder/remodeler
Years in business: 29
Employees: 23
2006 volume: $3.5 million
2006 starts: 7

CH_07_07JulyAug1_106_CH-1Turko Semmes grew up in a large, close-knit family outside Washington, D.C. Now the San Luis Obispo, Calif., builder has his own wife, BJ, and two sons, as well as another set of people he treats like family: his employees. “I like the idea of keeping people together,” he says.

With BJ's help, he's devised a set of benefits designed to make staffers want to stay with his company long-term. In addition to standard health insurance, he offers dental and chiropractor insurance. “It's great for the guys who are constantly lifting,” he says of the latter. “And it's a fairly inexpensive rider cost for me on the medical plan.” He looks out for employees' financial health, too: Semmes & Co. recently started a 401(k) program with an end-of-the-year profit-sharing incentive. “We're modeling ourselves on South Mountain,” Semmes says, referring to the Martha's Vineyard, Mass., building company known for its innovative practices (see “Collective Wisdom,” CUSTOM HOME, January/February 2002, page 67). “We're thinking about maybe going to employee ownership, if there's interest.”

Educational opportunities abound at the company. Semmes has long been committed to green building, and he and his senior staff often conduct daylong straw bale workshops for employees, clients, and the public. Catered meals turn these 30- to 50-person workshops into social, morale-building events. Smaller, company-only workshops held on jobsites cover carpentry-related topics. And Semmes tries to send veterans and neophytes to trade conventions together, fostering a mentoring relationship. “We've encouraged our experienced people to train the next generation. We tell them to take the time to educate,” he says. His overall strategy of offering unique perks and benefits has paid off. Many of his 23 employees have worked at Semmes & Co. for five to 10 years, and one project manager has been there 26 years and counting.