News from Northern Design Services, Inc.
Steady Biz with Design-Build
(October 2006 - Used with permission
from Building Systems Magazine)
Home building has not just slowed down
in central Wisconsin—it's come to a screeching
halt. Builder Dale Blank has heard there are as many
as 1,200 spec homes on the market with nary a buyer
in sight in places as Appleton.
"There are some cities that are
putting a moratorium on spec homes. They don't want
all those homes in their communities sitting dark," says
Blank, owner of Northern Design Services (Hazelhurst,
WI), which uses panelization to construct homes quickly
"Fortunately this area is a tourist attraction,
so our business has remained pretty steady. We've had a pretty
slow summer, but that's happened last year. People spend
the summer having fun, then when fall hits they start getting
serious about building," says Blank, who is juggling a half-dozen
Competition Coming North
Blank admits that central Wisconsin builders
are starting to come north, hungry for some of that tourist
work. For proof, Blank need only look outside the window
of his new office and model home center—another builder is
constructing a house on the other side of the road.
"I wen and talked to the homeowner, and
the builder they are using comes from three hours away. They
had used him before and apparently they felt comfortable
with him. Sub are local, of course. But there's no doubt
there are a lot of builders headed this way, stealing work
away from some of the locals in this area. Some are using
modular construction and panelization—Wausau Homes
is big up here and practically invented panel buildings," says
Blank, who uses Riverstone as his panel supplier. "We've
also seen a big log building go up where they've brought
a crew in from Canada to build it."
But Blank's business has remained steady thanks
to offering both design and construction. As a design-build
firm, he will turnkey four homes this year while providing
design services to another 20 custom projects for other builders.
"I did design services on the side up until
six years ago, when I decided to work full time. And it's
worked out pretty well. A lot of builders need that custom
design to win over clients. Plus, that's how we get a lot
of our jobs when dealing with clients directly. We'll do
the design and bid on it—and get it."
With an increase in energy prices, Blank thinks
the time is right to add structural insulated panels to his
product mix. "Five or six years ago, I tried it and
the demand wasn't there, since the price was too high. But
today the price has come down and energy costs are way up.
I think it will sell, so I've been talking with R-Control."
Get Yourself A Web Site
Despite being a small-volume builder, Blank
advises builders and designers to invest in a web site. It's
proven to be a solid investment for his company (http://www.northern-design.com).
"I get a lot of inquiries from it and quite a few clients
find me through it," says Blank. "I'm going to
make the site even better. I've got some great homes to feature
on it. We're small now but we're growing."