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Caleb Williams is a North Carolina builder who’s worked in both residential and commercial construction. He talked with Zach and Beth about the biggest challenges builders are facing in the industry and a few possible solutions that support the future of construction.
What Builders Are Dealing With Today
We were thrilled to welcome Caleb Williams of True Craft Builders to the show. As a generational builder, he’s spent quite a bit of time in different parts of the building industry. His father started the company about two decades ago, and Caleb worked alongside him for years before stepping in as president.
“I took over running the company about 10 years ago, and we're still here today,” says Caleb, “My dad put the foundation in for where our company is, and I have five brothers that work with me, and we're a family-owned business.”
True Craft Builders started out working on residential projects, but gradually picked up more commercial clients in the area. “And so we've actually found a niche where we do a little bit of both. A lot of our residential clientele are previous customers that we've done commercial upfit for or a commercial building,” says Caleb.
True Craft’s location and the building firm’s focus on lasting relationships have paid off. “With Lowe's being in our hometown here, it was a natural fit,” Caleb explains. “About seven years ago, we did an upfit for one of [Lowe’s] advertisement companies … We got our foot in the door with just a small project, and we haven't left.”
Like most of us in the building industry, the success of True Craft hasn’t been the smoothest ride, and in the last several years, the firm has worked hard to maintain its growth.
“It is so challenging to be a contractor today,” says Caleb. “It seems like it's almost a daily occurrence to get an email or get a call saying, ‘Hey, your steel didn't arrive, or [the] product that you ordered 12 week weeks ago. There's a delay because of shipping.’”
However, there’s been a surge of growth in new projects in the industry, too — some of the country’s biggest commercial construction projects (with price tags in the billions) are set to launch this year, according to industry news.
“And so when you look at that, it's really hard to judge where we're going with this and when the pullback will be,” he says, “because we always know that there'll be a slowdown at some point, but it even has made it more challenging because of the demand for materials [and] the demand for labor.”
So how can builders prepare for a more stable future with all the shifts going on? Caleb gave us a few ideas that have worked for True Craft Builders.
Strategies for Building a More Solid Future
Builders are busier than ever today, but Caleb points out that it’s crucial to slow down and reflect when it comes to financial decisions.
“We've always tried to operate on a cash basis where we've never over-obligated ourselves,” says Caleb. “I've seen it in 2007 [and] 2008 where companies would go out there and start developments. They would start 10 houses and really get themselves upside down.” This more prudent approach allowed for True Craft to grow in a more sustainable way.
“As a business owner, you want to see the growth, and you want to hire more employees. And so there is definitely a balancing act of watching the market, knowing where the market is today,” explains Caleb.
Part of what keeps Caleb and the team at True Craft informed about the market is the partnerships they’ve formed with big brands like Lowe’s, and other professionals in the industry. “One of the benefits that I feel that we've had that's really huge in the industry [is that] we've been able to work with some of the architects,” says Caleb.
“A lot of the projects we're doing, if you're starting a project today, a large commercial project, you know it's going to take you — so six to eight months to design and permitting, and so you're planning months and years in advance,” he says. The same concept can be applied to residential projects, as well.
“So when you're planning ahead, and you've got a project starting, you're really starting to look at indicators way down the road,” says Caleb.
Many of us are hedging our bets when it comes to planning ahead, and many contractors and builders have bought up product[s] in order to prepare. “Contractors are buying more today than they have ever bought before because there's such a shortage of houses,” says Caleb, “And I think if you're not planning ahead today for a year from now, materials and things like that, you're getting behind.”
But Caleb points out that one of the best ways to guarantee the future of the industry is through recruitment. “And the problems we're seeing today, there's such a shortage [of labor],” he says. “You're going to pay a premium in wages to get those people, and you want people to be happy. So I think the key thing, when you find them, [is that] you’ve got to pay them to keep them, offer them benefits so that they will stay and create a work environment that they love to be in.”
But finding workers has been an issue for decades now, partly because of false assumptions about the potential that’s available in construction. “Society has created this mindset that you need to go to college to make a lot of money or to make a good living — to be successful,” says Caleb.
Most tradespeople, however, can make more than $60,000 a year. “And business owners, you can have just a van, a work van and two guys helping you, and you could be making upwards of $120,000, $150,000 a year,” says Caleb. “There [are] other alternatives out there to make a good living.”
Want Even More Insight?
Today’s building industry might seem completely unpredictable, but builders like Caleb and the team at True Craft have found ways to guarantee a brighter future.
“I think we're starting to see the mindset change a little bit about construction, the construction industry, but we definitely have a long way to go,” he says. And manufacturers can help guarantee that future by working more closely with builders and contractors.
“I would say get out on the field and talk with the contractors,” Caleb says. “I think that's a great mindset. Get out and talk to the builders. Get out on the sites and see what (if anything) needs to be changed, what you're doing wrong and also what you're doing right.”
Listen to the full episode for more insights into today’s construction landscape.