Each month, Majestic Kitchen & Bath Creations will feature a profile on an area leader in the residential building industry. This article highlights Craig Stevens, Owner and President of Stevens Fine Homes.
By the time Craig Stevens went to college, he already had the hands-on experience necessary to be a successful builder down pat.
Growing up the son and grandson of builders in Raleigh, he was sweeping job sites as young as 5 years old and moving as much sheetrock as his “scrawny little arms could carry.”
Knowing he wanted to follow in their footsteps – and already armed with on-the-job learning – he decided to spend his college career honing his business skills.
That balance of academic and applied acumen helped Stevens go on to create a successful local company that has not only weathered the downturns but has also thrived and grown, as well.
How did you get started in the local building industry?
I moved to Wilmington after going to N.C. State University, and I moved here because I loved the quality of life. My family had a vacation house at Wrightsville Beach and we would spend the summers here.
I really didn't know anybody in the business here. In ’92, I started selling homes for Bill Saffo. His dad, Doky Saffo, was a big developer in the area. After a couple of years of selling houses, they said, “Your dad and granddad are builders. What are you doing selling? We need a builder out there.”
So, after growing up in the business, I got my contractor's license and started Stevens Fine Homes in 1993.
What about the industry made you want to continue to progress?
People really think of building those monster custom homes as the artistic part but, for me, the artistic part was building the actual company that built the houses. I really enjoyed building a good group of people and putting processes and procedures in place, such that the company actually did everything and built the houses. So, that, to me, has been exciting and kind of gets me motivated artistically – to just see how good we can make the company. And the better you can make a company, the better the houses are going to be.
What is one important lesson you learned along the way?
Like so many people, we really got excited about doing a lot of volume and built a lot of houses. And we were doing a great job with them but a few years ago, we did a complete 180 and decided on the volume to achieve on a year-to-year basis through the good and the bad, not just the boom times, since this industry is so cyclical.
We came up with a number of about 150 houses a year that we can build, give or take 50. That way, I can set up a company for 150 and have it scalable, so I can make slight adjustments and do 200 and make slight adjustments and do 100, instead of trying to do 300 a year in a boom, then drop down to 100 and have to completely restructure the whole company.
We start no less than three a week and no more than four and we have an even flow of starts and an even flow of monitoring construction. By doing that, we're not pushing our labor too much to the point that they can't do quality. We always had a quality house and an outstanding warranty, but since we did that, it put us over the top, as far as just the ease of production.
What advice would you give those just starting out in the industry?
Get all the knowledge you can before you start out on your own. Learn as much as you can. I would suggest working for somebody else and learning on somebody else's dollar. Work for somebody who really knows what they're doing and who has high morals and ethics and learn how to do it right. That way, you're not going to make the mistakes that you would by just jumping in on your own.
There are so many different aspects to the industry. A framer may know how to build a great house structurally but it's just not functional to the family of today. Or, I see this more than anything else – they build an amazing house, but they put so much in it that it's too expensive for anybody to buy. You see the realtor going into the business who doesn’t know structurally how to build the house. And you see the banker or the lawyer go into the business that might know the business aspect and they may know how to sell a house, but they don't know how to build it.
There are so many different avenues, so if you go into business with a very expansive knowledge base of one aspect of the business but don't realize how important all the other aspects are, it's a recipe for failure.
What advice would you give fellow CEOs/leaders?
Beware of the downturns. When it’s good, things will get bad again. And when it’s bad, hang in there; it’s going to get better.
For a quarter century, Majestic has offered a wide selection of products for homebuilders, from counter tops, shower enclosures, shelving, door hardware and accessories for kitchens and bathrooms,
in North and South Carolina. Acquisitions just within the last year of many well-established companies – including Builders Glass & Hardware Inc. in Wilmington and similar businesses in Greensboro and Charlotte – allow Majestic to be the most professional trade partner. Visit www.gomajestic.com or call (910) 762-2252 for more information.