A Little Bit of Everything

Dan Barry named to Professional Remodeler’s “Forty Under 40” list.

Every “overnight sensation” will tell you that it took years to achieve recognition, not one event. Dan Barry, of Design Build Inc. in Des Moines will tell you the same thing.

Yes, Design Build has only been officially in business for about a year. Yes, this was the first time Barry submitted paperwork for consideration for Professional Remodeler’s “Forty Under 40” list. And Barry is, as Professional Remodeler said, one of “the minds that will overcome the labor shortage and embrace the next generation of technology; who will take remodeling into an era of new professionalism and efficiency.”

But that’s the result of more than two decades in the construction field, not one successful year. “I’ve been on jobsites since I was 14,” Barry says. “And I worked for less than minimum wage and bought my own moped so I could work full-time over the summer. I’ve done manual labor on everything from demolition on jobsites to historic restoration, and I spent a lot of time learning just about every one of the trades over the years.”

As a teenager, Barry worked after school and during the summers on jobs for his father’s companies, Pacesetter Company, Inc., and First General Services. He says he learned how to work hard and, even more important, that working hard and taking initiative paid off. “I bought my first rental property at 21,” he says. “And now I own 13. That can be a full-time job at times.”

He also worked his way up in his father’s company, eventually becoming vice president and managing the day-to-day operations and supervising jobs that ranged from smaller restorations to multimillion-dollar construction projects. Several years ago, when his father was ready to retire from those businesses, Barry opted to go out on his own.

“I started doing my own thing three years ago. I did smaller construction and renovation projects, managed my rental business, and kept up my license as an all-lines insurance adjuster,” he explains. He had worked for several years as an adjuster in his early 20s and continues to keep up with licensing and training.

But Barry says that his knowledge of both the system and the software has primarily been applied to the actual restoration projects. “Actually, it was a big fire-restoration job that made me realize I needed to formalize my business structure,” he says. “So even though the concept for Design Build Inc. had been floating around in my head for a while, it wasn’t until last June that I officially set up the business.”

In the remaining months of 2017, Design Build did half a million dollars of business on projects ranging from small-budget remodels and renovations to major restoration jobs.

“I’ve always had several things going at once, and that helped get me through slower times in the market,” Barry says. “I do real estate, insurance adjusting, fire restoration, rental properties, historic restoration, site-plan design, commercial construction. I don’t have a niche, but I think that bodes well for me to be able to acquire projects. If I only did kitchen remodels, sure, I could specialize in that. I’ve done extravagant kitchen remodels, but I can do more. I can do an addition on your house. I can build a strip mall. I can do a historic restoration using national and state historic restoration tax credit requirements. There’s a huge variety of things I have experience in.”

One project that’s garnered him some attention has also been a highlight for Barry. “We’re just finishing up a house-move project for Drake University and the church at 19th and Crocker Street, where we moved two houses from 26th Street down to lots northeast of the church in the Sherman Hill area, the Kathedral,” he says.

Although Barry won’t be involved in the interior renovation work, he was eager to head up the move and be a part of the process. His background with design, construction, and renovation made him ideal to organize the details. And the experience gave him the opportunity to interact with the movers themselves and learn from Billy Bell Housemoving, which has been lifting and moving houses for 25 years and served as one of dozens of subcontractors on the move.

In a way, that project is a reflection of Barry’s business philosophy.

“It was rewarding to be part of something like that. We recycled 175 tons of what would have been debris in a landfill. Those homes, ultimately, will serve the community in some way as a result of what the Kathedral is doing. I’ve been working on projects in the construction field my whole life, and you just learn how to do things. You trouble-shoot, you study the literature that’s available, and you work through it. I don’t understand why people think they can’t do or can’t learn something—you can learn whatever you need to do.”

Through its Forty Under 40 award, the staff at Professional Remodeler “recognizes a handful of young, promising industry professionals, who represent the industry both as it is and as it will soon be.” Dan Barry and Design Build Inc. fit that bill because Barry understands that to grow a business, you have to be willing to learn and to change. You have to be willing to risk trying something new.

He told Professional Remodeler, “Some of the best advice I received was from my dad. He taught me that the most important thing is to make a decision. Not making a decision is worse than making a wrong decision. Even if you make the wrong decision, at least you can learn from it.”

One of the things Barry loves about his work is the opportunity to do just that. “I love helping people. It feels good to know these things.”

Design Build Inc.

1727 Grand Avenue, Des Moines

The Design Build Inc. offices are a testament to owner Dan Barry’s design philosophy. Located on Grand Avenue, at the intersection where Grand, Fleur, and Locust flow together next to Des Moines Schools’ Central Campus, the office has a fantastic view of the daily activity in the metro.

“I’ve been in this location about 2½ years, and I love it,” he says. “I love that I’m right on the street and can see people driving and walking by all the time. I don’t like being set apart from the activity like I would be in a high-rise office or something.”

Barry did much of the interior work himself, restoring the original brick walls, exposing the original trusses, and incorporating repurposed and salvaged materials throughout.

“It’s important to respect the history of a building,” he says. “And reusing materials in new ways is a way to do that, to respect the past and make it new at the same time.”