Lifelong friendship turns into successful business.
“Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans,” according to John Lennon.
That could also be the short version of the K&V Homes story.
This year Colin King and Dean Vogel, the owners, celebrate 20 years in business, something they probably would not have predicted when they were doing residential contracting together after college.
“We worked for the same employer for a few years before going out on our own,” says King. “We both had other ideas about what we were going to do career-wise, but we decided we liked what we were doing and we might as well be doing it for ourselves.” King says they started with predominantly semi-custom homes and spec homes, doing all their own framing as well as framing for other builders.
“The plan wasn’t really to jump right into custom homes,” says Vogel. “As it turned out, though, our second project was a custom home, which is kind of weird thinking back on it now. We weren’t really planning to focus on custom right away, but that second project was a good introduction to custom building.”
“We never anticipated where we’d be in 20 years. It’s not something you think about at that age. But this business has allowed us to build good lives,” King says.
Vogel agrees. “We didn’t have a step-by-step plan when we started. We were building a business. But as we grew, we started fine-tuning our focus.”
King and Vogel were able to expand steadily during those early years, in part because of their financial caution. They built about half a dozen spec homes each year, gradually transitioning to predominantly custom-home building as the opportunities arose.
“Ironically, it was the downturn that led us to focus on custom,” says King.
“Our last spec house was in 2008,” Vogel adds. “During the downturn, because we weren’t carrying that debt, we did something that a lot of builders couldn’t. We pivoted our business from strictly new construction to become a remodeler and custom-home builder. We found that market fit our personalities and the way we run our business.”
As most builders know, success in this business is just as much the result of relationships as skill. In those early years as a company, K&V employed as many as a dozen or more on framing crews. But as the company grew, King and Vogel found themselves spread a bit thin as they tried to lead frame crews and act as project managers as well.
“We wanted to focus on the home building side, so our lead employees gradually bought out the framing side of the business,” explains King. “They still frame for us.”
Maybe it helps that the framing subcontractor is Vogel’s brother. But that’s just one more example of K&V’s personal approach to success.
“Yes, he’s my brother, but I treat him the same way I always did,” Vogel jokes. “I’m hiring him to do his work, and he does good work. That’s why we still work with them after 20 years.”
The framers aren’t the only subs K&V has had such a long-term relationship with. “Our families are part of this, too,” says Vogel. “Both of our wives are involved, doing book work, social media, marketing. But even our subcontractors are like family. Some we’ve worked with for the whole 20 years.”
King adds, “When we find a company that does good work and values that work like we do, we stick with them, and they return that loyalty. It’s a group effort.”
“A few years into the business, we realized that with the right partners, it isn’t necessary to have a big staff,” explains Vogel. “Sometimes that surprises a client, but we explain that this is a complicated thing that we’re doing and that reducing the lines of communication to just us and the homeowner simplifies things somewhat.”
That goes along with another element K&V has always emphasized with clients—relationship is a key part of the home-building process.
“You have to have that rapport,” King explains. “It’s not just the building process; it’s a total process. From that first conversation, when we’re just meeting, to the day they move in, it can be a year or more. You end up building long-term relationships, not just building homes.”
And it’s those relationships and K&V’s foresight that helped the company weather the downturn in 2008.
“The mind-set of most home buyers in the early 2000s was to buy, then move up in five years,” Vogel explains. “But when the downturn happened, instead of moving up, a lot of our former clients decided to stay in their homes and make some changes there instead.”
Because of the good relationships they’d built, K&V was able to continue working with those homeowners. And expanding the remodeling side of the business helped the company do more than weather the downturn. It gave K&V another opportunity to grow.
“The potential for growth is always out there,” says King. “We look at those opportunities as they come up, like we did with the expansion into remodeling. Right now we’re at a good level. We have a good workload, divided pretty evenly between remodels and new construction. And we like being able to manage the jobs personally.”
Vogel agrees. “We still don’t really talk about specifics when it comes to a long-term plan. We want to keep growing and doing what we’re doing—our past business practices, our years of experience, our ability to adjust to the economic situation in front of us—that all makes it possible for us to adapt to opportunities as they arise and grow strategically.”
King says, “We want to grow in a way that allows us to keep working the way we do. This business is who we are.”
King and Vogel are right. K&V Homes IS who they are—two friends who come to work every day loving what they do and determined to do it well.
Maybe John Lennon didn’t have it quite right. Colin King and Dean Vogel have built pretty good lives, just the way they planned.
Words to the Wise
In light of the emphasis on the next generation of skilled tradesmen, we asked King and Vogel, who both have four-year degrees, to share some advice for young people considering this business.
- “Whether you go to college or you start working right away, you have to apply yourself. That’s where the opportunities come from.”
- “A lot of the things you learn in school are more theory and not what you do every day as a business owner. You have to learn by doing it.”
- “There are a lot of people who aren’t wired for school, and there are a lot of factors that play into your success, too. It’s about good decision-making and applying yourself.”
- “College for me was more than just the degree. It was about the exposure to other learning, how to interact with people, how to grow up. That path worked for me.”
- “One thing my degree taught me was not to overextend ourselves financially. If we’d been willing to go into debt, maybe we’d have grown a little faster but not survived the downturn. We’ve always taken a more fiscally conservative approach.”
- “You have to love what you do. If you love it, you’ll be willing to work. And that’s where the success comes from.”
- “You don’t go into anything looking for the fast buck. That’s a sure path to disappointment. There’s a good living to be made in this business. But you have to work for it.”