The last few years saw Brevard’s residential real estate market suffer through one of its worst downturns in decades. During this period, many homebuilders – constructing everything from value-priced starter homes to high-end luxury estates – have kept low profiles, conserving their marketing budgets and resting on their previous laurels and reputations.
But now, as confidence in the housing market begins its ascent, Chris Burton, the 36-year-old entrepreneur and owner of Christopher Burton Luxury Homes, is reaping the benefits of the business strategies he and his team employed during these dire times to become healthier, gain market share and be better positioned for continued growth.
While many homebuilders that dodged the bankruptcy bullet are just now beginning to collect the pieces, retool and re-strategize for the coming years, Christopher Burton Luxury Homes turned a negative economy into a positive opportunity – charging on an unwavering path grounded in best business practices and improvements that seem less like carefully calculated business maneuvers and more like intrinsic beliefs in hard work and rising to meet high expectations and challenges.
Taking the Road Less Traveled
When the housing crash hit, many businesses ‘remade’ themselves, changed or redefined their product offerings; instead, Burton Homes became more committed to their values and the time-tested fundamentals of successfully building a strong company.
The idea of restructuring business practices in an effort to compete on price alone and sign more contracts was never an option for Burton, who values fairness and quality construction in regard to materials, sub-contractors and engineering above all. Instead of changing their core values for doing business, Burton and his team’s focus remained on building premium-quality homes to ensure long-term confidence among existing and potential buyers.
“While we may build fewer and some smaller homes, we will never build cheap houses. We will always be a premium quality builder,” Christopher Burton, president and owner, says. “Our relationships with our subcontractors, clients, and employees are meant to last a lifetime, so we build homes consistent with those values.”
Some Things Aren’t Optional
Although the decline in the housing market forced Burton to tighten overhead and develop more effective building strategies, the builder rejected the idea of turning specialized employees into jacks-of-all-trades, required to take on additional responsibilities as a result of downsizing. Burton’s staff presently consists of eight full-time employees, ranging in specialty from client services, to designers to superintendents.
“The functions to building a house haven’t changed,” Burton explains. “We’ve retained and hired highly-skilled individuals who are great at their specialized tasks. I’ve surrounded myself with loyal people, who possess exceptional skills and are passionate about the vision for our company. That’s how you ensure the team will always get better.”
The company used the real estate slowdown as an opportunity to streamline processes and implement new systems to improve client satisfaction and reduce build times. Examples of these improvements include the addition of a Director of Client Services and a contracted agreement with a design studio in Orlando to facilitate new home design options.
Hard Times Call For Hard Work
At the height of the boom, Burton estimates that his company was constructing over 40 residential homes per year ranging in price from $350 thousand to over a million dollars, and roughly six to eight commercial projects per year through Burton Commercial Development.
“Although it would be nice to still be building at that level, that’s not the reality of today,” Burton, who founded the company in 1998 at the age of 24, says. That, however, doesn’t mean the team behind Christopher Burton Homes hasn’t increased their efforts.
Burton works everyday, including long hours on weekends, evenings and days in between. Instead of hiding behind the negative press, the Burton team decided to take the bull by the horns and try to find people who want to build houses. One of the biggest things they learned is to stay positive, be consistent and work hard.
“There are more houses being sold than we can build,” Burton adds. “We just want to help those clients looking to build their dream home more affordably then they ever imagined.”
Progressive Marketing Efforts
Defying industry trends, Tom Davis, vice president and director of business development and residential sales for Christopher Burton Homes, helped the company to develop new media and marketing strategies as a way to stay relevant and reach potential clients, even during months when new home construction was virtually at a standstill. They knew it was important to consistently deliver and reinforce the message of a stable and secure company, grounded in family-first principles.
“Many of our marketing plans and strategies are time proven and employed by successful companies across the board and in other industries,” says Davis, who joined the Burton team in 2007 with over 30 years of building, real estate and marketing experience. “The big difference in what we have done over the past several years is that we have continued to invest in our future by getting the message out and remaining viable and visible to the public.”
Christopher Burton Homes anchored its marketing efforts in print campaigns, establishing its brand as a company that loves to build homes and make people happy. Its advertisements also delivered the message that although Christopher Burton Luxury Homes is a high-end builder their homes are affordable and available in many price ranges.
At a time when marketing dollars are stretched thin over various media platforms, Burton and Davis believed in the influence and sustainability of print to garner more attention and outperform other media in driving positive shifts in purchase consideration.
Complementing its print campaigns, the company redesigned BurtonHomes.com as an interactive website replete with photo galleries, blog, and forum posts. The company is also developing a newsletter; has launched Facebook and Twitter pages; and has hosted creative contests, such as the giveaway of an Apple iPad to visitors who stopped by and registered at the Burton Showplace Home located in Wyndam at Duran in Viera in March 2010, resulting in one of their most successful Parade of Homes events.
Burton Homes took bold steps to not only maintain a public presence, but to gain a market share through strategic marketing, improved web presence and the roll-out of new and contemporary designs.
Today, Tomorrow and Beyond
While residential construction is the flagship of Christopher Burton Luxury Homes, projects through Burton Commercial Development have allowed the company to sustain a significant commercial presence, as well.
Moving forward, diversification is high amongst the company’s priorities. In March of this year, the company launched Burton Home Services, an ancillary company dedicated to helping local homeowners with their home maintenance and repair needs. This branch will specialize in smaller remodeling products, such as kitchen and bath makeovers, services not previously offered by Burton.
The company also is fine tuning their “green” practices this year by becoming a member of the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC), and recently designed two new series of homes, The Fairway Collection and Storybook Villas.
While the national real estate landscape may take years to thrive once again, statistics indicate that as the economy improves, consumer confidence will continue on an upward climb, especially in Florida and other southern states. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the homebuyer tax credit began showing an impact in March as existing single-family home sales rose 7.3 percent, a 16.6 percent increase over the sales pace of the prior year. And although few of today’s new homebuyers are likely purchasers of custom-designed Burton Homes, the company, which closed 12 construction deals in 2009 and is on pace to outperform those numbers in 2010, is looking forward to the future.
Says Davis, “As the availability of mortgage money increases and the economy stabilizes there will be more and more people who will dust off their dream of building a new home and Christopher Burton Homes will be here to exceed their expectations.” Chris Burton would not have it any other way.