Ashland Custom Homes
Real homes for real families
Business View Magazine interviews Howie Webb, Co-owner of Ashland Custom Homes, for our focus on the U.S. Home Building Industry
When Ashland Custom Homes’ founder Howie Webb took a chance in 2003 and started building custom homes, it was a self-described leap of faith. A few years later, long-time friend Ed Riesmeyer bought into the company, creating a successful partnership that continues to thrive. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ashland Custom Homes puts their focus on quality custom homes filled with character and vision. Real homes for real families.
The company is named after Webb’s hometown, as he shares, “I’m from the small town of Ashland, Ohio. The name has an association of home for me, and feels like small-town USA. We strive to bring that to our corporate culture, in the way we treat people and the way we operate. When I was choosing a name, the word CUSTOM was also important to me. I wanted each project to be unique and personal.”
Just as Ashland, Ohio is a small town, Ashland Custom Homes is a small company. With just Webb, Riesmeyer, and one other full-time employee, Webb feels their smaller size is a benefit. He explains, “We’ve had opportunities to get bigger, but we like the nimbleness and intimacy that a small operation affords us. We think that gives us a competitive advantage.”
Being part of the design phase of a project is one way in which Ashland Custom Homes offers a unique personal experience to their customers. “We are prepared to meet people wherever they are in the process,” says Webb. “Most customers don’t have their own plans, so often times our first step is to guide them through a design phase of a design-build process. I am surprised more people don’t do it this way, because it’s really helpful to have your builder involved. You’d be surprised how many people go into the process with a specific budget in mind, saying to an architect or designer, ‘design me something beautiful’, and then they get a price tag at the end that is double their intended budget. That generally happens because they didn’t have a builder involved in the design phase to keep them tethered to their budget. Most architects don’t provide that kind of detailed pricing information as they go along. They want the product to be beautiful, and they’ll generally do whatever the customer asks for. We are there to help keep everyone focused on the same objectives during the design phase, including budget.”
With current homebuilding trends incorporating smart home technology, Ashland works with an outside company to keep up with the ever-changing options. Webb recounts, “It’s funny, 10 years ago, we would prewire for speakers and security systems in every home. Now everything is proprietary and most of it is wireless and centrally controlled from your phone or your iPad. The technology changes so quickly, and with us only building a couple houses a year, it is difficult just to keep up with the newest innovations. So we rely on our subcontractors to keep up with the trends and supply our customers with the right products for their specific needs.”
He adds, “We basically make an introduction and then get out of the way to let them design the right system for each customer. They exchange ideas directly, and they communicate on price directly. It’s important for us to understand where we add value to the process. On things like this, our value is in finding reliable partners for our customers to work with, and then facilitating communication between the parties.” Other current trends include outdoor living, cooking areas, and pools. The home office has also become popular, as more people are working remotely. Ashland Custom Homes will work with their customers on green initiatives as well, such as solar panels, insulation, and increased HVAC efficiency.
Currently, Ashland Custom Homes is working in the new development of Stevens Grove in Matthews, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte. Over the past four years they have built 14 unique custom homes in this community, but this isn’t always the way the company operates. Webb notes, “Outside of this neighborhood experience, it has been a mix of us finding the lots and marketing them and/or building on them, or people coming to us with their own lot. With Charlotte’s current housing market, there is also a fair amount of tear-down projects, where people buy an old house that’s on a beautiful lot, tear down the house and build a new home on it. Good lots are very hard to come by.”
Several years ago, Ashland Custom Homes made the foray into high-end remodeling projects, a service they still offer. Webb recalls, “We got into remodeling during the downturn in 2007/2008, when nobody could sell their house or move, and the banks wouldn’t finance anything. At the time nobody could qualify, or houses just wouldn’t appraise. People weren’t moving around like they are now. During that time, out of necessity, we got into some remodeling. Now we like to keep a bit of that in our portfolio. It adds some diversity in our offerings.” Not wanting to compete with other contractors for smaller jobs, Ashland generally prefers to take on remodeling projects which are larger and more complex.
COVID-19 has presented some interesting challenges to the day-to-day operations of the company, but the team has been able to keep moving forward and get the job done, although sometimes later than expected due to supply and labor delays. Webb admits, “Both the labor and the material streams have been pinched a little bit, and that has resulted in an increase in the overall time to construct. The one thing that I’ll say it has done for the good is that, in the past when we would tell people their house was going to take an extra month, they would lose their minds. What we find now is that you’re able to tell people the truth about that, and just be transparent and honest with them, and they tend to be much more understanding. There is a new tolerance that wasn’t there because we’ve all gone through this collective misery.”
After 18 years of successful building in the community, Ashland Custom Homes takes many opportunities to give back. In the early years of the business, a donation would be made to a charity of each customer’s choice, giving Webb and Riesmeyer an introduction to many local charities which they continue to support, such as the local Habitat for Humanity. Webb shares, “We have supported various local organizations for a number of years. It has been good for us just to stay grounded and support our local community as best we can.”
Additionally, the partners support various charitable causes for personal reasons. Two examples are The Paula Takacs Sarcoma Research Foundation and Camp Sunshine in Georgia. Paula was a neighbor, and a friend, and a customer, who sadly died from the rare form of cancer. Ashland has continued to support the foundation she started, to help them keep connected to her family and to the community. As for Riesmeyer, a childhood cancer survivor, he volunteers at Camp Sunshine in Georgia as a counselor every year, supporting the organization where he went as a sick child. The company continues to financially support to the camp as well.
Building relationships with customers is an important part of the Ashland Custom Homes business model, along with creating a quality experience. Webb explains, “Beautiful houses… we feel like that’s a cost of entry for anybody that’s going to be in this business. You have to build a nice product, and we absolutely do that. For us, it’s more about the customer experience and the relationships that we build with our customers. We get to know them, and their kids, and their pets. We enjoy that and, being small, these customers get to interact directly with the owners of the company throughout their build, as opposed to a salesperson that hands them off to a superintendent who then hands them off to a warranty guy. I think there is a lot of value in that.”
This intimate building experience leads to word of mouth and repeat business for the company, which is a major part of their marketing. With all of the work being subcontracted, Webb is also aware of the value and importance of these vendor relationships. As Webb describes, “We don’t exist without them, they’re all very important. We spend more money with some than we do others, but they are all very important to us.”
With a possible luxury townhome project in the future, Ashland Custom Homes is looking forward to what’s next. “We are at a point now in our business where our phone rings,” says Webb. “We have a lot of happy customers out there that like to tell their friends about us. Customers come to us with an opportunity or a lot, and we evaluate those as they come in. There’s been enough of that to keep us busy through the years. Even if this townhome project doesn’t come together, we don’t really sweat it too much. We trust in ourselves and in the customer base that we have, and in the work that we do. And we trust that all of that will generate enough business for us as we go forward.”
AT A GLANCE
Ashland Custom Homes
What: A builder of beautiful, high-quality custom homes
Where: Based in Charlotte, North Carolina