Published On: Monday, 22 February 2016
Client Input Part of Custom Homebuilder’s Success
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VERNON – Despite decades of operation, hundreds of completed projects and after winning multiple construction industry awards, Keith Construction has not forgotten its roots, or its debt to the clients that have supported it through the years. “The strength that my father brought to the table was in never forgetting where you come from – we were renovators. That’s how it all got started,” explained current company owner Ken Dahlen, son of the firm’s founder Keith Dahlen.
“So we don’t turn down a job just because of its size. It’s funny, you can do a small reno for somebody and you’ve treated them fairly and kindly all along and then they end up saying their daughter needs a house. Those are the kind of unexpected rewards that can happen when you treat every client the same way.”
A Vernon-based custom home builder, Keith Construction is a family owned and operated business founded by the elder Dahlen who moved to the Okanagan from Alberta where he had begun his home building career. “We grew up in Edmonton. My father had a company called Delwood Homes back then. I basically grew up in the construction business, sweeping floors and shoveling sand at an early age. I used to enjoy helping my father on weekends. I went to NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) to study construction technology,” Ken Dahlen explained.
Keith launched his new business in Vernon, eventually spending more than half a century in the home construction industry before retiring and handing the reins of the firm over to his son. For the current owner the longevity and success of the business is due in large part to the winning team he’s helped to assemble. “We have a staff of about 20, including office staff,” he said.
“This includes my General Manager Mike Sanford, a draftsperson Kathryn Bates, a full time estimator Chris Neelin, my wife Karen Dahlen who does all the accounting and billing and Renee McDonald who is the office administrator. Our office staff has been very instrumental in our success. Out in the field we have six or seven journeymen carpenters and some phenomenal sub trades.”
A certified R2000 and Built Green firm, Keith Construction works on homes primarily in the Vernon to North Kelowna area. Projects completed include new home design and construction, renovation work of all sizes and occasionally commercial projects. “Last year we were doing 60 percent renovations and 40 percent new homes. That said, we did two very large renovations that were essentially new builds in their own right,” Dahlen said.
“We now have the confidence from our clients that regardless of the type of project they’re interested in, we can handle it. We treat everyone incredibly fair. We’ll discuss all the details, there will be nothing hidden. We believe it’s important to have the client involved in the project right from the start. We’ll explain the cause and effects of their requests, so they can feel really confident that the prices stated for a project are real prices. The key is making sure the client is well informed so they’ll feel good about making the decision to go ahead.”
While primarily a residential builder, Keith Construction has a long history of working on commercial projects as well. “We do both commercial and residential, including in recent years both a doctor’s office and a dental clinic. For example we built a doctor a house and then she ended up asking us to build her an office as well.”
An innovative and award winning company, Keith Construction has won numerous Tommie Awards, both Gold and Silver from the Canadian Home Builders Association (Okanagan) as well as Georgie Awards from the Canadian Home Builders' Association of British Columbia (CHBA BC). The company is currently nominated for three of the 2016 Georgie Awards, including as Residential Renovator of the Year.
For Dahlen the awards, while offering high profile exposure and an excellent way to showcase some of the company’s finest work, are further proof that his firm’s business model is working. “We’re thrilled to have won Tommie and Georgie Awards in these different categories. It shows that we’re doing the job right.”
Keith Construction has evolved over the decades into an all round custom renovator and home builder. Dahlen views his business as a complete one stop shop for residential home construction. “You can come to us with a bathroom in your house you’d like to redo, or a small addition to your home right up to a complete redo of your house on your existing property.”
Another tool in the company’s tool belt that helps to set Keith Construction aside is the sophistication of its in-house design and 3D rendering programs, a level of combined services few builders can offer their clients. “Of course we also handle the design and construction of your custom-built new home. We work with the client to provide a very hand’s on approach to the design and drafting of their home. This enables us to create any design from the simple to the most complex,” he said.
“Our 3D rendering program allows you to see first-hand every detail of the design from exterior and interior colors right down to the kitchen, displaying every aspect including cabinet style, hardware, countertops and even name brand appliances.”
Another invaluable tool in the Keith Construction toolkit is its use of the state of the art Builder Trend management software. “This is an integral part of why Keith Construction is different,” explained Karen Dahlen.
“It is our management software that we use to manage our schedules, material selections, change orders, budget and other factors. The real advantage is that is allows our clients to keep track of their jobs costs, photographs and documents, in essence the total project.”
Building a new home is typically a long term venture, where years might pass from an initial meeting to the handing over of the keys once the project is completed. During that time Keith Construction strives to keep the customer involved with all aspects of the undertaking, and is aware that along the way changes might occur that could result in a rethinking or perhaps a total revamping of the entire enterprise.
“It’s not realistic to expect to know every single detail of a build before your break ground. Things can change, new ideas can come up the client’s personal situation could even alter. You have to be able to respond to those changes, essentially you have to work and plan in a very fluid manner.”
A key to the successful Keith Construction business model is establishing a relationship with the client that is based on transparency and trust. “A lot of our projects are pretty long term. We might be working with someone for a year, a year and a half or even two years before we even break ground as they’re working with our design team,” Dahlen said.
“We’ll work out the budgets with Chris, we’ll meet and roll up our shirt sleeves and rework it. When we get to moving forward a lot of the conversations have already been done. I really think that’s part of our strength. You have to be prepared to be fluid with your clients as things can change over the course of a build.”
Dahlen is also a believer in the importance of ongoing training and upgrading, for himself and for his team. “I’m in the midst of finishing my Master Builder program with the CHBA (Canadian Home Builders Association) of BC. I’m a real believer in continual education not just for myself but for my staff as well. You have to stay on top of the new technologies so we’ll continue to do it.”
He also said that for many clients the sheer number of factors to consider when building a home including legal, physical and financial can be overwhelming. Helping to reduce some of those uncertainties is another of the company’s principle functions. “We’ll also help you navigate though the development permits and bylaws and other legal aspects of the work. We can help people with their designs, work out your budget and provide guidance throughout the entire process.”
Having earned the Built Green certification is yet another achievement that has helped to set the firm apart from its competitors. “We’re a certified Green Builder, we’re also R2000 approved. In the past four years we’ve probably built six or seven two by eight exterior wall homes with double staggered walls which are very energy efficient. You’re far better off spending money on the exterior envelope of your home than chasing solar or geothermal heating methods. They’re great options but the return on the cost is a little tough to get back,” Dahlen said.
He also recognizes that another key to his company’s success is the established network of sub trades and building specialists he has developed relationships with over the years. “We’re thrilled with the support we receive from our sub trades, from our electricians to our plumbers to our drywallers to our painters and others. They’re all incredibly accommodating, they do great work and they’re treating us and the clients incredibly fair.”
Innovative, award winning, family owned and operated, Keith Construction has been a leader in the Okanagan’s residential building community for decades, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. “The key we bring to the table is the ability to see a project through from start to finish. Its how we began and it’s the model we’ll continue to use in the future.”
To learn more visit the company’s website at: www.keithconstruction.ca.