Recently, I caught up with Shan Jenkins, the owner and CEO of Jenkins Custom Homes, and asked him a few questions.
What made you want to become a builder?
Primarily my uncle got me into the business. He owned a roofing company. When I was in 6th grade, my parents decided I couldn’t stay at home during the summers anymore and that I needed to get a job. So I went to work for my uncle and basically worked with him through High School. That’s when I wanted to get into the building business, as an architect, primarily. I went to Texas A&M and became interested in the construction side, and graduated with a degree in Construction Science. I was in commercial construction until when, in 1998, I left Brown & Root to come work with my dad in this company, which he started in 1992. But the bottom line is that I love architecture and construction.
What do you believe sets you and your company apart from other custom home builders?
Well, we have a great team, and in some regards, it might be unique in this industry, for a couple of reasons. We put a big emphasis on the science of construction, the science of building. We have an estimator – purchasing manager. We’ve got three superintendents, and then we’ve got two on-staff residential designers. Beyond that, we are a design-build company. 90% of the projects we do are custom so they are all very unique. We have a copyrighted system that we use. We call it the Lifestyle Analysis.
What is the Lifestyle Analysis?
Really, the client designs the house – they just don’t know that they are designing the house. While they are communicating to us through our Lifestyle Analysis, they think they are just answering ordinary questions. The initial visit is basically a synopsis of our program – what we do, how we do it, and who the team is. Then, we do a conceptual design and give them a detailed cost estimate with that. So it’s kind of like a feasibility study. They know, with a very small investment up front, what they can have for their budget. So we take what they tell us, and we put it on paper. Of course, we add our 15 years of experience on to it (or whatever) and then from there we move into design and construction. So it’s a pretty well-thought-out process, and we think clients like knowing in advance these are the steps that I have to take, this is the blueprint to get me to the end result that I’m after.
Shan, you’ve told us how you got started in the business. Now tell us a little about what keeps you inspired, what keeps you challenged after all these years.
Several years ago, I was on a trip with my father-in-law and saw for the first time the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis. My design philosophy is similar to that of Eero Saarinen, the mastermind behind the Arch. While my design prowess is light years behind his, I share his philosophy that I am more about solving our client’s problems than being a slave to the classic textbook rules of design. I want to answer the needs of my clients with unique and special ideas. I also believe that my clients are my co-creators. Between their lifestyle, their lot, and their vision, the greatest shapes can emerge, and most importantly, they are the shapes that the ‘creators’ best relate to and thrive in…not what someone told them had to be. Building and designing, just the creative part of it, it’s a passion. That word gets thrown around a lot, but it really is and it has to be. I have to be passionate about what I’m doing because the client is passionate about it. For them, it’s a statement of their life’s work, what they’ve achieved in life. We think the house is not just a place you live. We’ve never had a client come to our office and say “We need a roof over our heads.” Because really what they want is a lifestyle, a place where they can raise families and create memories, nurture themselves, so that they can achieve even greater things. There’s nothing better than when a client says, “this is a dream come true for us.” There’s just no better feeling as a designer and builder than to hear those words.
Those are pretty lofty goals, but you claim to consistently achieve client satisfaction. What is the secret to your success?
As I said before, I have to give credit to our team. Because of the quality of our staff, we can confidently give a prospective client an estimate that is guaranteed to be within 5% of the final cost. We can also be confident that each home will be built with precision. I take great pride in the attention to detail that’s put into every home that carries my name. True quality is as much unseen as it is seen, from structural integrity to energy efficiency to quality control. I also know that no one will be happy in a home that’s well built behind the walls, but doesn’t show the same precision in the finish-out. For us it’s all about getting it all just right, how our clients expect it, from the flow and layout all the way down to the details on the cabinetry. It is that precision that makes a Jenkins home stand apart and have that comfortable “feel” from the time you walk in the front door.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Well, I’ve been married for 20+ years. My wife is also my business partner, and she has impressive business credentials of her own. We have 3 children, one in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary. They keep us busy, just like most people, with school activities and sports. In many ways we feel we can relate to our clients best because of our experience living in one of my homes with our children. There are always new products coming out, and we often evaluate them based on how they would work for us and our family. It’s especially helpful that my wife is able to provide insight from the perspective of a mother and, really, just the female perspective. We often approach things from a very different vantage point, she and I, and it is useful to talk through how a new product affects both male and female homeowners. Obviously, she likes products that relate to convenience and safety that I often haven’t even considered. Anyway, we enjoy discussing these things together and then with our clients so that we can provide as much information from both perspectives. We feel that the key to good decision making for our clients is providing them with the right information for their situation. Since you don’t always know everything about someone’s situation, you try to provide both the pros and cons so that they can measure that against their own knowledge. We often get accused of being too impartial, but that goes back to what I said earlier about approaching building more as a science. While we are not without an opinion on most products, we like to provide our clients with data and information rather than opinion, unless asked of course. That’s just always been my approach.