Based in Los Angeles, California, Houck Construction Inc. is opening doors to the future and embracing change. That change comes in the form of transitioning from paper to digital management and communications, so the company can utilize technology and data analysis to assist staff and enhance the client experience.
Over the past 30 years, Houck Construction has grown to achieve $10 million in annual revenue from the remodeling and luxury homebuilding services it provides. Chief Operating Officer Greg Brake has big plans to expand into municipal and government projects. “The growth should help us reach our goal of $50 million in revenue in the next three and a half years,” says Greg. Transforming its operations and back office for the future, he feels confident Houck Construction is heading in the right direction.
Houck Construction formed when Chief Executive Officer David Houck moved to Los Angeles from the Midwest with dreams of working in radio. Since he needed to make money, David worked on some area luxury home remodels and discovered he had a passion for design. “Coupling design with construction makes things seamless when people are remodeling,” Greg says. “David tailors the design to the lifestyle of the individual. That’s how the business got started.”
Besides designing, building and remodeling homes, Houck Construction is also in property and estate management services. Many clients have multiple properties, or apartment complexes, so we manage things like repairs and landscaping. Greg says, “We work with estate managers and they rely on us.” The company offers a white-glove service within the estate management division. The program provides quick and discreet service to several of its high-profile clients. “We get in and get out. We discretely handle repairs on beautiful homes, so the clients are not calling a service lacking the sensibilities required to serve discerning clientele,” says Greg.
Houck Construction Forms a Future with Data
Hoping to leverage technology to expand their construction niche, Greg says, “the company’s secret weapon is data management. We make it a core part of an employee’s workflow and mindset here.” With that data-driven culture, Greg teaches the team how all the information works together—from contracts to change orders, daily logs with photographs, scheduled subcontractor activities, cost estimates and up to-date expenses. Houck Construction’s team uses Buildertrend software to input this information into the company’s custom VIP Project Portal, which allows clients to view videos, pictures, subcontractor activities and labor hours. “This is fundamentally different from other construction companies,” Greg says. “Historically, in construction, there are a lot of undocumented commitments and Post-it notes.”
“Coming in here a year ago, I knew we had to be data centric,” Greg explains. The conversion, which took almost an entire year to complete, has reconstructed the way the company operates. Now, a client has visibility into their project in real time and helps keep it on schedule by responding to time sensitive questions even if they are traveling, which many of the company’s clients do.
When an issue arises or information needs to be sent to the client, a Houck Construction team member can automatically send an email alert or text message so the client knows to log in, read and respond to the message. “If a change order needs approval, the customer can instantaneously sign online with their finger,” Greg says. “In the past, clients had to return from their trips before signing off on a change. This may have resulted in losing a subcontractor for weeks and delaying the project. With the VIP portal, you don’t lose valuable time. The system also has a company-approved list of workers, which is handy when project managers are looking for help. When we have a new project, we can click on a subcontractor from the approved list of 450+ subcontractors. It’s a really big benefit.”
Word spreads quickly in the construction industry and other firms hope to take advantage of the bookkeeping service in Houck Construction’s VIP portal. “Now that competitors know what we are doing, they have asked us if we can run their back office for them,” Greg says. “I tell them not yet, but we will be ready to provide our Houck Back Office as a service in the new year.”
New Revenue Streams and Staff Development
One new area for the company is its municipal division. “We are looking to perform government projects like airports, bridges, firehouses and schools,” Greg says. To help the company pursue this new source of revenue, Houck Construction hired a couple originally from the Philippines to establish the Muni-City-State division. They have a lot of experience in this area. They started their own construction company abroad and completed many municipal and government projects in the Philippines. New opportunities bring more revenue streams for Houck Construction. Greg feels there is huge potential in this area and says, “It’s going to be a nice addition to the company.”
Staff development is also important to the leaders of Houck Construction. “Our employees are our No. 1 priority,” Greg explains. “As a leader, I recruit, develop, train then support them.” Employees are cross trained so they can fill in when the lead person is out. “We keep our word and we never quit until the project is complete”, said Greg. Greg is especially proud of the creative problem-solving abilities of the company’s 50 full time employees, who, he notes, have fun and laugh together. “We come together to jump on a problem and find the solution until it’s fixed,” he says. Solution-oriented employees are rewarded with incentives like bonuses, raises, trucks, and shopping sprees, among other things.
Creatively Connecting with the Community
This altruistic group is big on service within the community. Besides building barns for neglected animals at Have a Heart Ranch, Greg has plans to start a mentor program for high school foster teenagers. Pairing the teenagers with their mentor, they will walk for 24 hours at a local park. Greg says the challenge helps the kids learn to keep their word, never quit, push themselves beyond self-imposed limits and see that they can do anything. Another group the company commits to is helping local high school artists. It hosts and sponsors an annual Houck Thanksgiving card contest. “The winning artist receives $1000 toward college from Houck Construction, a matching gift from Jonathan Carr, realtor from COMPASS, a November 17th Gala at Malibu’s Contemporary Art Gallery and great exposure within the community,” says Greg.
Bringing Green Design to Clients
Houck Construction brings green principles and sustainable designs to its clients in a number of ways, including offering environmentally friendly products such as structural insulated panels (or SIPs). Greg says this custom foam-filled wall system cuts a quarter off the time needed to build and install traditional framing and insulation for a house. “The product is unique, less expensive to use, reduces energy costs and uses materials efficiently,” he explains. “SIP- constructed walls are roughly 50 percent more energy-efficient than those that are built using traditional framing methods. This is one green initiative that is solid. We try to recommend it before structural plans are drawn or foundations laid.”
Repeat Business and Referrals
Considering themselves experts in luxury house remodels, Houck Construction’s team completes large, complex projects. “We can build on a hillside or mountaintop. If the client wants an endless pool on a hillside or a helipad on a house, we can build it,” says Greg. He estimates that Houck Construction finishes about 15-25 jobs in a typical year, noting that homeowners continue to come back to David and the team with repeat work that accounts for approximately 70 percent of the company’s business.
“David has a legion of followers,” Greg says. “When they buy a house or even a condo for the children, they have him take a look at it.” The company’s reputation precedes them, as wealth management investors and realtors also provide referrals.
As Houck Construction steps over the threshold of change and into the future, it is poised to meet its goals. Beginning with the end in mind, the team strives to achieve customer satisfaction and optimize each client’s experience. Greg says, “We have great customers. We make them happy and we build what they want.”
By: Holly Titsworth