If you’re into interviews and podcasts, you should check out our friend Lauren Collier, (a Real Estate Agent in Colorado Springs), who has recently started a podcast where she interviews local people who contribute to the business community. Lauren has been sharing all kinds of stories recently on her podcast about Colorado Springs businesses, and we were honored that she contacted us to see what Andy Stauffer had to share about living in our city, building homes, our process, and more.
In the interview, Andy address some topics such as:
- What kinds of jobs Stauffer & Sons Construction does most.
- The exciting new growth of Colorado Springs.
- The custom home building process, and where to start.
- Our company’s commitment to transparency.
- Nonprofits and local organizations we support with our time and money.
- Ways to plug into our community for folks who may be new to the area.
To hear the interview, you can play the audio on SoundCloud, visit the website, or subscribe to the show via iTunes here. A very special thanks to Lauren Collier for making it happen.
Introduction: Welcome to Central Colorado Spring Advice Givers podcast. Where we meet the movers and shakers of Colorado Springs. Today’s featured leader has been a contributor to Builder Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and Builder and Developer Magazine, and he’s been featured in NBC News, The Gazette, the Colorado Springs Business Journal, and more. He has over 20 years in the residential construction business and has a passion for building and remodeling homes. He’s contributed to commercial projects such as rebuilding at Venetucci Farm, building the new Black Forest Park and restoring the Cheyenne Lodge at Broadmoor Hotel. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Scott Hall Field of Dreams—an organization dedicated to bringing new youth sports facilities to the north side of Colorado Springs. His favorite quote: “custom doesn’t mean gold plated.” Please welcome family man, and owner of custom home builder, Stauffer & Sons Construction, Andy Stauffer.
Lauren: Hi, Andy. Welcome to the podcast, thanks so much for being on today.
Andy: Good morning, Lauren. I’m glad to be here, thank you.
Lauren: Let’s start with a little bit of your story. How long have you been in Colorado Springs?
Andy: You know, we’re coming up on about 20 years ago—19 years this summer actually—that I moved here with my wife Yukie. And at the time, we had two boys, to which we’ve added two more. So we’ve got four sons: that’s the “sons” part of “Stauffer & Sons Construction.” So yeah, 19 years we’ve been here, and 16 of them I’ve had and Stauffer & Sons Construction.
Lauren: What brought you here?
Andy: I grew up in central California. San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield. And so my folks—I’m the youngest of five boys—when my folks saw [an] empty nest on the horizon, they started thinking: “Where do we want to live?” And my Mom ran the Pikes Peak Marathon about 23 or 24 years ago and they were walking around Woodland Park and said, “Yep, this will do.” So they moved here and of course that kind of moved “home base” for the Stauffer family to Woodland Park/Colorado Springs area. So after I got married and started raising a family up in Northern California… it didn’t take long before my visits here… we’re looking at each other, saying: “Yep, this will work just fine.” So 19 years ago, we made the move.
Lauren: Awesome. Tell us a little bit about the work that you do here.
Andy: I’m a home builder… and we’re more than that. You know, I do a lot of heavy timber work, we do remodels, we do additions, but primarily we do single family residential custom homes. And it’s a fun niche here over the last 16 years of being in business: we’ve seen ups and we’ve seen downs, and right now obviously there’s just an exciting growth and energy in Colorado Springs [since] the whole country [has] figured out that this is a really cool place to be. So to be kind of on the front lines of “what do we all need at the most basic level? Hearth and home,” and so when people decide to move here and join our community, it’s neat getting them into my office and they say, “Hey, how do we plug in, and how [does] the homebuilding process work, and how can I lay my claim somewhere here in this community with a beautiful new home and start to plug in?” …and so that’s fun. I wake up just about every morning—not every morning—but just about every morning, just like: “Wow, I get to go to work today!”
Lauren: So I know that you’re very involved in Colorado Springs. I think we’re going to have more than enough to talk about today. We can dive into what the home building process looks like and what you guys do differently. Where does your passion come from, for doing this? What was your vision when you opened the doors?
Andy: Yeah. That’s a good question. I guess from a whole lot of places. One thing I’m thinking is, back in high school, even, I was working for a builder and working for a framing contractor and just doing summer jobs back in Bakersfield where you’re framing in 115 degree heat. You know. I enjoyed it then. I loved always designing and building things around the house and everything, and then went off to college, worked for a gentleman that exposed me to all phases, you know heating and plumbing and electrical, siding, framing… you name it. And that cultured that, or enriched that even more. And then it’s funny because… as you go through different phases I remember… I remember, I used to look at production homes in tract neighborhoods where it’s like postage stamp lots, and houses five feet away from [the] property line, and to be very candid I looked at those with kind of a mild disdain, like, “Who would live in that, and who can build those?” …and everything. And then I got married and I had kids and I was working for what a 23 year old guy would be working for, you know? And my budget was what a 23 year old family man would be able to afford for a house. And, then those neighborhoods took on a whole different feel for me, which is: you walk down the street, and you see, you know, moms and dads with kids on hot cycles and people talking over the fence and everything. And all of the sudden my—in an instant, in a way, or in a season of my life—it all changed. And I’m like: “No, this is good stuff… there is a place for these homes.” And I shouldn’t look at them and turn my nose up and be some kind of a purist.. because this is family; this is community. That being said, then I kind of pair that with, okay, even so, we can still build nicer homes. We can still use better materials than some of what you see. It’s just wanting to come at it and take an institution within our culture—homes, and community—and say “Well, now where do I wanna plug in?” ‘Cause as a young man starting a company that’s a kind of a neat decision… a neat point where you can say “Do I wanna go into this realm?” Maybe I would go work for like a GE Johnson or one of the big commercial general contractors and work sweeping a broom and work my way up to project manager or whatever, and that’d be a cool path. Or I could go into production homes or remodels or that, so I chose single family residential custom homes and then you start bringing other aspects to it, like… boy I sure love heavy timber. Okay, we developed a whole division of our company, “Colorado Timber Homes,” which operates within the Stauffer and Sons construction family so to speak, where we’ve really gotten a foothold in a lot of our mountain communities an hour, or two hours, three hours away from Colorado Springs where people say “Hey, I want the mountain home we’ve been dreaming about for the last thirty years.” [With] heavy timber, and rustic, and those types of things. Or then, you know right now, Colorado Springs, wow. Downtown—the whole community—but downtown is just this ripple effect going out and you see older parts of downtown, just some neat gentrification going on. And in-fill lots and increased density, and walking paths, bike paths. And we’re buying a piece of downtown property rather than renting. I wanted to be a part of it. So you start with that core “What do I want to do?” but then you start to bring in things as you’re exposed to them. Like fire rebuilds. There’s a whole other thing we had the Waldo Canyon fire, we had the Black Forest fire. Boom, boom. On- two punch. And through that all we rebuilt 21 homes between the two fires. And you talk about something that was nowhere on my radar screen the day before it happened. Nowhere, you know? And then all of a sudden it’s like, wow, 350 households have lost their homes. So there was definitely a part of that where everybody in the community. But as a member of the community it takes on a whole different form, which is: “This is gonna be mutually beneficial.” These folks lost their homes, they have insurance policies. There’s money ready to go to be dispersed to help them get back on their feet, get back on track. And I’m in a position to come in and be that guy that they say “Hey, help us rebuild.” So that was a whole new thing. And then you see like community wise, like look at Black Forest and all they went through, Black Forest fire and it was fun to be a part of. Black Forest has a kind of a unique identity spread out over hundreds of square miles, maybe not hundreds but I’m not sure so… big area. Diverse population everything from hundred thousand dollar homes to two million dollar homes, but they’ve always tried to have some kind of sense of community kind of at the corner of Shoup and Black Forest road where they have a community center and signage and picnic tables and that. And so it was fun for us when they identified a cool project that would bring the community together in the form of a new pavilion… and basically an assembly area for the whole community. We were just delighted to be invited to, “Hey can you help us out?” and pretty quickly we said, “Yeah, we can build a whole new pavilion for you.” So there’s a log pavilion down at the corner there in Black Forest, where we reused trees that were burned on people’s property. So, it’s cool, people can come and say: “Hey, those posts, of that pavilion, under which we’re all meeting at this farmer’s market… those are from my house!” you know? Or, “That used to be the tree outside my backyard,” or the back patio or something. So, we were happy to be a part of that, so we looked for neat ways to plug in there, and that was a no-brainer.
Lauren: Yeah, that’s really cool. Does your business contribute to non-profit causes in town?
Andy: You know what, what we do is kind of like what I was saying is when we see a need where we say “Hey we can fill that need… we can step up” and because our entire operation is not just us performing a task, but it’s our team that we’ve assembled, usually what we’ll do is—and the neat thing that I’ve found is I can leverage my capabilities within the building industry. And I can bring along other folks that can multiply my efforts. So for example I think there’s probably six, seven years ago I just felt the need like “Hey it would neat to find a returning veteran from Iraq or Afghanistan” or anyone like that, fitting that description, where I can take my baseball team that I was coaching—a bunch of 12 year olds—and we can say “Hey we want to figure out who you are, what your needs are, and how we can help and we are going to come and spend a day cleaning your yard or whatever.” And I had that idea that started like just as a cool way that I could get my boys involved on the team that can help out what was just a great family that we came to know and are friends with today. And when I started telling my landscaper, my plumber, my painter… all these people: “Hey we’re doing this,” it just multiplied. So what was gonna be like probably a $3,000 effort of goods and materials turned into a $40,000 effort, [just] like that. Because when I brought it to the people, like my landscaper, Roger Haywood over at Accent Landscapes, he heard it, he’s all like, “I’m in. What do you need? Tell me what you need and I’m in.” And then he goes to C&C Sand & Stone, you know, Bill Johannson who owns this place, that’s been a part of this community forever. And everybody knows him, and he’s like “Ah, Roger, I’m in.” And so, that’s a need thing ’cause I think a lot of people wanna plug in in that way, and we as a general contractor: our whole business is taking the collaborative efforts of all these professionals, and trades people, and vendors, and then putting out a good finished product that fills a need. So, that’s how we plug in. It’s not so much “Hey we made a $1,000 donation to this…” though we do that sometimes. It’s more “Hey, how do we use our skills, our efforts, our talents.”
Lauren: How cool.
Andy: Yeah, it’s fun.
Lauren: Thank you, that’s wonderful.
Lauren: So, let’s kind of start with your day to day. If someone’s listening to this and saying, “I was thinking about building a home.” Where [do] they start what should be thinking about?
Andy: Sure. It’s fun because actually one of my sons who is off to college, but you know is home for the summer… He now joins me in my day-to-day. So I got him in the next office and he’s working spreadsheets and estimating and he hears all my client meetings and things like that. So my day to day, which will tie into “where do people start?” is: after hitting the gym in the morning and coming here in the office, in downtown Colorado Springs, we’re in the old Giuseppe’s depot building, which is an old train station, and we open our door. We got one of those entry doors that’s the Dutch door, so you kind of open it and you look out on Sierra Madre Street here and see the goings on and I now love to schedule early morning meetings with my clients because it’s a neat time as the sun’s pouring into our office much like right now during this interview and sit ‘em in the chair here and find out where are you at because we meet people where they’re at ‘cause as a custom builder it’s a little different than… I’ve got great friends in the production home business around here to where great companies like, Classic and Keller and Vantage and just, people that have been in the community forever, they just have a different process. More the production home process where you kind of come in one end and they kind of move you through a sequence of carefully orchestrated steps. To get you to where you’ve made all your decisions and you pick a house and that’s great, we’re different, we’re little more of like kind of a concierge type of a service so people come in and we just kind of talk about notions of, “What are you thinking?” and “What do you do?” and the conversation a lot of times really starts with “Well, we moved here from someplace and we’re just getting our feet on the ground and we had never built a home before,” maybe. And “We’re just wondering what does the process even look like?” So a lot of times we’re meeting people that early in the process rather than folks who come in and say “Okay, we’ve done our research we know that we want this size home… and we’re talking to three builders and you’re one of them.” So it’s not always that cut and dried. It usually starts on a much more conversational, “Hey, welcome to town, what are you thinking? type of conversation. And then we can certainly talk more about that: how we move them through those steps.
Lauren: How do people find you?
Andy: Any number of ways, and I’m always interested to hear how they find us. But if I’m living right and running my business correctly, they’re finding me through all the different ways that I’m plugged in to this community. So it’s not as though we just put out the proverbial shingle and we get walk-in traffic. We’ve had a few walk-ins… but that’s kind of rare. Certainly our web presence, because what we’ve learned over the years and the projects we’ve done, and the satisfied customers that we’d like to showcase and introduce you to. One of the primary ways to do that is through our website, so of course staufferandsons.com, you go there and that’s the clearing house for all that. But, they find us in the community too. More and more, and that’s the fun thing. Sixteen years after starting Stauffer and Sons Construction, when my boys were 4, 3 and 2 years old, and now they’re in college and that kind of thing, is the relationships I made 16 and 18 years ago and 10 years ago through Tri-Lakes Little League baseball, and through District 20 schools, all the way through high school and graduation. I get people calling me up, “Hey, Andy, we were thinking of building a house.” …and I haven’t talked to them in five years. So first there’s a reunion of, “How have you been?” and then quickly getting down to business like “Okay, you wanna build a house now? Well cool. Let’s go!” So they find me a lot of different ways so I can say that.
Lauren: So what are some of your tips and tricks so when people sit down and they just have a big picture idea of what they might wanna buy. What some of that advice that you share with them on that first meeting?
Andy: After getting the vision then very quickly actually I will bring it back to… just a discussion of “What do things cost?” Because, I think it’s important to get it grounded in: “Is this a feasible project?” just as quickly as possible. Because, what I don’t—it’s funny—I guess the longer you go in business, the more you’re sensitive to your own time on one level, but certainly your clients’ time, or your prospective clients’ time. …that you don’t want to do all this dreaming about big plans and estates and retirement homes or whatever. And then, get so far down the road that you don’t say “Hey, what’s this all gonna cost me?” So we get there very quickly which people appreciate. Because there’s just no point—as a realtor you can certainly understand why be looking at $800,000 homes when there’s only a $400,000 budget… that just doesn’t make sense. So we get there very quickly. In the first half hour of the meeting, “Yeah, so what do you want to spend?” …and I don’t dance around it: “Let’s talk money.” And then as soon as we can put that to bed and say, “Okay, we’re in this price point,” then my focus is on, “Okay, then I’m not gonna bother you with details of what this would cost or what that [would cost]… here’s your sweet spot and can we or can we not help you? And as soon as we determine, “Hey there’s something to work with here,” then the conversation can really go from there.
Lauren: And you can do the design of the layout of any specification they have?
Andy: Sure. Any builder should you know the answer and the joke in the industry is: “Yes. The answer is yes.” Of course we can do that. So the real trick [is]… because of course we can build anything, and we do. It’s fun. I can show you examples of small structures, really big structures, complex, simple, architecturally pure, or very eclectic, or anything in between. But we always bring it down to “What’s it going to take to make this project move forward?” So very quickly we want to kind of quickly figure out what we would call “the program.” So “What is the program?” so that we can all get with the program. “How big of a house? What part of town? Do you own land? What kind of covenants are there?” …and pretty quickly we just have our rubric and you check the boxes and work them through the process.
Lauren: What kind of specialists do you have on your team to help with all these pieces and parts of the process.
Andy: Yeah, a lot of good folks. It’s funny, ‘cause as we [are] coming up on 16 years in business… even today, I’m having lunch with a gentleman that… he’s one of the very first guys I met in town when I went to work at $8 an hour, nienteen and a half years ago, banging nails, framing houses. And he was a trim carpenter on the same job. And we saw each other job after job. And today he’s coming in for lunch and we’re gonna to talk about maybe him joining our team as a superintendent or something. So that’s the neat thing is once you start to make these relationships with these folks in town and they’re long-term Colorado Springs diehard residents, you just build your team and it goes out from there. So everything from the professional and planning component of things: architects, engineers, realtors, that sort of thing; all the way to everybody it’s going to take to assemble the final product, so all the tradesmen and the craftsmen. And then the building department. You look at the building department: there are plans examiners, there are inspectors and from the guy at the top. It’s great because I needed to talk to John Welton who’s the head of Pike’s Peak Regional Building Department the other day. So I got him on cell phone. You call the guy who’s in charge and you get him pretty quickly. So I love that aspect of Colorado Springs. It’s a pretty good size city. I would imagine in this country it’s considered one of the larger cities, but it’s small town and so we’ve got just a great team of people.
Lauren: What else can you share with us about how you do things different? Like you mention, I practice real estate, so I’m familiar with what people “usually see,” in home building, they usually see a sales rep, lots for sale, a couple of standard house plan to pick from with pricing attached and then a design center to select their options and finishes. I’ve been to your office, I’ve talked to you guys [so] I have a pretty good sense of how you work as a custom builder. It’s really quite different from that, but a lot of people listening may have never had those experiences. Can you talk a little bit more about what you’re doing that’s different?
Andy: Sure, you betcha. It really and truly is not as though as one process is better than another. Because when you choose a restaurant, you and your husband at the end of the day say “Hey, let’s go out to eat.” You can go fast food, you can go some of the cool new places, you know like the MOD Pizza where they make your pizza in front of you. You can go to a white tablecloth and sit down, you know, you can spend a little money or a lot. So, that same condition exists in many industries and certainly in the home building industry so it’s: “What are you looking for?” so there’s definitely a segment of the market that appreciates “Okay, I could go to eat at this restaurant, that restaurant, I could go to a production home builder or semi-custom, I could go to somebody who has a model home and a design center and all that and that could be fine…” And it’s fine for a whole lot of people. But there certainly a lot… a number of folks that fallen to that category of “Nah, we want something a little different. We want to sit down in an office and drink some coffee and have two or three hours blocked out. Maybe we use it or maybe not. But to get to know this guy and this team and say ‘Here’s kinda what we’re thinking, what do you think?’” It really is a different process. And so, I think even you probably even hear from the tone of this conversation, that it should be kind of familiar, it should be conversational, it should be relaxed… because I think that’s the best position to plan your home… you know, “What is home?” It’s a place where you go for refuge at the end of the day and recharge your batteries, to sleep, to have family, to facilitate all those things. It should be comfortable, it should be relaxed, the team that you assemble to perform this important task should be people that you like. It’s funny, I got thinking the other day as I was planning my retirement and I was actually sitting down in my flip flops. And I was thinking “That will set the tone for how I wanna retire… if I’m doing my retirement planning while sitting in shorts and a tee shirt and flip flops.” You know what I mean? So it’s kinda when you’re planning your home, do you do it in a sterile environment where you go into class A office space and it’s very, “Okay, go to this cubicle, and now we’re gonna go to the plan table and all that”? …I guess you could, but that’s not how we do it around here. You just sit down in a comfortable chair and kick your feet up and and we drink coffee and we say, “Hey, let’s try and get to these things right now and if we do great, and if not, we’ll do a follow up meeting,” or “I’ll meet you out on your lot,” or “we’ll hit the Starbucks” or something like that.
Lauren: So you process is much more tailored to the individual? Let’s hear a little bit about the end results, ‘cause I’ve seen some of your [homes] and no two are alike. None that I’ve seen. Tell us some of the things that you’ve made possible for your clients in their final product.
Andy: Well, there’s two big components to it. There’s the design and there’s the construction. So jumping ahead maybe to the construction. At a bare minimum we build to code, we build to the engineering specifications. We build according to best practice. You know, we determine what threshold of materials we’re using. Then some of it gets very technical. Other aspects, philosophical. Livability or maintenance or resale and all these things factor into the construction. Co-equal in that, absolutely, is a good design. And so that’s where a lot of people, I think they come in really not knowing [what they want], and that’s fine. Not knowing well how does that even work that you start with nothing, with a clean white sheet of paper… and then you end up with a home that is designed specifically to my needs. And in principle people would say “Well, that sounds great.” But then what I have to do pretty early on is dispel or assuage some of the concerns or the ambivalence folks would have if they think too much of this is gonna be incumbent upon them to come up with that cool design. ‘Cause I’ll get folks in and they’ll say “Well that sounds great and everything. But I wouldn’t know where to begin! I wouldn’t trust myself to design my own house! It’s gonna look terrible!” …or other folks on the opposite side of the spectrum say “I’ve been on Pinterest and I’ve been doing the modern day equivalent of having magazine clippings and [I’ve got] three ring binders and tabbed pages and that kind of thing.” Each situation with each client is very unique, and our job is to meet them where they’re at, but then very quickly get them in and say, “Hey we’ve got a cool recipe,” I wanna stress that it’s not a process like that Dr. Seuss book, “The Star Bellied Sneetches,” where you go in one side and get popped out the other and it goes through all these turns and twists and pipes and spits you out. So it’s not that, but it is a process where we have identified while this is custom and it will be custom designed and custom built and very much catered toward your needs, we’ve identified that there are these steps that you just need to follow. And what I tell folks—and it really resonates with them—is as we move through those steps, everybody in the room is nodding their head in agreement. It’s just that something that if I’m explaining the conceptual of the design and budgeting process to folks, and it’s just not clicking… maybe there’s a puzzle piece [missing] because you can look and you can see they’re not quite getting this step. Or when does it transition from this low investment of—say $1,000, [for the] initial design agreement—when does it transition to design/development? And at what point do we go to contract? And at what point do we approach the bank and construction lenders and that kind of thing? So there’s various steps, but we take them in just a comfortable pace, when everybody’s like, “Okay, I get it. That makes sense. That’s intuitive, good let’s go.” And like you said, you’ve seen them. Material wise and construction wise… but then when you start establishing, “Okay we build houses this way.” Like, I’ve never installed a hollow core door. Nothing against hollow corridors really. But, in nineteen years of being in business, it’s just “Nah, the home that I build has solid core doors, and has 2×6 six construction, it has certain type of roof, a certain type of stucco or siding, to where I just say “Okay, that’s fine that those products exist in this price point, in the entry level or whatever,” but that’s not our sweet spot. So we’re using good, durable, maintainable products that… we do everything we can to envision how is this going to perform ten years from now, twenty years from now, thirty years and beyond so that you don’t twenty years from now have a house that a fixer-upper. My gosh.. that’s SO avoidable. And that’s, there’s certain frustration among builders like me, or just builders in general, to where you look at some of… when we do remodels, and you go in and you tear something apart, and you say “My gosh, this didn’t have to be this way.” They could have built this—by not even spending a lot more money or not even setting any records for design awards—they could have built it this way and it would have been performing today as it did twenty years ago, but they didn’t. They cut corners. They used this [crappy] product. So kind of the Hippocratic oath says “Do no harm… in medicine.” We follow that in our own code which is “Okay, first of all, let’s build a house that we really feel good about, the bones of it, the structure, the systems are going to perform the way they should.” And then, so that’s just a given. And then cool architectural design and using those materials and products in a way. I mean, you know, as realtor, you know you’re probably gonna have a good chance of selling a home when a people come in and they stop as they enter a room, and maybe the wife says to the husband, “Oh, honey, look!” You know, okay, this is going well.
Andy: I think so, but I try and do is do through the design process for materials selection. Make it to where every room that you step into, you look and say “Oh, that’s cool,” rather than the opposite of that which is “Huh… I wonder what’s going on here?” Or “What’s this for?” So that final product that you’re kinda asking about: when we turn over homes, we’re kinda corny in this way—we always do ground breakings. We always do key ceremonies and pop the champagne and give the keys to the new home to the owner. And every time we do those—which is on every home we build—I’m walking around the home just like any of their guests, looking around and saying “Wow this is really cool—I love what you did here!”—and I know I was part of that but in a way, because it is the final unveiling… a lot of that is a product of the homeowners. I can build anything and it will all have price tags attached to it and you can spend this much or this but I can do anything they want but as a team my goal is to shepherd them towards those opportunities and those available materials and design options, but really divining from the interview process with them and the collaborative design sessions what’s in their heart and their desires that’s gonna match their lifestyle, their traffic patterns, how they entertain… Is a home that you buy, you design, build and buy when you’re kids are two, three and four years old. And that’s great and how are we gonna actually… how’s this house going to perform when they’re in high school and all their friends are coming over and we wanna have a fire in the backyard and the fire pit? So, Yeah, it’s a fun process. I can go on and on I suppose.
Lauren: Before I change the topic entirely, are there other ideas and points that you wanna bring up and talk about on the home building before we change subjects?
Andy: Sure, our design budgeting and build process. Probably seven, eight years ago we shifted, and we transitioned to the current way that we do business, and that’s one of those where once you adopt something new and you try out for a while you say, “Wow, how did we do it before we did it this way? — my goodness, this was just a game changer and for us it all comes down to one word: transparency. So, up until the first seven, eight years of being in business, we operated probably in maybe what would be considered a more traditional sense. Where, if we were going to build a home for someone on a fixed price contract, we would put a budget together, and that’s our internal numbers for that budget. We would express the scope and specifications and have a set of plans and we’d say, “We can build this house for $532, 650. If you like that sign here.” And it worked… but people weren’t enthralled with it and there was something within the creative process that… I think stymied in a way or maybe inhibited [the process] which was if you really talk to us about what goes into designing and budgeting and building a house, that budget component is huge. Because here again, we can do anything you want. But it’s that careful balance of the size of the home and the complexity and what are the systems and the finishes that we need to strike that balance. And what we found is the only way to do that is to put all the cards on the table. And rather than having it as a transactional relationship with our clients, where we say “We can build it for this” and they say “Okay, we’re willing to” and they sign a contract, it’s [better] pictured much more around a round table, it’s much more of a collaborative process. So we bring the budget up on our big [computer] monitor here that I’m talking to you on and we spin that monitor to our client and we explain “Here’s our budget and here’s how each one of these line items governs a specific aspect of your build.” Some of them you have no control over… you know if we’re going to spend six months on the jobsite we’re going to need a porta potty. So that’s $89 a month, times six, that’s this, and you kind of carry over and they nod and say “Okay, good… moving on, moving on,” and then you get into the line items that really have an effect, that are directly tied to their home, and their choices. So we, seven, eight years ago, we went totally transparent, we said “What do we fear? Here’s what things cost. Here’s what we want to make as a builder.” And people nod their head and say “Well that’s fair… okay, good.” And so then they don’t go home, wondering, “I wonder if I’m getting taken for a ride?” …conversations of, “Well, what are you charging me?” type with a maybe a healthy suspicion or wanting to know. The first client that we really opened up the books to great guy and he was actually a lawyer here in Colorado, Springs a construction defect attorney as a matter of fact—whom we have a great relationship with today—but when he inquired “Hey, can you share the budget with me?” I did readily because we had developed a great rapport and we were about to go to contract. But after he studied the budget and got back to me and said “Okay, let’s build, let’s go,” I said, “Well, what were you looking for?” And he said, “You know, I just want to know where my money is going.” And I thought, like, “Well… yeah. That’s reasonable.” ‘Cause I’m that way [myself]. I go to the auto shop, I go get anything done, buy a service or whatever. Yeah, I just want to know where my money’s going. I don’t begrudge people profits, any of that stuff. So that’s been the tack that we’ve taken and we’ll never go back.
Lauren: I think that’s really self-explanatory. It’s very common sense. It’s very common sense when someone is building an entire house That bottom line figure is so huge.
Andy: But if you don’t see on my line how it adds up to that, you can easily have that reaction, like: “How the heck could it possibly cost this much?!” But when you really think it through, with everything that goes into it, it makes sense.
Lauren: Well, and it gives people… it empowers people.
Andy: Because I think that’s one of the things that, when we ask for feedback for clients, like, “Hey, I appreciate that you’ve chosen us as your builder. Thank you. But what did you like?” We just go back in and ask and they say, “You know what, it just felt like when I came into your office it was…”—I do get a lot of folks that say, “Wow, this is very different.” Which, maybe, and I don’t intend it to be self deprecating or anything like that, but I kind of look at what we do and say “Well, yeah. Doesn’t everybody do it this way?” and I have no doubt that there’s… I got some great friends in the industry that are doing just what I do and I’m not the only game in town I get that, but clearly there’s something different here because we do tell a lot of folks when I ask “Hey, what was it that you liked about our process?” You do see recurring themes. And one of them very much is “I just felt like I would really be part of this process.” Not in a way to where I need to be the guy pushing it or driving the process. But one where you’ve got a cool vehicle here and you’re saying “Hey come on along for the ride.” But I can navigate with you. And I can say “Ooh, go over there,“ and people like that control that they have while still having a builder who is keeping track of all the decisions and not letting the process out-run itself in terms of budget and things like that. So I think it’s that level of control, that level of comfort with knowing: here’s what things cost… and this guy is making an honest living. And hey, that gives me a comfort a confidence of trust. ‘Cause it’s over… and the cool thing is as we go through kind of the stages of our process, which here again, I kinda divide into three steps. It’s with the design/build company like my own, which is you have that conceptual design and budgeting. First step, if you picture a swimming pool, you have deep end, shallow end, and steps leading in. So getting on that first step, splashing the water, “Hey the water is fine. This is great.” What are we gonna build? What’s it gonna cost How’s [the house] going tosit on the land, all those things. And then we move them through, okay, hey, that all works in principle. “We love the design, we love the… we’re okay with the price, we like the finishes.” Now we gotta design in earnest to get it where we have a set of plans that you can take to the building department. And then we have a point at which we say, okay, great, now we have a set of plans, we have a contract, we have marching orders, you can give this to your bank, they can get an appraisal. You can get approved for your construction loan, and we help you with all this stuff. ‘Cause again, we’ve got great team members in this realm. Submit to the building department and put a shovel in the ground. But the first step and into the second step is… it’s not just, hey we have these requisite questions that we need answers to and these boxes that we need checked. It’s this building of a relationship and building of trust and so that’s fun. Because I tell people on that first conceptual design and budgeting agreement, I say, hey, for $1,000 bucks—and maybe by the time you air this maybe it’ll be more I don’t know—it’s $1,000 bucks nice and easy. We want people to say “Hey, great I can sign, I can enter in… and I’m not committing yet to you being my builder on the $500,000 home.” That is a big step and there is a step that necessarily needs to precede that. And that is “What are we going to build? And what’s it gonna cost?” But then it’s also establishing is this the right builder? Is this a good team? And so I tell people that that first step, in addition to giving us needed information to get to the finish line, it’s also an extended job interview for Stauffer & Sons. It gives you an opportunity to see “Okay, does this guy return phone calls? Does he return emails? When I say this is important to me, do I see that appear on the plans the next go around? Or, did it somehow just get like brushed off?” And then, you develop a chemistry, a rapport and they can see hey, I’m kinda the genuine article here so… and it’s fun because when you see them start to buy in and say… because I definitely get folks who come in, kind of like I walk onto a used car lot—to this day I still do— it’s kind of like, you walk onto a used car lot and you see the guy approaching and you’re like, “Whoa, stay back! I’m just looking!” and then he asks you anything personal at all, like “What are you…” “It’s none of your business!” you know, and you realize he’s a good guy. He’s got a good product here that I’m interested in…. what do I have to fear? But there’s so many scoundrels out there that you’re like, “I don’t even want to try.” So, I don’t rush that process. I don’t just say, hey… You’ll never hear me utter the words, “What’s it going to take you to get you into this baby today?” If it’s meant to be and we’re all nodding our heads and saying “hey this feels right.” This is good then we step on that first step of the pool. And then when that feels good and it’s like “Well, this is nothing to fear” and “I wanna go swimming.” You know, okay wade on in. And then “Hey, are we committed?” Let’s go. We sign them and we build you a house.
Lauren: Is someone’s ready to contact you and explore the possibility of building a new home? What is the best way to do that?
Andy: The usual ways. Yeah, get on our website: staufferandsons.com S-T-A-U-F-F-E-R and then spell out “A-N-D” then “S-O-N-S.” My number is really easy: seven-one-nine-four-nine-two-ANDY. I set that up 20 years ago. I don’t know if you can even do that today but… and other than that, just Google us too. We have a pretty good presence out there because we have been pretty active in getting information out on some of our finished product and everything. So that will take you to our website in sort order and then just ask around about me.
Lauren: And your Facebook page, by the way, is really fun to follow. You guys always have cool photos of the homes that you’re building. It’s really fun to look at.
Andy: I tell people if you go to our Facebook page, that really is… you’ll see the polished presentation on our website. Facebook is all about, “Hey, what happened [on the job site] yesterday? We were on a job site and we stuck a shovel in the ground.” And here’s these nice folks, and tune in… come back six months from now and we’ll put a key in their hand and be part of it.
Lauren: On your Facebook [page] you always show your ground breakings and you show your key ceremonies.
Lauren: It’s pretty cool. What type of community groups are you involved in the area?
Andy: As a home builder of course we’re involved in our HBA, [the Colorado Springs] Home Builders Association. Colorado Springs, I think has from what I’ve seen in my experience, it has one of the coolest HBAS in the country. I think we have the longest running Parade of Homes in the country so the folks… that’s a fun one to be part of and I would encourage anybody within your own industry professionally because we can talk community in a second but professionally. Of course I’m gonna be involved in the Homebuilders Association. And yes, 16 years… as soon as I got my residential building license, it’s like, “Well, of course.” The next thing is you’ll sign up and… I’ve met some great folks and the HBA’s a big one. And especially because I think being involved in an organization like that is not just for the day-to-day things and the annual events that they have for whatever. But it’s also… when something happens within the community like a fire, as individuals, everybody’s wondering “Well, how do I plug in? How do I help out?” It’s really cool when you have an organization that says “Okay, we’re not just gonna be this disjointed band of people with good intentions. We’re going to organize our members and use this network that we’ve built up for various things and now we’re going to go out and help the community.” So that was fun to be part of community meetings where they have a lot of Q&A, like Black Forest, for example, through the HBA, I was able to be at various forums that they set up. Where using everything that I learned from the Waldo Canyon Fire, I was able to be in the right spot at the right time to help people navigate the way through their process in the Black Forest Fire. So the HBA was outstanding in facilitating that. And then you know other things is how we live our life, Little League Baseball. That’s been huge. To this day when I see somebody on the street and “Hey, how you doing?” And I introduce them to somebody, they say “Well, how do you know that person?”—I know him from baseball going way back. Or the YMCA of the Pikes Peak region. One of my best buddies is Boyd Williams—the CEO and president of the YMCA. And so to be able to go and use their pools every now and then and happily I’ll pay for that… or go to the fundraisers or that kind of thing. The Pioneer Museum downtown—my wife can hardly believe she’s married to a guy that’s just so corny in that way. That I just loving standing at exhibits and learning about our history and you know that kind of thing.
Lauren: The Pioneer Museum does a great job.
Andy: Absolutely. Yeah.
Lauren: It’s really fun. Okay, so if someone is new to town and they’re having a conversation with you and ask you “How should I get involved around here, I love the mountains, I love Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, where else should I go? ” WHat do you recommend?
Andy: You know, I think about when we hit the ground here on July 7th of 1997. July 7th was my first day of work. I remember that ‘cause it was a hot day. Anyway, we moved in to the south part of town to an apartment, rented for a while to get our feet on the ground. And that can be different. Some people plug in and meet folks like yourself, realtors who can help them and plug them into a house right away. Other people are more like, “We don’t even know this community yet,” you know? And the neat thing is, if they really want to plug in long term, they should get to know the entire community, North, South, East, West, Downtown, and then even up the pass [in Woodland Park] and all of that, but there is definitely that time where you kind of determine, “Are we west side people? Do we like old houses that need to be fixed up where you got the sidewalk and then grass and then the street and big Elm trees and all that?” Or, “Are we flying horse ranch type folks? Do we like the golf course lifestyle, the country club, access to amenities and so on” I think it is—get your feet on the ground, and that can be a neat time when you get… maybe you get transferred here from a company or your’re moving back home after being away, whatever. Get your feet on the ground, really get—I mean Colorado Springs, wow. I mean [it] has so much to offer and everyone is discovering it, obviously. So, you have that interim period where you can meet people. Plug in as a volunteer anywhere, it just doesn’t matter. The Marion House Soup Kitchen, sign up there and be serving food or cleaning dishes, or whatever. Or whatever faith based… do it through your church or whatever. As soon as you plug in, you’re gonna meet people who have been living here forever and have been doing this… volunteering is a lifestyle, where it’s just… and then you meet people and it just goes from there. The networking opportunity in Colorado Springs, socially, professionally, is just amazing.
Lauren: What are some of your favorite places in Colorado Springs?
Andy: It’s funny. We live up North; we’re in Black Forest. But I own property down in the broadmoor and I love Cheyenne Mountain and the hiking trails and the [Cheyenne Mountain] Zoo. It’s funny because we have three older boys that are 21, 20, and 18. And then we had a 15 year gap. And we have a little three year old now, so four boys. So now all of a sudden, things we used to do—that we stopped doing—we’re doing all over again. So like, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, we’d lived right down the road from it [in the past], we had a membership, we went 12 times a year. Now we’re starting to get into it, where it’s like “Hey, that’s right! We can go back to the zoo!” Or… we went to the El Paso County Fair the other day. And we went to a Monster Truck Show. But there’s 29 breweries here in town now all of a sudden. Restaurants downtown… I’m just a downtown junkie. So every chance I get I’m walking. And I love just walking around. So I’ll hit all the streets and walk them. And Playgrounds, ask me anything. I know all the coolest playgrounds in town. There’s just no shortage.What a great community.
Lauren: Thank you for so much cool advice. Lots of ideas of places to go for people to check out who are new in town and tons of great info for people thinking of building a home.
Lauren: Some of the things there to think about. All right, thank you so much for your time Andy it was really fun to talk to you
Andy: It was fun, thank you.