Leaving Town by S. Claire Conroy

This article is featured in the most recent issue of Custom Home Magazine, ( a hanley wood publication.)

One of the worst aspects of this recession has been the pervasive paralysis. Everyone is stuck. People are frozen in houses they can’t sell. They’re postponing major life events, like getting married or retiring. And, those in business for themselves are mired in markets that no longer support them and their companies. What to do?

Custom building has always been an intensively personal, local profession. Your knowledge of building codes…

in your area, the strengths and weaknesses of subcontractors, and your relationships with building material dealers make up an important chunk of your expertise. But what if your market has ground to a halt, or has slowed down so much that you’re faced with either closing shop or laying off your entire workforce? Most builders have survived by picking up small jobs and biding their time for conditions to improve. They’ve added handyman divisions and other revenue streams to stay afloat. Of course, these strategies make sense and they’re working for a lot of companies. But there’s one builder who is doing something entirely, radically different: Andy Byrnes of The Construction Zone. When the going got tough, he got going—out of town, and all across the country. He followed the work—and not just any work, but the best architect-designed work being done in the United States. He’s our Custom Builder of the Year.

In exporting his talents, Byrnes answered a need no one had yet fully articulated. Turns out, brand-name architects want great builders to build their one-of-a-kind designs. But architects’ clients often ask them to design houses in remote locations with little talent base. Combine a famous architect, a wealthy client, a far-flung location, and a cutting-edge modern design and the building corps grows even leaner—or more costly, as they think twice and charge triple looking at complex, multipage sheets of drawings.

How did Byrnes get this gig? Well, he already had a reputation with top-notch architects either residing in his hometown of Phoenix or who’d come to build there. So following those architects’ jobs to other places was not unthinkable. It’s just no one had really thought of it before. But you also should know he’s a ringer: Byrnes is a licensed architect as well as a contractor—one who happens to love building more than designing. So, is his model replicable by builders who aren’t architects? I think so. He’s first and foremost a great builder.

S. Claire Conroy

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