By John Byrd
In a year in which housing resales have slowed, credit is tight and investment portfolios are typically smaller, it would be reasonable to suppose that custom home builders and remodelers are just holding steady or even cutting back—anything but expanding.
Supporting this assumption is the fact that new home construction unemployment has been rising for 19 months, even as many remodelers confront lower demand and smaller projects.
Such metrics do not, however, apply to BOWA Builders, a nationally-recognized residential building firm with a large Alexandria presence that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.
At BOWA, the scope and number of new projects has actually increased in the past 12 months, and —more significantly—the 80-employee firm is still adding top managers while expanding its geographic reach.
As one of the region’s most acclaimed custom builders, the firm’s reputation is certainly part of what underlies this counter-trending success. BOWA has won every major award for remodeling excellence offered at the local, regional and national levels. The high volume of referrals and repeat business testifies to a disciplined service culture that has won frequent industry attention. Moreover, the firm’s distinctive renovations and custom homes are often trumpeted in the nation’s top shelter magazines.
But the back story to BOWA’s growth stems from an unprecedented decision by the company’s founding principals almost a decade back to offer partnerships to top managers, a career option usually associated with law firms, accounting practices and other professional service businesses. The idea is that senior managers— “team leaders” in BOWA-speak— are given unfettered general management control over their own geographic territories, and incentivized to both increase client lists and manage profitably. After seven years, they can participate in the company’s stock ownership program, an option no eligible manager has so far failed to exercise.
“What BOWA’s doing is attracting talent,” observes Michael Morris, who edits the widely-influential Qualified Remodeler Magazine. “It’s a smart idea. There are lots of so-so remodelers. But gifted managers who have mastered all the skill-sets needed to produce distinguished work are rare,”
Noting that his magazine selected BOWA “National Remodeler of the Year” two years ago largely on the strength of their high-performance service model, Morris says the firm continues to be a recognized standard-setter.
Under New Management
BOWA’s team leaders—there are now five heading up company business in Alexandria/Arlington, Fairfax County, Loudoun/Fauquier Counties, the District, and Montgomery County— particularly like the fact that the non-traditional organizational chart allows them to mainly concentrate on projects, design solutions and clients.
Rich Cassagnol, who manages the 12-person team focused on Alexandria, praises the quality of work his BOWA credentials help secure:
“We’ve worked in every architectural style, interior design and landscaping language. We’re as conversant in country estates as we are in penthouses or historic properties. No one else has this range. Our project management standards are so high a client may never know just how challenging an assignment really is.”
By way of example, Cassagnol recalls steps in renovating Rosedale, an 18th century home once owned by a revolutionary war general. The property’s historic value presented an unusually arduous set of architectural and code considerations—complicated by the fact that the owner also wanted to add an Olympic-sized pool.
In the end, Cassagnol satisfied dozens of contradictory regulatory interests, yet the final product retained its place in the historic register while meeting all the needs of a modern family of five.
Cassagnol emphasizes that servicing each customer’s needs fully is more important to BOWA than volume:
“A satisfied client is always our goal… but the number of award-winning projects we produce says that homeowner’s come to us with high standards, and we meet or exceed them.”