Turnstone Custom Homes marks 15 years in business


Turnstone Custom Homes of Rehoboth Beach is celebrating 15 years in business as a custom home builder in Delaware. Harvey Ryan, Turnstone’s CEO, co-founded the company in 2004, starting out doing contract trim work for national builders. He began building a few custom homes for friends, often working days, nights and weekends in a business he said was dominated by competitors that had been in business for decades.

Working from a dingy, second-floor office in a nondescript industrial building, Ryan said, he would try to steer prospective client meetings to the job site so they wouldn’t have to see the office.

“We tried to earn the business of prospects by convincing them of our honesty and sincerity —that’s really all we had to offer back then, said Ryan. “We made many mistakes but made sure that our mistakes did not hurt our clients and that we grew from every one of them.”

Ryan said he wore many hats back in those days, including sales, production, procurement, hiring, breaking up fistfights on job sites, accounting, insurance, crawling in the mud to fix broken equipment and responding to burglar alarms.

“Today I’m surrounded by a team of highly qualified people who I respect and enjoy,” Ryan reflected.

Ryan’s partners are Erin Bagnatori, who runs the company’s operations, and Dave Eppes, who oversees finance. Turnstone employs 15 people and more than 100 subcontract workers, and builds between 15 and 20 custom homes and renovations in a typical year, from their design center located on Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach.

Asked for the secret of Turnstone’s success, Ryan offered one word, “perseverance.” According to Small Business Trends.com, the five-year survival rate for home builders is 36.4 percent — the lowest of any industry. And the housing crash of 2008-2009 claimed many victims, Ryan noted.

“We survived the crash, and the experience made us stronger. Although business today is better than ever, I will never forget the lessons of the crash, and know we must always be prepared for the next downturn,” said Ryan.

Basically, he said, Turnstone is a custom manufacturer that creates its product outdoors, never builds the same thing twice and has almost no repeat business (most people only build one custom home in their lives).

“What could possibly go wrong?” Ryan quipped. “Our business runs on trust, but is it realistic for a person we just met me to trust us to successfully execute the most important purchase of their lives? No. In fact, many people come into the process in a defensive mode because they’ve heard many horror stories about builders. We’ve learned that sending trust signals early in the process is crucial. Staying in business for 15 years is one of the strongest trust signals we can possibly send,” he added.

“With over 150 custom homes and renovations under my belt, I have learned that the most important thing I can do for our prospective clients, and our team, is to clearly explain the economics, tradeoffs and commitment of building a custom home, and to counsel prospects that don’t seem like a good fit toward another builder,” Ryan added.

What do the next 15 years hold?

“I’m most excited about how much the clients love our construction management portal,” said Bagnatori, adding that he believes the system has transformed the business and led to the highest level of client satisfaction ever. “It’s always more fun working with happy clients,” he said.

It is not unusual for 100 or more schedule updates, client choices, job logs, photos or messages to be shared between clients, the Turnstone team and the trade partners in any given day.

“Everyone has a system,” said Bagnatori, “but fully integrating it into everything you do is very hard work and requires perseverance and relentless training.” Bagnatori said his cadre of project managers has never been stronger.

Ryan is most enthusiastic about the design/build process.

“Although we are certainly happy to work with outside architects and designers, most of our clients have opted for our in-house design capabilities,” said Ryan, adding “there are just so many advantages to using one company to design and build your custom home.” He said he is also excited about the prospects for the kitchen renovation capabilities announced last year.

“More than anything else, I look forward to turning many more client relationships into long-term friendships,” Ryan concluded.

For more information, go to www.tchde.com or call (302) 227-8876.