February 20, 2006
You can’t buy the sort of publicity that comes with having your company name associated with a popular network television show. But a free plug wasn’t the reason Keller Homes built a home for an El Paso County family last year as part of the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” reality show on ABC.
The work donated by the Colorado Springs home builder, its vendors and subcontractors was an effort to contribute to the community, not to boost the company’s profile or sales, said Dave Keller, who owns the business with his wife, Pam. “I’ve had people I haven’t heard from in 25 years call me and say they saw me on TV,” Keller said. But when it comes to home buyers making the purchase of a lifetime, Keller added, “I don’t think people base their buying decisions on that.” Keller Homes had emerged as one of Colorado Springs’ higher-profile builders long before “Extreme Makeover” came to town. The company is now in its 24th year — a lifetime in an industry where several home builders went bust after the local real estate industry collapsed in the late 1980s. Last year, privately owned Keller Homes, which employs 90 people, closed on 154 homes totaling $67 million. In 2006, company officials estimate those figures will climb to 242 homes and $100 million, which makes it one of the largest locally based builders. In addition, Keller Homes ranked in the top five among two dozen Front Range builders in J.D. Power and Associates’ customer-satisfaction survey for 2004 and 2005. The company also recently received three national awards for one of its new home styles, while Dave and Pam Keller were named 2005 persons of the year by the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. A teamwork approach that brings together employees and subcontractors, along with a stay-ahead-of-the-curve strategy when it comes to new home products, have helped them succeed, the Kellers said. Home building “encompasses all the disciplines that any business can have,” Dave Keller said. “You have to create the product, you have to find a place to build it, you have to establish a customer base, you have to get it built, service it and continue that process and stay viable in a very, very competitive environment. “It’s a business that requires you to lean forward all the time,” he said. “You can’t relax in the saddle or you’ll get left by the wayside pretty quickly.” Keller, 53, grew up in Madison, Wis., and graduated in 1974 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served six years in the Army, which included 3½ years in southern Germany and about a year at Fort Sill, southwest of Oklahoma City, Okla. The father of a military friend worked in the homebuilding industry, which led Keller to start his own company in Oklahoma after the Army, he said. Because he’d wanted to live in Colorado since visiting the state when he was younger, Keller moved to the Springs in 1983 and launched Keller Homes. It was a good time to get into home building; the Pikes Peak region was booming, and housing construction hit a record in 1986. Pam Keller — then Pam Thomas — joined the business as its marketing director in 1987 after years of working in sales and marketing for area builders and brokerages. The two married five years later. When the area’s economy and real estate industry nosedived by the end of the decade, Keller survived, in part, because it was a small company without a lot of overhead, Pam Keller said. After a federal agency took over land controlled by area savings and loans, Keller Homes bought property in areas such as Briargate on the north side. The move positioned the company to meet a demand for homes in fast-growing neighborhoods. In the 1980s, Keller built less complex, entry-level homes, Dave Keller said. But as it grew, the company developed a niche. Large builders competed on price, but Keller began offering thousands of combinations of finishes, cabinets, tile, flooring, among other products. Its design studio, launched in the early 1990s and updated four times since, provides stateof-the-art displays for appliances, lighting, colors and the like. “You have to continually reinvent yourself and stay on the cutting edge,” Pam Keller, 46, said. Better building techniques also became part of its strategy, she said. Years ago, the company hired a local firm that measures, cuts and nails wood frames in a climate-controlled factory, rather than having workers nail two-by-fours at outdoor building sites. The process is more expensive, but makes for better homes because of the precision work involved. Keller homes sell for $300,000 to $1 million. “It’s true carpentry instead of rough framing,” Dave Keller said of the process. Keller Homes also developed strong ties with several subcontractors, and often involves them in the home-building process. Bob Schmidt, whose Precision Electric has wired about 3,000 Keller-built homes, meets with buyers to discuss wiring decisions, such as where to place electrical outlets or whether special hightech hook-ups are required. Mike Finkbiner, owner of Robbins Roofing Specialists Inc. in Colorado Springs and a longtime subcontractor, consulted on roof design for Keller’s award-winning La Bellezza home series. “It’s not like they hand us a roll of plans and tell us, ‘just do this,’” Finkbiner said. “They get us involved in the design and what works and what doesn’t work. They’re really well-thought-out homes. They’re not just cookie-cutter houses.” Tapping the expertise of employees and subs together is a big reason the company has flourished, Dave Keller said. “It’s all the people we’ve had and the trade base,” he said. “It’s very much a relationship business.” The J.D. Power and Associates surveys aren’t the last word on customer satisfaction, either. Keller conducts its own postclosing surveys with buyers — one after 30 days, another after five months and a final one at 11 months — to gauge buyer satisfaction. “Are you listening to your customers?” Pam said. “What are you learning from them? . . . We want to understand what they want. They can give us very good advice.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0228 or email@example.com WHO THEY ARE Dave and Pam Keller, co-owners of Keller Homes, a Colorado Springs home-building company. Dave serves as president and chief executive officer, overseeing home building operations; Pam is executive vice president of sales and marketing. Hometowns: Dave, Madison, Wis.; Pam, Daytona Beach, Fla. Education: Dave graduated in 1974 from the U.S Military Academy with an engineering degree. Pam received her real estate agent license in 1979 and her brokerage license in 1982 from the Colorado Real Estate Commission. She also took night classes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and is a few hours short of a degree in business and marketing. Personal: Married since 1992. Two children. When they’re not working: The couple skis and travels. Dave is a history buff; one of his favorite sites is Mount Vernon, which he’s visited several times. “George Washington, in general, is just fascinating to me. That period of history, I think, was an extraordinary time in the history of the world, not just our country.” Community: Pam sits on the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. board of directors. Dave is a former EDC board member and former president of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs board. Web site: www.kellerhomes. com