Our Builder: Ernie White.

Ernie White is a simple man. Anyone who has met him will immediately know exactly what I am talking about. He drives a nine year old truck that rivals new ones driving off the lot. Rarely does he eat out for lunch (except on this occasion). Instead he brings a packed one routinely with him to work. His sentences are short, yet poignant, full of hidden gems of wisdom. He slows life down and never bites off more than he can chew. Matter of fact, the only thing he needs is a fishing pole and his family and you'd never hear a peep out of him.

Yet how is it, that for over 35 years Ernie White has been building custom homes, overcoming every housing and economic downturn since? Why do third and fourth generations never imagine building their homes with anyone else? How is it that families have trusted him to build their home over and over again, even 5 or 6 times? You won't find any hidden business secrets, complicated marketing analysis, or mounds of debt in his playbook. The secret is rather, well...simple.

I asked Ernie the secret to his success and he didn't blink giving me an answer. "If you take care of people they won't want to deal with anyone else."  That's it? He followed with this important caveat - "And you must be honest from the get go." What an incredible idea. He elaborated, "People aren't as stupid as some think. They know when you are treating them right and when you are being fair and honest. And that doesn't just go for the homeowner either." It is no wonder why he has had some of the same subs (sub-contractors) for nearly twenty years.

When I interviewed some of Ernie's customers about why they loved his homes, I got an array of positive feedback. However, there was a common denominator among them all. They all trust him. In an industry that has been stereotyped as untrustworthy, he flourishes. One gentlemen, who is a well respected business exec,  told me he didn't bother having an inspection once his home was completed. To naysayers he simply replied, "It doesn't matter. It's an Ernie White home. If it isn't right, he'll fix it." To have a reputation like that takes years of doing the same thing over and over and over again - correctly. One could go as far and say that that is his competitive advantage. Home-owners have been burned so many times, they cling desperately to someone who doesn't just sell what's on the exterior of the drywall, but also what is behind it. They know that if someone cares enough about what is hidden from the naked eye, then they are someone who truly has their best interest in mind.

Another homeowner interviewed shared a classic story with me. Several years ago, Ernie was inspecting the work of one his homes. Upon inspection, he noticed a block wall was incorrect. Instead of moving forward to save time and money, Ernie approached the sub and asked him to fix it. When the sub refused incessantly, Ernie did something that would earn most men a beating, especially of his small stature. He took a bright orange spray paint can and wrote the subs name along the wall. His theory was if my name is going to be on the home, you should be willing to take ownership of your work as well. The sub replaced the wall and Ernie remained unscathed.

It is moments like this though that measures a business and those that lead them. They are the moments that allow your brand to grow by leaps and bounds and to make people want to tell everyone else about you and what you did. It can also have an adverse affect when improperly handling these situations. My contention is with the proper mindset, like Ernie and his staff, to take care of people as the modus operandi, these moments come frequently and word spreads exponentially giving your brand an intangible value that can give your business the firm stronghold it needs to last.

Now Ernie freely admits lady luck would show up from time to time, gently nudging them forward. However, she operates like Murphy's Law, showing up often when you are doing things right.

Ernie shared one instance of this. "I remember one time a gentlemen by the name of ...... and I did a million dollar deal with a handshake - and that was in the 70's. He was building a large set of condos here in Lakeland. I did good work for him and he took great care of me." A handshake? Only trust could solidfy a deal like that.

Lastly, he attributes a lot of his success from operating debt-free, which is somewhat a mystery to most small businesses. Unlike many who tried leveraging debt or spent money they didn't have, Ernie White Construction grew only when it had the means to do so. Their first office was a makeshift table in a bedroom, with a phone, and some paper. They didn't even build a model home until they could finance it themselves. Somewhere, Dave Ramsey, is grinning ear to ear.

These simple principles Ernie has incorporated into how he operates from start to finish has built a powerful brand that will continue to stand the test of time. Building a quality product consistently, making wise business decisions, and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time, Ernie White Construction has built a powerful foundation not even his own homes can rival. May him and his staff be an encouragement to us all.


Our Builder: Ernie White.

Fun New Year Facts!