Business Q & A

June 30, 2013

A conversation with Craig Sharp

As the son of a homebuilder, it was pretty much a given that Craig Sharp would follow in his father’s footsteps.

As the son of a homebuilder, it was pretty much a given that Craig Sharp would follow in his father’s footsteps.

Sharp, 45, started helping his dad, Walter, build homes in his teens. And Sharp figured after high school he would join the family business, which at the time primarily built starter homes in and around his hometown of Augusta. But his dad — who before becoming a homebuilder earned a master’s degree and taught construction in a vocational technical college — had other plans. He wanted Sharp to go to college.

“He wanted me to get old enough and to have a college degree, just to be able to gain more respect from clients and employees, basically,” Sharp said.

So Sharp attended Emporia State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and business. Immediately after graduating, Sharp went to work for his dad, and two years later he was running the company.

By the time Sharp joined the family business, his dad was ready to get out, he said.

“He just held onto the company long enough for me to get there,” Sharp said.

Since purchasing the company 13 years ago, Sharp has expanded his dad’s homebuilding company into a multimillion-dollar business that focuses almost exclusively on designing and constructing homes priced between $238,000 and $1.95 million in Butler and Sedgwick counties.

How long have you been a homebuilder?

I’ve been running the company since ’92, and I’ve owned it since 2000. I’ve been working in it since I was 14. When I was 14, I started to work with trim carpenters and siders. And by time I was 16, I was running trim carpenter and siding crews, and did that all the way through college. I got thrown into roles that were probably above me … it made me very quickly pay attention to all the different trades. I actually have done most of what goes on in a house. In high school and college I took a lot of architecture classes so I learned that phase, also.

The business that you own and operate today, how is it different from the company you started with?

Completely different. When I graduated college in 1990, I convinced (Dad) to go into the Bel Aire market. In ’92, I took over and moved into the Andover market. Our volume has more than doubled. We do more high-end than lower-end. That is what our target product is. We do a lot of design. … We also do the decorating. We focus on being unique and cutting-edge. … I hear (Dad) tell other people the same thing, that we took (the company) to a whole other level.

How do you stay unique and cutting-edge?

I do a lot of traveling to different markets, a lot of magazine and Internet surfing, just to see new trends. And I also work with my vendors to find out what they are seeing in different parts of the country, what’s becoming hot. We’re always changing designs, looking for new and creative designs. It just gives us a lot of flexibility.

What are the key elements to being a successful homebuilder, in your opinion?

Good communication between the client and builder, customer service and innovative design.

Elaborate on what you mean by customer service.

Actually, that’s huge. That’s No. 1 to me. My best form of advertising is not only doing a good job during the time of construction, but also doing a good job in following up and warranty service. That’s where we feel like it’s most beneficial.

What is your take on how business is for the area homebuilding industry right now?

2011 was probably the lowest year permit-wise for Wichita citywide, and last year (permits) were up, I think, 15 percent. The market’s considerably better, overall, than it was two years ago.

How is business for Craig Sharp Homes today versus two years ago?

Our personal business is considerably better than it was two years ago. We rode out the three-, four-year recession relatively well; 2011 was the lowest year for us. I think we did $11.6 million in sales. (In) 2013 I’m projecting around $18million in sales, which would be second best (for Craig Sharp Homes) overall.

What are the challenges and opportunities for your company right now?

Opportunity is just an improving market and changing trends we can stay on top of. Challenges, there’s quite a few. The things that worry me the most would probably be interest rates and material and labor costs on the increase. We’ve got this momentum going and now you’re seeing the interest (rate) eke up, so that’s a big concern. Materials have increased a lot because of a spike in demand nationally. And labor costs are going up because they’ve been so suppressed in the last few years … and there are so few of them (skilled laborers). The one last thing I worry about is we’re running low on lots. Developers haven’t been eager to put in new subdivisions over the last four years because they just got pounded (in the recession). It takes over a year to start a subdivision. It’s going to be interesting to see what developers choose to get back into that market. It’s not a challenge now, but it’s going to be a challenge in the next couple of years.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

I enjoy the design work as far as the architectural design and decorating design, and how it changes. That and the fact we aren’t doing the same thing every time.

Likewise, what do you least enjoy about your work?

You have your phone with you at all times, and you don’t ever turn it off. It (mobile phone) comes with a lot of benefits, but that’s one negative.

If you couldn't be a homebuilder, what other career would you choose?

An architect is probably one of a couple of things I thought about doing and could have been doing.

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