The Model Home from a Construction Point of View
This interview is a slight diversion from our popular “Lessons from Legends” series. Realizing that as an interior design/model merchandising firm, we approach the need for, and importance of, model homes from a very specific perspective, we decided to get a more holistic view. To truly understand and appreciate the model home and its crucial role in the sales process, we wanted to talk with an on-site construction professional. And to ensure we got a perspective many could relate to, it had to be someone who has worked with mid-sized builders. As opposed to a small custom home builder or one of the “big guys.” Once we had that idea, we knew a great person to talk with would be Gordon Cruikshank, the current Superintendent at JBJ Construction.
We have worked with Gordon for a few years now at the Tradition at Red Hook development and have cultivated a professional relationship that is filled with mutual respect and fueled by mutual success. Plus, we have a lot of fun working together. We were certain an interview with Gordon would result in honest insights and a few laughs.
LD & Co: Thanks so much for sitting down to talk Gordon, we appreciate your time. Let’s jump in, what would you say you do? What is your own personal elevator speech?
GC: I’m a project manager. As in I manage the entire project of constructing a community.
LD & Co: So once the houses are built your project is complete?
GC: [laughs] No. I stay on and help with construction and management of any community amenities, maintain the landscaping of the common areas, really everything that goes into a development. I manage all of it until enough houses have sold and the homeowners can take over the HOA. Once the HOA fully takes over and the initial home warranty period expires, my “project” is complete. It could (and often does) take years.
LD & Co: Ah, that makes sense. It’s kind of like raising kids, you’re in it for the long haul. So, how did you get into the building industry initially? It seems like so many were born into it.
GC: It really does. But not me. Construction was not even remotely a part of my plan. I went to college and got a degree in psychology. I had every intention of going on to grad school.
LD & Co: Interesting, from psychology to construction management that’s quite a left turn. What happened? I need to know the story.
GC: Ha, yeah, the funny thing is, I used to work construction in high school and college during the summers. I hated it. But it was a great way to make money. So, the summer after I graduated, I was home, working construction to make some more money before grad school and as fate would have it, I was working on a project for Joe Kirchhoff. And I guess Joe saw something in me and sort of took me under his wing. I ended up staying on and working for Joe for 18 years.
[Side Note: Joe Kirchhoff is the principal and CEO of Kirchhoff Companies an integrated Real Estate Development, Investment, and Management firm founded in 1986. They specialize in medical, multifamily, retail, and student housing assets throughout the U.S., focusing on the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and southeastern states. They are a dominant presence in the Hudson Valley.]
LD & Co: What made you leave?
GC: I didn’t. Another company bought out Joe’s interest in commercial construction and I stayed on with that company for a few more years until they wanted to branch out to New York City and beyond. I wasn’t interested in leaving the Hudson Valley area.
So, I worked for another company, PC Construction, that did a lot of work in the Hudson Valley. I had just finished a big project I was working on for them when I ran into Joe Kirchhoff again. Timing is everything.
LD & Co: Definitely. So, Joe was working on Red Hook when you two reconnected?
GC: Yes. They had already gone through the approval/permitting process and were ready to put shovels in the ground. That’s where I come in.
LD & Co: Once the construction commences, that’s your entrance, got it. So, if you are building all the homes in a community, how do you feel about building the model home(s)? Not to “lead the witness” or anything, but do you see the value in building and merchandising a model home?
We wouldn’t be anywhere without our model homes. You can show a prospective buyer the floor plans, but they need to see the house, touch the counters, experience it.
LD & Co: Do you think it’s necessary to have a professional interior design/merchandising firm involved?
GC: Without a doubt! We would see people walk into the models you’ve done for us and immediately think, “I want to live here!” Truly, you introduced us to the people who would live in the house. We think of the homeowners living there in a functional way, you brought the emotion. And as we all know, emotions are what sell.
I am not exaggerating when I say the model homes that have been professionally designed and merchandised are the keys to our success.
LD & Co: How does working with an interior designer/merchandiser make your job easier? (Or harder?)
GC: It’s so fun working with you all. You understand our style and the community we are trying to build here. You know you’re not just staging a house for sale but helping us develop a community.
Having a model home that is merchandised by a professional firm like Lita Dirks & Co is what makes the sale.
GC: There’s no doubt the model home is a significant investment, and you must do it right. There are no second chances with a model. Thankfully LD & Co understood what we were trying to do at Red Hook from the get-go and it was a huge success.
LD & Co: There’s definitely a synergy between construction, builder, and designer. Well, there should be, in an ideal world.
LD & Co: What would you say is the best part of your job?
GC: I love watching the process. From digging that first shovel of dirt to watching new owners move into their home. Moving into a new home is a major life milestone. It’s incredibly fulfilling to be a part of that process. It’s so tangible.
I think about when I first saw this area, it was just a field. And now, it’s a community. Kids are running around, people are riding their bikes, walking their dogs, forming life-long friendships.
LD & Co: I can imagine it’s incredibly rewarding. Ok, last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? Or any parting words of wisdom?
GC: Wow, that’s a good one. This is going to sound corny but it’s so true: do a quality job and be proud of it.
I have worked with Joe for so long and both he and Joe Bonura, both Joes, they always do the right thing. Neither of them is the kind of developer that puts up a house, or houses in this case, and runs away. We are proud of what we are accomplishing. It’s not about money or speed. It’s about creating something timeless; creating community.
LD & Co: Love it. Thank you so much Gordon. It was a pleasure talking with you and I look forward to many more years of quality collaboration.