Home Builder Canada Readers survey
NP_lineHome Builder Magazine New Products Online
Computers, Educational

Electrical & Mechanical
Finishes & Surfaces
Kitchens & Baths
Landscape & Design
Speciality Products
Tools & Equipment
Windows & Doors
New Products home

External Links: Associations & Governments . Builders & Renovators . Manufacturers & Suppliers
Home . About Us . Subscribe . Advertise . Editorial Outline . Contact Us . Current Issue . Back Issues . Jon Eakes

© Copyright 2007 Work-4 Projects Ltd.
"In the Blink of an Eye"
Times flies when you're having fun building homes.

By Ann-Margret Hovsepia
The Stepper Family - Rudy and Erna Stepper
(centre), (left to right) Marlowe Janke,
Rose Janke, Sylvia Cox, Brenton Cox,
Harry Stepper and Eva Stepper.

When you're building between 200 and 300 homes a year, winning prestigious awards, mentoring high school students, preparing food for the poor, and raising money for children with cancer, there's not a lot of time left over for navel gazing.
Stepper Custom Homes Inc., one of Calgary's largest new home builders, did take a moment to reflect on its achievements, however, when it celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The move-up builder has built thousands of homes since it was established in 1956 and, just in the last six years, has won or been a finalist for 28 CHBA SAM and New Home awards, most recently nabbing the prizes for Best Billboard, Best Print Ad, Best New Home up to $249,999, and Best New Home $250,000 to $299,999.
Stepper Homes typically builds customized first- and second-time move-up homes between 1,300 and 2,300 square feet, ranging in price from $405,000 to $658,000. Most of these have been concentrated in three or four communities in the Calgary area but estate homes and executives suites are also being built in two other communities. The higher-end homes sell for up to $1.1 million.

Building Custom... and Customers
"A lot of our success stems from our thorough planning process," says STACEY WELLS, marketing director of Stepper Homes. "We allow for customization but that's prior to digging the hole in the ground. This way, the customer knows exactly what he or she is getting, and we can build the best home possible without surprises." Wells explains that sales representatives go over every single detail of the home with customers right at the beginning and have them meet suppliers when they choose items. "They can ask questions directly - they benefit from that and so do we," she says. "We've resisted the in-house design centre trend."
DAVE HOOGE, general manager at Stepper Homes, says hardwood, granite, and iron railings are among the frequent requests customers make. "They want cosmetic things that stand out, show well and make the home warm and comfortable... visual, feel-good things."
Though the emphasis seems to be on looks, customers are concerned about environmental issues, too. A Built Green(tm) builder, Stepper Homes offers energy efficiency packages and, if requested to, will take the steps to have a home tested and labelled. "We use products and processes that meet those same requirements," says Hooge, "but if there's a specific customer request or development requirement to include the label and testing, we can make that happen."
One of the biggest challenges for this "mid- to high-volume" builder, according to Wells, is shared by builders across the industry: the availability of quality tradespeople. "It is really busy for us right now, so it's tricky," she says. "In some ways, we are lucky that our relationships with trades over the years ensures a level of stability and gives us a bit of an advantage." Still, Wells concedes that the challenge exists, driving the company to do what it can to make sure houses are delivered to customers on time. "We have had to pay a lot more attention to quality," says Hooge, adding that the shortage of skilled labour has played a role in rising costs on the retail end. "On the other hand, our industry has learned a lot through this challenge, so there's a positive side to it, too."
Stepper Homes surveys its customers constantly, from just after sales to after the first year of possession. "Seven times," Hooge specifies. "That information shows up on the management team's e-mails so that they can immediately respond if there are issues." Finalists in the Alberta Home Warranty Customer Choice Awards for the last three years, Stepper Homes tries to maintain a personal level of care and service for its customers. "They're not just a number," Wells says.

Giving Back to Communities
A few years ago, Stepper Custom Homes forged a partnership with the Bowness Trade Centre, an intermediate-only program that prepares high school students for a career in residential or commercial construction. Stepper trade workers donated their time and materials to build a charity house and the profits from the sale of the home were put back into developing the Trade Centre of Excellence. Subsequently, Stepper Custom Homes and Bowness High School received the Calgary Educational Partnership Foundation 2006 Mayor's Excellence Award for Excellence in small business programs.
Stepper Homes employees donate time to The Mustard Seed Calgary every month, helping to feed the inner-city's poor, and participate in the annual LOOK/Stepper Homes Revving Up for Kids bike ride for the Kids with Cancer Society. This September, the company is also holding its third annual "Steps to Fitness" fundraising run, which promotes fitness among employees. The proceeds from the event will be donated to the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation.
"We've been building in the city for so many years," says Stepper Homes marketing director STACEY WELLS, "that we feel it's important to give back to the community." She explains that family and relationships has always been a strong part of the culture at Stepper Homes and the company wants to promote that sense of community in Calgary.

While Not Business as Usual
Though he doesn't run the company or sit on the Board anymore, founder RUDY STEPPER's presence and influence continue to play an integral role in the success of Stepper Homes. From his photos prominently displayed in company advertisements to his regular visits at the office and construction sites, the company's patriarch reminds the staff of over 40 (not counting trades) of the values the company was built on.
"Our mandate has always been to build the best homes, not necessarily to be the biggest builder," says Wells. "From the beginning, people had a lot of respect for Rudy and the Stepper family, and he had that respect for others in turn. Honesty played a huge role in his relationships with trades, suppliers and customers."
Hooge credits Stepper Homes' longevity to prudent business practices. "Rudy has told me many stories of how he made decisions that went against standard practices, decisions that allowed Stepper Homes to flourish in good times as well as in bad times." Hooge explains that Stepper has always relied on traditional, conservative business practices. "There's the temptation to be heavily leveraged, but in difficult times, that can end up hurting you. Resisting that temptation has allowed us to weather the marketplace's storms." In a province significantly affected by the oil industry, it makes sense to have a steady foundation.
When Stepper came to Canada in 1953, he had just $7 in his pocket and a passion for building with wood. He and his wife ERNA dug out the basement of the first Stepper home by hand. "Rudy's drive was huge... his passion is infectious and has been bred into his children as well," says Wells. The entire Stepper family is now involved in the business, with son HARRY serving as president and chief executive officer since 1986.
The Stepper Homes Web site quotes its founder (in whose honour the milestone was referred to not as the traditional ruby celebration, but the Rudy celebration): "Fifty years... eine Augenblick (the blink of an eye)."

homeBUILDERcanada.com | Home BUILDER Magazine | Canada's #1 Information Source for Residential Home Builders and Professional Renovators

HB house ad sub
Home Builder Magazine Ask Jon Eakes
Home Builder current issue