Sun Forest Construction
- Written by: Jeanee Dudley
- Produced by: Sun Forest Construction
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
In the mid-70s engineers Gary Bradshaw and Karl Mandry were building their own homes in central Oregon. Through the process, the pair decided they were likely capable of offering better services than local contractors. In 1977 Bradshaw and Mandry founded Sun Forest Construction (SFC), a custom homebuilding business based in Bend, Ore.
More than 35 years later, the company has built a growing presence in the residential construction market in the region. Jeff Jernstedt, head of business development and sales of custom homes and planned communities, works closely with Jerry Kuther, head estimator, as well as Glenn Dietrich, head designer, among a number of leaders in business. While the three do not prefer to use executive titles, each are deeply involved in day-to-day operation at SFC.
“When the original founders retired, SFC became an employee-owned company,” Jernstedt notes. “We have around 35 employees, all of whom participate in our employee stock ownership plan [ESOP] as owners. The founders still serve on the board of directors along with several of our employees. Our business is unique in a number of ways. We are a complete design, build and remodel firm. We have an in-house design team and, in terms of employees, we have calculated that the company offers 739 years of combined experience.
A Turnkey Trifecta
“Our team has completed 500 custom homes and 12 planned communities,” Jernstedt continues. “Beyond that, we have performed around 3,000 remodels in central Oregon. We consider ourselves a bit of a three-legged stool. The heart of our company is custom homes, which developed into remodeling. In the last 20 years, we have begun constructing communities for leading developers in the area.”
According to Jernstedt, the majority of SFC’s business is in central Oregon, with very few exceptions. “We did some work for Phil Knight, the owner of Nike,” he continues. “They liked our work so much that we were invited to work on his home in the Portland area. We sent a few people up there for a remodeling project.”
SFC has been involved in a number of unique projects over the last few years. Locally, the team has completed a $600,000 remodeling project in Bend that won a national award. The crew has also recently finished a nearly $6 million custom home.
“One of the most interesting projects we have done is the construction of 85 cabins for Brasada Ranch, a resort near Bend,” explains Jernstedt. “The resort was originally founded by Jeld-Wen, the major, international window and door company. They used to own a number of resorts and sold them to Northview Hotel Group, which has resorts in various parts of the country, from here in Oregon to Florida. Upcoming, we will have two custom homes on the Central Oregon Tour of Homes this year. We have so many really great clients that we have been working with. We can’t pick just one favorite project.”
Putting Together the Dream Team
SFC is vertically integrated in a number of ways. “We do employ finish carpenters, painters and a metal worker, which is pretty unique,” says Jernstedt. “Most builders in central Oregon do not do that. Other contractors are usually at the whims and mercies of available labor in our market. We employ those folks; many of them have 15 to 20 or more years of experience with us. Our consistency and workmanship in those areas is very high. That is really great for our most discriminating clients, including developers. They are very demanding in terms of consistency. Developers may be selling 12 to 100 units and need those to be the same, especially in finish work. Employing those people gives us a unique advantage in our market.”
In order to ensure projects are done to SFC’s standards, the company maintains high expectations. “We sub out most everything else,” he continues. “We have a highly qualified stable of subcontractors we work with in those trades. They are all highly qualified and experienced. We have sustained relationships with them, in some cases over decades. Unlike a small builder, who doesn’t do enough work to have the leverage with subcontractors who would have one framer and one HVAC professional; we have two or three of those tradespeople to call on to bid our work. Through our volume, quality and quality of tradespeople, we can provide better value than others might.”
Jernstedt goes on to note that SFC is very transparent in the company’s work with clients. “Typically, we have a three-ring binder with 45 different phases of construction,” he explains. “All of the bids we get are available for the client to look at. We can show them who we paid and how much we paid them. We do have our own servers and a part-time information technology person. We have been maintaining records for so long it has become a part of the DNA of the company.”
Like many contractors, SFC had to navigate major challenges throughout the last recession. “When things turned south, the hardest part was learning to manage people,” Jernstedt explains. “The founders who set us up really built up the company and our internal systems. Our accounting is very sound and we have great archival information. We are able to expand and contract employee numbers based on local market demands. We are not like other companies where you are hiring and firing at will, because our employees are owners, so balancing labor and demand has been the largest challenge.”
However, the team remains optimistic. “There is certainly a recovery going on in our local market,” he adds. “Building permits are at a five-year high and we have a number of custom homes in design from Northwest lodge-style homes to contemporary. We are doing a wide range of design work.” As custom home, development and community projects continue to roll in, Sun Forest Construction maintains a unique niche in the market.
For more information about Sun Forest Construction, please visit: www.sforest.com.
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