We all enjoy hearing success stories. When nice people achieve success by doing things the right way, we enjoy the stories even more. In this issue, we feature the success story of one of our oldest clients, Ryan Dunham, who has achieved success in a highly competitive industry by doing things the right way. Ryan is co-owner of Oakley Home Builders in Downers Grove, IL.
Growing up, Ryan and his family moved around quite a bit, living in Washington, Connecticut and even Argentina before returning to Illinois. He got his first taste of construction working summer jobs while in high school in Rockford. “My folks told me if I wanted a car, I had better find a job and earn the money. So I did,” laughs Ryan. “It helped me learn the value of hard work and earning my own way at an early age.”
Ryan expanded his construction experience while in college, working summers and earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Illinois State University.
After graduation, Ryan worked for several large companies, among them a major printing company, which proved fortuitous because he met both his future wife Jodee and his future business partner Steve Sobkowiak while there. Ryan’s early work experience instilled a passion for real estate and building.
He began his ultimate construction career converting condos and small apartment buildings in North Side Chicago neighborhoods. In 2004, he and Steve decided to partner up and start their own home building business. Ryan explains the thinking that went into his business philosophy: “Unlike many other builders who took over existing family businesses, when we opened our doors ten years ago, we started from scratch. Everything was brand new to us and so we weren’t hampered by inefficient practices. We were able to do things differently and better than most other builders. Steve and I both had a good work ethic and were prepared to do whatever it took to make things work. Failure was never an option. We believed if we did things right and stuck to it, we would be fine.”
“We started with the remodel of one small house in Westmont. As we grew and crafted close relationships with some of the top subcontractors in the area, we developed a detailed quality process that enabled us to build high-end homes at a competitive advantage. Originally, we built spec homes and put them on the market. Today, clients come to us and hire us to build their dream homes. It took some time to achieve that transition.”
“We wanted to create a more pleasant atmosphere to help guide clients through the planning and building process. We created a more organized method so people would be more comfortable. We kept refining our practices until we had it right. Today, we have an evolved method for clients to move through the myriad selections and we are able to build houses timely due to our efficiencies. We are building our one hundredth home this year. We’ve had amazing growth but we believe we grew the business the right way. We stuck to our philosophy that we would only be as good as our employees and subcontractors. We were able to cultivate a network of reliable people who believed in what we were doing. And as we grew together and secured more and more projects, contractors knew we could provide them with steady work they could be proud of. Our contractors help us deliver that consistently because they understand we chose them for their competence, not because they were the low bidder. The process has become a true win-win for everybody.”
Ryan acknowledges his company is fortunate to still have some of the same contractors who worked on their first homes a decade ago, adding, “That’s quite unusual in this business. We are like a family. Many of our contractors work primarily for us. And over the years, the working relationships between the various contractors evolved. They know each other so well that when one needs help, another will pitch in, even though they have different specialties. We all have the same goal of a quality final product so when a framer helps out an electrician, he learns more about what the electrician needs to do quality work and it helps the framer give him that. The interaction helps us improve the overall process.”
No business succeeds without overcoming obstacles and the homebuilding business certainly saw its share when the economy turned. Many builders went out of business. Even though things got very difficult, Ryan’s firm had a solid foundation in the form of their process, employees and contractors. Ryan recalls, “The level of business took a dramatic dip but people still wanted quality homes and we were still building them, one of the few that were. We continued to grow, despite the downturn. Matter of fact, every year in our history has been better than the one before.”
Recently, some of the firm’s clients took out unsolicited advertisements in local newspapers, thanking Oakley for their new homes. “That was truly amazing,” says Ryan. ”We’ve had so many nice relationships with our clients and met so many wonderful people. I think they appreciate that we are dedicated to making the homebuilding or remodeling experience a pleasant one. It’s typically the biggest money decision a person makes so it’s important we handle it properly. To have clients be so impressed with the job we did that they wanted others to know about it is very rewarding. It’s a testament to hard work and doing things the right way.”
Over the past couple of years, Ryan, Steve and the firm have been featured on ABC News, WGN, Chicago Magazine and the Tribune, among other media outlets. They’ve also won several building and remodeling awards. Acknowledges Ryan, “We are truly thankful for the coverage and the nice things said about us, but at the same time we have to keep a close eye on our growth. Today I have to do more planning than ever. The business and the economy continually evolve and we have to respond to it to stay successful. As we grow, we continue to bring in new employees. We are becoming a larger organization. That’s all good and positive but we have to be sure to stay on top of everything. It’s an ongoing challenge.”
Ryan, Jodee and their three children live in Glen Ellyn. The couple is involved in giving back to the communities in the area, through Habitat for Humanity, local churches and many other charitable organizations.
Ryan met Joe Lyons many years ago while both were still in college. The two are part of a ski group that plans an annual trip together. “This year it’s Utah,” grins Ryan. “We have anywhere from eight to fifteen that make the trek every year since our college days. It’s a fun tradition and it helps keep our friendships strong. Like me, many of the guys are Joe’s clients.”
To see some of the beautiful homes Ryan’s firm has built, log onto: www.oakleyhomebuilders.com
Disclaimer: Client profiles are for inspirational and/or biographical purposes only, it is not a statement as to whether or not the listed clients approve or disapprove of the advisor or the advisory/brokerage services provided.