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Dave and Kyle, business partners. Photo: Kelly Starbuck Potography

PBC Design + Build (+ Balance)

We all know that new construction isn’t exactly experiencing a lull. And if you live in Southeastern North Carolina, you’ve seen first-hand how “hot” the market continues to be (insert simultaneous knocks-on-wood). Real Estate teams are growing, General Contractors are creating back-logs, and you can’t seem to drive more than a few miles without seeing commercial development.

 

PBC Design + Build has seen both sides of this economy over the last 21 + years and business partners Dave Spetrino and Kyle Henry have weathered the storm.  They have proven in the meantime, that a great partnership shouldn’t solely be based on intelligence, trust, and a shared vision.  Suffice it to say, through the trials and tribulations of running a business they always seem to be able to laugh (eventually) and to be friends (mostly) all while building beautiful custom homes for wonderful, fun clients.  Keep reading, secret divulging to commence…

 

Clearly there are a lot of factors that go into a great partnership.  All the obvious qualities like vision, motivation, and common work ethic are important but it is no secret that a great sense of humor and good taste in music can go a long way.  Let’s not forget about differences though, because those can be a huge strength in that solid foundation (no pun intended…get it? Foundation?  Moving on…)  We could go on and on about the generic qualities that successful business partners have in common (or don’t) but instead we give to you a small window into the minds of one of our favorite twosomes…

 

DAVE VS. KYLE: A quick-answer quiz to the MOST important questions

 

Birth order?

DS: First

KH: Middle

Middle name?

DS: Arthur

KH: Jeremy

Favorite year of high school?

DS: Either Junior or Senior I suppose.

KH: Senior year.  I finally figured out the system.  Little work and a lot of play…

Toddlers or teenagers?

DS: I hate them all.

KH: Toddlers.  They can’t talk yet.

First job?

DS: Washington Post paperboy.  Age 11.

KH: Giovanni’s (Italian Restaurant in Hickory, NC) bus boy. Age 14.

Sal, Murr, Q, or Joe?

DS:  I don’t know these people.  I know a guy named Sal, he’s a cool guy.

KH: Murr

Go-to drink at a bar?

DS: Diet Coke with ice or a Moscow Mule (but only if it’s in that fancy copper mug)

KH: Pellegrino

Favorite song. EVER.

DS: “Night and Day” Al B. Sure!

KH: “Love is a Rose” Neil Young

I’d absolutely ruin my diet for…

DS: Peppermint milkshake with hot fudge at the bottom of the cup from Baskin

Robbins.

KH: SUGAR

Last time you cried?

DS: Either when they froze Han Solo in “The Empire Strikes Back” or when I thought

E.T. was going to die.

KH: Friday

Cinema, theatre, or live music?

DS: Cinema

KH: Live Music

Charleston or Savannah?

DS: Savannah

KH: Charleston

Favorite EVER custom home detail?

DS: I’m a sucker for great light fixtures and I love seeing brick work on interior walls.

KH: I love modern architecture.  We have several recent modern homes. I appreciate the designs of all of them.

Best quality about Kyle?

DS: Crazy smart.

Best quality about Dave?

KH: He is “in it” for all the right reasons.  He never quits.

 

It looks like Paula Abdul said it best in ’88,  clearly opposites do attract.  As a senior in high school, Dave was entering his seventh year in the workforce and Kyle was signing up for his seventh semester of shop class.  From two different locations, completely different family dynamics, and opposite academic paths these two have managed to create a lasting and functional business partnership, some pretty nice custom homes, and a dang cool place to work.

 

In conclusion, a common work ethic and (mostly) questionable sense of humor can really take you places!  Cheers to PBC’s “perfect match.”

 

PBC, Mentesana Family Recognized by Historic Wilmington Foundation

PBC Design + Build along with two of our favorite repeat clients, Sal and Beth Mentesana, were invited by Historic Wilmington Foundation last month to be recognized at their annual Preservation Awards Ceremony.  At a reception in St. James Parish Hall, The Mentesana’s downtown Fifth Avenue home was identified by this year’s awards committee members as being one that “beautifully fit” with the surrounding area in the category of Appropriate New Construction.

When Sal and Beth first moved to the area from Pennsylvania, they started out in Brunswick Forest. They chose the community for the golf course and atmosphere, and they chose their builder (ahem) for several other reasons (including Dave’s “part-visionary and part-sanity checker” qualities).  Although they liked their neighborhood, The Mentesanas found themselves living their lives in downtown Wilmington and enjoying Wrightsville Beach.  Beth spends time volunteering at the Bellamy Mansion and loves introducing art to fifth graders at the Cameron Art Museum, so downtown is where they knew they wanted to be, as Beth says “it is diverse, eclectic, and alive!”

Lot purchase, consult, design, and construction were completed by the end of October, 2018 and The Mentesanas moved into their downtown dream home.  Fitting everything they wanted onto a narrow downtown lot was challenging but doable, and fitting in with the area was definitely a priority.  Among the elements that they love most about their new home are it’s setting; their lot sits next to Bicentennial Park and is nestled beneath beautiful old trees.  They absolutely love the Italianate style of their home, the many windows, and it’s “shotgun” design- 22 feet wide by 100 feet deep.  Sal and Beth continue to receive compliments on the beauty of their home and friends can’t believe that PBC was able to build in such a narrow space AND include a driveway with a two-car detached garage!

As The Mentesanas continue to enjoy their new custom home, they say that the ultimate compliment is receiving this award.  As their design + build team, we must say that we agree!

 

David Spetrino, Building Insights in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal

What better way to end one great year and ring in the next than with a Q & A from the founder of PBC, the face of our company, the most recent former president of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builder’s Association… our own Dave Spetrino!

Dave recently spent time answering some questions for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. Find out why not knowing everything, and admitting it, is an important part of custom home building.

 

Building A Recovery: Dave Spetrino

Custom homebuilder Dave Spetrino shares the lessons he’s learned and how he’s moved on from the Great Recession. (photo by Michael Cline Spencer)

By Dave Spetrino

Putting on my play clothes after school to go work on my “fort” in the woods behind our house was the best part of my childhood. I’ve always wanted to build things – I would ask for nails for my birthday, preferably 16-penny.

Fast-forward to college, and it was fascinating. But I couldn’t wait to graduate and get to work – taking extra hours each semester and a couple stints of summer school. I was out early. As a business major, my courses centered around process, marketing, management and growth.

Looking back, I didn’t get what I needed most: a genuine understanding as to what to do when things go bad, really bad.

I’ve been self-employed since I was 19, and there have been plenty of cycles in the economy since that time.

I paid attention, I asked questions and I was certain I would never repeat the same mistakes of those who had failed during those ups and downs.

But no one seemed immune to the Great Recession.

One could argue that our local real estate, development and construction industries took it the hardest, not just in jobs lost – thousands – but also the number of failed enterprises, bruised relationships and slashed real estate values.

These days the company I founded with David Nathans in 1997 – originally Plantation Fine Homes, then Plantation Building Corp. and now PBC Design+Build with my current partner Kyle Henry – builds homes.

Unlike a traditional retail business, the margins for construction companies are narrow. Beyond consumer demand you’re relying heavily on strong management, a stable pool of skilled labor and limited movement in commodity pricing.

A few percentage points in the wrong direction, and you end up working for free.

Prior to 2009, it was understood that a change in market conditions would affect our business, but we believed we were well-prepared for a downturn, certainly nothing that couldn’t be managed.

Our assumption was flawed, as our overhead extended well beyond our gross profit and as real estate values reset. I learned that a bank can ask for more money against an existing loan to keep their ratios in balance.

Actually I learned a lot more than that in 2009 – new words like “compliance,” “forbearance” and “curtailment.” While I was fortunate to avoid words like “insolvency” and “bankruptcy,” I can fully articulate the differences between Chapters 9, 11 and 13.

I’m grateful to look back with relief, and our approach is dramatically different today than that of a decade ago.

Construction and real estate are very broad descriptors. Wilmington is a small town, and we spent years trying to be everything to everyone – commercial, development, multifamily, remodeling and custom homes.

Today PBC Design+Build is a custom homebuilder serving the Wilmington region. That’s it.

We are still presented with many opportunities to diversify, but by politely declining, it makes it that much easier to fine-tune our processes and concentrate on what we do well.

There hasn’t been a time in history where homes were ever more complex. It goes beyond government regulations and the building code. It means understanding how homes are built and what it takes to make sure a decision on day 14 doesn’t have a negative consequence that may not materialize until months (or even years) later.

I get asked daily about our local market, about interest rates. Like a bunch of others in the real estate business, I guess we’ve unceremoniously become somewhat of a bellwether. I predict the next correction won’t be as bad as the last because guys like me (hopefully) matured to the point of some restraint and constant reality checks – something I lacked more than a decade ago.

But there will be a correction, and for those who have prepared, the opportunities will continue to materialize, and others will not be as fortunate.

I don’t know exactly what will cause the next correction, but I can tell you what keeps me up at night: There are a lot of moving parts that touch the costs associated with construction.

Regulatory and environmental challenges, immigration, lack of truly skilled labor and an aging pool of business owners whose children aren’t necessarily going to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

Affordability is going to get worse as well, and it will become more noticeable as both interest rates and hard costs rise.

Homes are the very last consumer product that is completely handmade. I believe we’ll see more efficiencies in construction like those we see in Europe and Asia where walls are mass-produced and assembled like a kit.

You’ll still see housing built, but fading will be the thought, character and emotion that comes with the art of design and the talent of a tradesman.

Feeling completely safe or immune to the next set of challenges in the economy isn’t likely to occur, but we do enjoy a maturity that only comes from experience.

We step back more often than we like to retool or readjust one of our processes – it’s not perfect. It will never be perfect – but it will be great.

Dave Spetrino is president and founder of Wilmington-based PBC Design+Build.

WilmingtonBiz Magazine