Two years ago, few custom builders would have guessed that the industry was walking into a buzz saw. But Ken Wrench had a privileged view of what lay ahead. The Charlotte, N.C.-area builder handles sales and marketing for Augusta Homes while his partner, Ron Talbott, covers production. Wrench also sits on the board of directors of a local bank, and from that perch, he says, “We started seeing it before other builders.” Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Wrench and Talbott acted swiftly. Working with an outside consultant, the partners revamped their entire marketing program quickly and effectively enough to largely negate the downturn's effect on their volume.

(From left) Ron Talbott and Ken WrenchPhoto: Sean Busher

Augusta Homes had long maintained a website. But despite “lots of pretty pictures” of their work, Wrench says, the site produced zero leads. The company's rebuilt site opens instead with a photograph of the builders themselves and testimonials from past customers. Magazine-quality photos of the work follow, but the primary emphasis is on the credibility of the builders and the lifestyle aspirations of potential clients. “We are in a relocation market,” Wrench says. And for upscale out-of-towners researching builders on the Web, the company's online image now matches its real-world identity: sophisticated, personal, and reassuringly professional.

To expedite its traditional design/build process, Augusta developed a portfolio of its own house designs, allowing owners to simply tweak existing plans rather than start from scratch. Rendered with the same elegant graphics as the website, the plan portfolio says as much about the company as it does about the houses. As a result, Wrench says, “We have access to a whole part of the market that we didn't have before.” And the timing couldn't have been better.

Augusta Homes
Cornelius, N.C.
Type of business: Custom builder
Years in business: 11
Employees: 11
2008 volume: $17 million
2008 starts: 6

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