Meet Bruce, an Epcon Franchise Builder in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He quickly found land for his first Epcon community and feels his speed to market has revolved around the support he’s been given along the way.
Megan Ronquillo: Bruce, can you start by giving me a brief history of your career in your business?
Bruce Carrell: Sure. I have been in the building business since 1987. I’m actually a third‑generation builder. My grandfather was a house builder. My dad also did a lot of building and taught me. I moved to Myrtle Beach in the mid‑80s and started custom‑building. We have built over 1,000 homes in that market in that time. We’ve been a busy bee all these years.
Megan: Walk me through your journey to finding Epcon franchising.
Bruce: It was a quick journey. I was contacted by Epcon last November and spoke to Dominique. I did some quick research. I visited some communities, I talked to some franchisees, and it was a very easy decision for me. I had always wanted to do my own developments, and this seemed to be the perfect way to help me get from A to B and make that happen. We are well on our way to do that.
Megan: Can you walk me through a little bit. Custom‑building is that still part of your portfolio? How does that fit in with building production goals?
Bruce: As far as our existing business. We are at the busiest point we’ve ever been in 35 years. The market has been incredibly strong in the Myrtle Beach area. Right now we have over 50 homes in our pipeline.
My intention with Epcon is to build a separate division right along with our custom‑building portfolio, with new people in place for sales, production, and most of the functions that we’re going to need. There will be some overlap between the two divisions if you will. It’s as busy as we are already. It’s not a good time for us to try to move resources from one group to another.
Megan: I heard that you overcame some tremendous odds during the recession. He went on to win a national award as a custom builder in ICF. Can you talk a little bit about your journey through the recession?
Bruce: We were working in a high‑end community in Myrtle Beach where builders…There were a limited number of builders and people bought very much like they would in an Epcon situation. They would put a deposit down. The builder would finance the project and the buyer would close out at the end.
When the market heated up, as it did in lots of places, there were a large number of those buyers were speculators, not end buyers like an Epcon buyer. When the music stopped and everything kind of went to heck in a handbasket. We had people that just walked away. They walked away from homes that were a million dollars plus.
We woke up one day, and we’re carrying about $15 million of debt that we really didn’t expect to be carrying. It was a very tough journey to get through that. The homes in addition to that, the homes values dropped through the floor.
Now we’ve got all this debt on homes that you can’t sell for what you owe on them. We worked with our lenders. We were close to filing bankruptcy at one point but managed not to do that and squeak our way through.
We in that same timeframe as we were working to recover. We’re fortunate enough to sign some really large projects one, in particular, that was the biggest thing we’ve ever built 28,000 cubic feet it’s an enormous project, and that one event helped pull us through the worst of it.
Megan: What would you say your biggest challenge is today in this home building?
Bruce: Right now, like everyone, we’re having some supply‑side issues, getting things in a timely manner. We proactively work to order things earlier than we have in the past. Sometimes almost a ridiculous point in time, but that’s the way we’re trying to make it happen and still deliver houses in a reasonable timeframe.
There’s also some pressure on our labor force. Fortunately, we have a pretty good group of subs that are fairly loyal to us so far. That’s helping us get through that, but certain products, certain supplies are creating some real conundrums for us in terms of getting houses delivered.
Megan: What is your experience with Epcon been like thus far in building or starting to build our models?
Bruce: My experience with Epcon has been fantastic. I was talking to Dominique and Steve earlier, and I said, “There’s hasn’t been anything about this decision that I’ve second‑guessed, since I made it.” It’s all felt good, everyone’s supported me in a tremendous way.
We’ve gone from becoming a franchisee last December to, we’ll be breaking ground in October on our first project. A really good fast track considering we didn’t really have anything to start with other than an idea.
Megan: Why do you think your experience has been so fast‑tracking. Can you talk a little bit about your journey, from signing last November within a year getting a committee up in the beginning phases? How did that happen?
Bruce: Sure. I think the speed of it really has revolved around the support that I’ve been given. Dominic and Steve. Steve in particular on the land side has made multiple trips to my area to school me on what I should be looking for? What makes a good Epcon site?
In fact, when I signed my franchise documents within a week he and Dominique, were both there to meet with me and help me look around and talk about this is what we should be trying to do. Once I had a better understanding of the parameters of what we were trying to look for, it helped me focus in certain areas and ultimately found our first piece through contacts that I have.
I sent an email out to quite a few people and said, “Hey, I’m trying to find 25 acres of dirt, let me know.” Then that’s how it ultimately came about.
Megan: I know you’re still a new franchise builder yourself, but an even newer franchise builder- what advice would you give to them coming in? What’s helped you to have that speed to market?
Bruce: Obviously finding the land is the key to getting that first thing going. I’ve spent a lot of time massaging the contacts that I had, just talking to a lot of people and making them aware of what I was trying to do. Several pieces have come to me that didn’t quite fit for one reason or another.
That’s where the support from Epcon has been crucial in helping me understand and not waste time looking at things that are either too far away or not the right size or whatever it might be. It’s been very helpful. It’s one of those things as someone who’s never done the horizontal side of it.
You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s always a big fear on something, certainly as large as this you’re putting a huge amount of money at risk, and you want to do the right and not make a big mistake.
Megan: Is there anything, any final words you would like to say just about your experience? It can just be as a home builder in general, you’d have a lot of years of experience doing it. Even talking about this past year and how things have changed or evolved for you over time as a builder in this space.
Bruce: I think one of the things that was mentioned a number of times in my training and my training times which we had to do by Zoom on the first time around. The words were, “Stick with the recipe, don’t try to change what’s already been proven to work.” That resonated with me.
Why would you invest in this franchise if you weren’t going to do that, I know people from time to time have their own ideas. Having a good set of home products to offer, which as we’ve learned here, this today is evolving, and I guess always getting bigger and better which is great, using the tools that are already there, and using the people that are there to support you.
It’s just affirmed everything that I thought it was going to be. I’m very excited about it.