By William Thrift
Photography by Brian Arnold
A few years ago, Bill Sinnett and Tim Kern had an idea: Why not use their combined thirty years’ experience in the housing industry and start their own company? So in November of 2010, they surprised many market leaders by teaming up and launching Fortress Builders at a time when others in the business were suffering through a downturn in the housing market.
Back then, not only had it become tough for homebuyers to get a mortgage, banks were tough on builders, too. So Bill and Tim circumvented those financing roadblocks by funding their enterprise entirely from personal and private sources. That enabled them to control all aspects of the building process – from selecting choice building sites to securing top-quality materials and labor for the production of their homes and neighborhoods.
In considering what would make a potential new homebuyer comfortable with the process, they came up with the concept of their Design Center. Located on the second floor of Richland Mall, the Design Center features a place where customers can touch and feel various components of their new home before construction begins, like windows and doors, a mock kitchen with granite counter tops, and birch cabinets. Plans for over a dozen standard homes are available for clients to peruse, or clients can fully customize their new home from the ground up.
Fortress boasts a blueprint printer, so there is no waiting for a third party to produce plans. Their ability to do custom changes even during the construction phase sets them apart from many other Midlands builders. They can issue a plan modification in-house usually within about two days of getting the customer’s request. Once the blueprints are done, then the selection process begins for paint, granite, light fixtures, and other specifics.
Should customers have a need at any point during the process, Bill and Tim are a phone call away any time of the day or night. Bill says, “We build every home as if we would live there, and we treat our customers like we would want to be treated throughout and after the process.”
Fortress homes are designed for maximized living space and pleasing aesthetics. Chases for mechanicals like plumbing and ductwork are located out of the way in closets and other “dead” spaces, and not exposed along ceilings. Using an I-joist system for floor support instead of a series of 2×10 beams is one way that Fortress utilizes modern technology to improve the quality of their homes. Sixteen inch on-center walls are standard. They also use high-quality windows and thicker vinyl siding than most other companies. Even the most essential (and often least considered) aspect of a bathroom – the toilet – gets addressed. Comfort-height and elongated toilets are standard in all homes.
Bill and Tim make it a point to respond promptly – even after closing – to every customer complaint. One customer had a shower drain leak caused by a defective cast of the drain. Fortress responded within an hour, taking out the defective shower and installing a better one and re-tiling the entire surround. Another customer responded, “Fortress Builders is absolutely the best! We had a problem with our garage door, which turned out to be our fault, and they fixed it right away – so thankful they are our builder and friends.”
Fortress is able to respond so quickly to customers because no matter what level of their organization needs to respond, they all have the ability to ensure that clients are satisfied. Industry experience helped Bill and Tim select sales people and supervisors who are fully committed to the Fortress visio
n of customer satisfaction through high-quality products.
They also know the abilities and levels of commitment of all of their field teams including plumbers, electricians, dry wall installers, tilers, etc., and Fortress selects only the best to work with them.
Owner Tim Kern puts it best, “Some builders focus on volume. Fortress focuses on customer service and high-quality product.” They have the experience to evaluate a situation or problem, enabling them to “always do what we say we’re going to do.”