A local focus and a legacy of craftmanship and customer service carries residential builder through three decades
story by Julie Edwards • photos by Carolyn Bates • American Builders Quarterly – March/April, 2010
WHEN STEVE SISLER, PRESIDENT OF VERMONT-based Sisler Builders, Inc., started out more than three decades ago, his future seemed set. The nephew of a master craftsman and the son of a DIY woodworker and historic preservationist, Sisler began working in construction while still in school and, after college, opened a cabinet shop; however, he soon knew he needed more from his life’s work.
“I wanted more personal interaction with my clients—I wanted the ability to develop relationships,” Sisler says. “I find great satisfaction in turning relationships into tangible assets.”
Today, those relationships are what set Sisler Builders apart. The company takes great strides to ensure clients are satisfied and prides itself on the positive word of mouth generated by its customers. In fact, it was only during the recent economic downturn that Sisler began marketing. “For years, our projects have come from referrals and repeat business,” Sisler says.
But Sisler Builders is known for much more than its incomparable customer service—its consummate craftsmanship and dedication to value are the foundation of the company’s stellar reputation. “The goal of Sisler Builders is to deliver a construction experience that guarantees an enduring, superior finished product,” says Scott Cunningham, business manager. “Our team is committed to open, honest communication with our customers, especially as it relates to the project budget, and our clients have an appreciation for our attention to detail and our philosophy to stand behind our work.”
Sisler Builders has also maintained a local focus, keeping its projects within 20 miles of its Stowe, Vermont base. “I have always maintained that local is the way to go—support the local economy and be known as the local builder with a wide array of talents,” Sisler says.
The company’s challenges—such as the recession of 1989-90—have been balanced by growth, including a major expansion in 1996, followed by a second expansion in 2005. “Because we are a mid-sized company, we have the ability to react quickly to the market,” Sisler says.
In the last decade, the company built two projects that Sisler believes are hallmarks of its work. The first project—the Kearney residence—was constructed in 1997 and won the Northern Vermont Home Builders Association’s first-place award in the Luxury Home division, Best Kitchen, and the Environmental Excellence Award. Built in the French Provencal style, the home presented several challenges, including expansive rock work and a turret dining room. Sisler Builders worked with the architect and owner to approach the challenges with creative solutions, such as using rubble from a local granite mine to create exterior walls that measured 33 inches thick and 22 feet tall. “This home showcased our exceptional craftsmanship and really solidified us as the premier high-end builder in the area,” Sisler says.
Another Sisler Builders hallmark project is the Heron House. A historic renovation completed in 2008, the home lacked functionality and flow, had to be remodeled under the guidelines of local historic code, and had structural issues to work around. “Again, we had to do quite a bit of on-site problem solving; we were able to work out the issues while keeping the homeowner informed about cost and timeline throughout the project,” Sisler says.
As with most construction companies, Sisler Builders was impacted by the recent economic downturn, but its reputation and willingness to change has kept it in good stead. “Certainly, we changed our focus in the past few years,” Cunningham admits. “We are viewed as a high-end, custom-home builder, and while we still enjoy high-end projects, our focus now is on being a high-quality, professional builder, not a specific type of builder.”
Sisler plans to diversify the company’s offerings by adding a shop to craft cabinets, built-ins, and other furniture-type pieces. He has also taken an interest in purchasing older, dilapidated properties and renovating them for resale. “It’s a real pleasure for me to fix up existing housing stock and, in turn, help revive the local community by giving people affordable housing options,” he says.
Sisler’s main focus, however, is remaining consistent in the company’s philosophies. “I want every client to feel they receive our best work,” he says. One way he supports this philosophy is empowering his employees by offering them leadership roles. “Having our employees interact confidently and comfortably with clients gives us an edge over other builders,” Sisler says.
“‘We also continue to focus on leveraging internal processes and technology to become more efficient,” Cunningham adds. “We constantly evaluate each customer’s experience and make needed changes so the next customer has an even better experience.”
In stride with the green movement, Sisler notes that Sisler Builders has been stressing energy efficiency and ideas such as reducing material waste since the mid-’90s. “It’s part of who we are, part of our value—we have always been thoughtful about the entire building process.”