One house fire and a desire for three acquaintances to go into business for themselves has resulted in the formation of a St. Johns County-based builder/developer that can mix it up with the industry behemoths.
MasterCraft Builder Group is a company that has its product in some of the nicest communities in the county — Shearwater, Madeira, RiverTown, to name a few — and has even started its own smaller developments.
The one event that started Chris Shee, Andy Chambers and Neill Singleton in that direction was something they couldn’t control or anticipate.
When a house burned down in Bartram Springs, a lot became available. Shee purchased it in 2011 and thought it would be a good investment. Then he thought maybe he should build a house rather than just sell the lot to a builder.
Shee brought in Chambers, who had already established MasterCraft but hadn’t built a home yet, to be the builder.
The whole situation worked out so well that Shee, who leads land acquisition and sales, and Singleton, a financial expert, joined Chambers as partners of MasterCraft.
And after closing on just the one home in 2011, the company closed on 20 in 2012 and has kept growing.
“We had the same ideas, same values, but different skills,” Chambers said.
In order to keep momentum, the partners said they had to build homes that were as good or better than the big companies that dominate the area. They had to show an attention to detail and personal touch that larger firms simply couldn’t emulate.
One example Shee gives is that at every closing of a MasterCraft home, one of the partners is present.
“We do that because we’ve created a relationship with that person,” Shee said. “It’s a huge purchase and we just want to thank them and be there for that exciting time. On top of that, we get a report of how we did straight from the customer’s mouth.”
Those reports back to the partners and to the general public have been the lifeblood of the company.
Not everything is going to go perfectly when building a house, but Shee said it’s the way he and other employees respond to problems and complaints that set MasterCraft apart.
Being a local builder also appeals to a lot of potential buyers.
“The majority of our building was in the area, so word of mouth just started happening,” Shee said. “We wanted to do a superb job of treating customers fairly.
“You do the right thing and impress people, you create that raving fan, that’s the best advertising you can have.”
It’s clearly worked, and the small company, while still nothing like a DR Horton or KB Homes, is not such an underdog anymore.
MasterCraft is building some of the priciest homes in Shearwater and has just started selling phase III of its own development Villages of Valencia.
Shearwater developer Freehold Communities said MasterCraft has been a great fit for its community, which is located off of County Road 210.
“Freehold Communities initially invited MasterCraft to offer homes in Shearwater based on MasterCraft’s reputation for quality homes and excellence customer service,” said Mike McCollum, senior project manager for Freehold Communities, in an email to The Record.
“Since working with MasterCraft, we’ve experienced both of these traits first-hand. We appreciate the MasterCraft team’s continuous commitment to serving Shearwater customers throughout the entire home buying experience.”
The Villages of Valencia project is the biggest one in MasterCraft’s portfolio. The next phase of the project, which is off of East Watson Road, is 58 homes, but the future phases are planned for another 200-plus homes.
There’s more coming, too. MasterCraft has 45 lots in Madeira, which is on the property of the former Ponce de Leon Golf Course. It is also building on 41 lots in TrailMark, in the World Golf Village area.
And there’s even more on the way, Shee said.
“The developers have really caught on to us as a brand, knowing that we not only build beautiful, well-built homes, but that we have great service and stand behind the product,” he said.
Because they are all part of the local community, Shee said it’s important to all the partners that they treat customers and employees well.
Whether it’s raising money for charity (MasterCraft raised more than $50,000 just last year for St. Augustine Youth Services and Seamark Ranch in Green Cove Springs) or helping out employees in a financial jam, the MasterCraft partners said doing the right thing goes beyond building good homes.
And as much as it gives Shee, Chambers and Singleton a sense of pride, it also makes for better business in the long run.
Chambers said being loyal to employees, customers, contractors and even suppliers leads to more sales, a stable office staff and reliable work at the job sites.
“The way we get things done as a local builder is almost 100 percent through personal relationships,” Chambers said. “We’re able to be competitive because of our relationships.”