You would need to search hard to hear anyone in real estate or construction claim the best thing that happened for business was the real estate crash of 2007. But listen to this. “What the real estate crash showed us is that our model is right,” says Frontier Builders of Whitefish owner, Eric Payne, sitting behind his desk in between project meetings. “Our volume exploded with the crash. The playing field was reduced and we’ve doubled our sales.”

 

Eric Payne is not being glib with this notion of his company rising from the ashes. He is just proud that his simple building philosophy can survive—and thrive—a cataclysmic event. And it doesn’t matter if he’s working on a huge commercial job or a small remodel. The rules for his company stay the same: Build it better. Make it perfect. Keep costs low. Be on time. Stick within the budget. Communicate with the client. And have fun.

“We operate within a solid budget that is controlled,” says Eric. “Even when the market was hot, we had the same philosophy. I’ve stuck with that notion, and it works.”

A High-Tech, Modern Flair

Attracted by the big views and wide-open spaces of Montana, Eric moved to Whitefish in 2004. “I live here, and I love it,” he says. “I thrive on the challenge. I don’t want to be every other builder doing the same old stuff.”

Before his building career, Eric ran a large data-tech company in Maryland, and he sold it to follow his Montana dream. But his love of technology has found a natural fit in new homes. “I now have clients using their iPhones to control and monitor parts of their house,” says Eric. “If a sink starts leaking, the water shuts off automatically and they get a text- message alert.”

Before his building career, Eric ran a large data-tech company in Maryland, and he sold it to follow his Montana dream. But his love of technology has found a natural fit in new homes. “I now have clients using their iPhones to control and monitor parts of their house,” says Eric. “If a sink starts leaking, the water shuts off automatically and they get a text- message alert.”

In the center of historic downtown Whitefish, Frontier has also embarked upon an ambitious, ground-up rebuilding of the famous Casey’s Bar. The design will reflect an old, restored Irish pub with a modern flair, complete with high-tech audio and lighting for live music. One of Montana’s only rooftop bars, the outdoor deck will feature a grill, heated walls and floors, as well as stunning views of the Whitefish Range. Eric makes no bones about it, “Our goal is to build the nicest facility of its kind in the Northwest.”

Big or Small, the Rules Stay the Same

While a major house renovation pales in comparison, the execution is the same. Case in point—Sabine VanLaere and her husband recently bought an older house on Whitefish Lake in need of an upgrade. “Eric and his team treated me like I was very important,” says VanLaere. “I live in Calgary, so a lot of communication happened over the phone or by email. For every question I had, they had solutions in a friendly, helpful way.”

And while Sabine talks excitedly about her new home and how comfortable it will be for family retreats, the Frontier philosophy has ultimately created a happy client by following the rules. “We came in under budget and on time,” she says. “Any change that was necessary was clearly communicated, and we got a copy of every bill. I’d do it again in an instant.”

A Crowd Standout: Details, Design, Finishes

Having lived in the Flathead for 18 years, Vice President of Operations Wally Wilkinson speaks with pride about the work Frontier does. “We complete all carpentry and framing in- house, plus we run our own excavation and masonry divisions,” he says. “We stand out in the crowd because of our commitment to quality and our diversity. Our team of craftsmen is second to none.”

Using unique materials like reclaimed lumber and working with owners to achieve the look they want is part of the fun and a challenge. “I especially enjoy the artistic side,” says Wally. “Eric is demanding because he wants jobs completed on time, but he doesn’t keep you under a microscope.”

Working seven days a week can take a toll, but Eric has no regrets. He loves what he does. And with a trusted team, he still finds time to ski with his son or ride horses in the mountains. “Time in the saddle is a huge stress reliever,” he says.

Ultimately, beyond the rock and dirt, wood and mortar, steel and ceramic, circuitry and art, there are people. “I surround myself with good, smart people who have knowledge beyond my skill set,” Eric says. But people can get stuck in their ways, and it’s Eric’s job to motivate. “I want to change the way of thinking common in the construction business,” he says as he gathers papers to go into a team meeting. “I want to help people build a different home.”

 

For more information call 406.730.1060 or visit www.frontierbuildersatwhitefish.com

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