Yes, It’s Personal!
JH Batten, Inc. takes ownership of each design-build project
Earlier this year, when it was time to freshen the company brand, JH Batten, Inc. brought on a new marketing firm. “They asked a lot of questions,” says Steve Doby, Operations Manager for the design-build firm. “They asked how we define a win…what our protocols are…what we consider our best projects.” Steve smiles. “In no time, they concluded that, top to bottom, every person at JH Batten had a vested interest in every project.” Back came the marketing firm with an all-new tagline: For us, it’s personal.
“Bingo,” Steve says, and he pulls out his first of many illustrations of this. “Our staff meets once a week to talk through every project. Everyone’s there, and we get up in each other’s business. As a project manager reports, we all listen to the challenges—the opportunities—and there’s wisdom in multiple counsel and best practices to share. We’re better together than any individual.”
That sense of combined ownership extends to every site, too, Steve says. “When a project’s design and permitting are done and the ground is ready, I assign the superintendent, and we get out and start construction—our men go to work as if it’s their own home.”
Every superintendent, he’s quick to add, serves on one site at a time, full time. “They don’t juggle projects; they’re the first to arrive, the last to leave,” Steve says. “They form strong relationships with the subcontractors, holding them accountable for the quality of work expected by our clients and by us.”
Steve pauses a moment and says, “David Batten feels very strongly about this. If our name is on it, it has to be right.”
In Founder and President David Batten’s spirit of excellence, JH Batten (the “JH” initials honor several family names) puts a premium on rapport. “At a first meeting with a new client, we’re getting to know them as much as they’re getting to know us, so it’s two-way exposure,” Steve explains. “While we explain our operations, we’re hearing their vision, listening closely, looking for any red flags, for any pain in the project. So from the first, we’re solving problems and sharing ideas. And that table is truly round.”
By “truly round,” Steve means there’s no head of the table; every person present has an equal voice, and each person receives equal respect for his or her role. Shared expertise, at JH Batten, is a major theme. “We bring our giftedness,” Steve explains, “tried and true methods, materials, types of construction, best practices. The designers and engineers bring their skills. The owner brings his or her vision. There are no bad ideas. And in true collaboration and honesty, the best ideas rise to the top.”
As relationships jell, Steve says, the JH Batten team falls in step with the client’s style and approach. Together, the team considers solid design-build principles to get the most facility for the money. On those rare cases when a project doesn’t quickly fall into a plan, JH Batten stays in the game. “We did a big corporate relocation, a true design-build project,” Steve recalls, “during which the client changed their minds many times. We could have thrown our hands up, but instead we stayed fluid to their needs. We listened and adapted as we went along, creating solutions and making those design ideas reality through the subcontractors in the field.
“The relocation was a big deal to our clients, obviously, and we understood their second-guessing,” Steve explains. “The final product was outstanding. They told us it couldn’t have happened without our willingness to listen and stay with them.”
No ‘Two-by-Four at Lowe’s’
David had just spoken at a conference when the firm’s founder was approached by a pastor who had given up on building a new church. “I wish we’d met you sooner,” the pastor said. “We hired an architect who spent almost half a million on blueprints that are rolled up and sitting in our office. Our budget was $6 million, and we got back prices for $12 million.”
“Talk to me about what you want,” David responded. “Tell me your budget and your priorities.” And the two sat down to talk. “Long story short,” Steve says, “the church board hired us. We master-planned the thing out, sent it out for bids, and the project came in at $6 million. We showed him the way to get what he needed for the budget that should have been listened to up front. He had hope again.” Make that hope made possible by creativity. “We hate the word cheap, but we’re big on value,” Steve says. JH Batten may repurpose or renovate an existing building or get a “crazy creative idea” to do something like install unseen solar panels, as it did at one medical center. “The owner was willing to try, and now they generate a lot of their own energy,” Steve reports, enthusiastically. Mutual trust can empower both sides to do more for less, he says, and JH Batten loves a creative challenge.
“Too many times clients look at contractors like a two-by-four at Lowe’s,” Steve says, colorfully. “But we’re not a commodity. If you’re just looking for the cheapest builder, that’s not us. We have a fair price, and we’re big on trust. That’s the way we do business.”
Building on Generations
David is a fourth-generation builder who grew up with a tool belt, Steve says. Like so many sons of builders, he has early memories of his dad’s residential worksites. In 1990, when he went into business for himself, he naturally started in home renovation and custom homes. “After a few years, he staffed up and went into the commercial world, bidding jobs for counties and cities and public works—and it about cost them the company,” Steve recounts. “When the low bidder gets the job, you’ve got to scrape and figure out what got left out and how to get it back in. There’s a whole ugly side, and in a couple of years, they said, ‘This is not who we are.’ ”
Who JH Batten is—far beyond the church buildings for which it’s renowned—is an ever-expanding design-build team taking on new, different and bigger projects across five states, even as an increasing number of clients spring up close to home in North Carolina. Steve says its ringing endorsements come from the firm’s repeat and multisite clients across multiple industries.
The Christmas-Gift Business Model
Steve is the grandson of a homebuilder. He remembers seeing his grandfather unwrap Christmas gifts from clients who had become life friends. In Steve’s mind, that scene of personal investment amounts to a long-term business model, and his kids see it in him today.
“I had a meeting in Greensboro recently,” he says, “and my family came with me. On my way home I drove out of the way to show them two or three of our projects. We went by a big automobile showroom for car rental and sales. We’d torn down and completely rehabbed that old building and made it look modern.” “I look at those buildings, and I know all the pieces. I know they’ll be there a long time, serving a purpose. In the end, the pride in the product feels really good.”
For the JH Batten team, every project is personal.