Merriam Webster defines the word capstone as the high point, a crowning achievement. For partners Jerry Abbott and Brian Rhoton, it took time, determination, and a commitment to excellence to make their way to the apex of their industry. Before the 2008 market crash, Jerry and Brian started a land business called Abbot-Rhoton Investments. The idea was to sell land to builders. “Then the market crashed,” Jerry stated. “All of the builders went under, including the company that we started with.” Jerry, however, has never been one to back down from a challenge. He and Brian put their heads together and made a plan, believing that they could build something that would survive the tough times and, ultimately, the test of time itself.
“We went and got some really good local partners and bought all of the assets,” Jerry explained. “I draw plans, so I just started drawing. Brian was the superintendent and was working on the land. It was just us. We had one agent, and we built one model, had all local investors, and we just started building what was called Capstone Homes.” Since that first leap just over a decade ago, Jerry and Brian have made it their goal to stay ahead and always to be able to provide a quality product, no matter the economic environment. They have perfected the balance between production and customization. They work with the productivity of a company that is cranking out template homes while bringing the creativity and innovation of a custom builder.
This begins with Capstone’s employees. Since moving to Flagstaff from California, Jerry has hired locally and trained his employees in whatever parts of the job they needed to learn. That’s how Clint Whiting came to the company. “Clint is our CEO,” Jerry said. Capstone hired Clint out of the oil industry in 2011. “He had a master’s in Finance, and he started with warranty.” They trained him along the way, and Clint worked right alongside Jerry and Brian to learn every aspect of the business.”
Jerry is proud of their homegrown approach to hiring. “We literally have not brought people in from California or big, corporate America. Everybody has been here, and we are all learning it.” Jerry revealed that his homegrown philosophy extends to his partnerships with tradespeople as well. Because he’s been working with many of the same local companies for 15 or 20 years, well before Capstone Homes even existed, it’s allowed Jerry to form strong and trusted relationships with those tradespeople. They know his preferences and have learned the level of quality he expects out of a product carrying the Capstone name. Knowing these individuals personally, being able to trust the work and the services that each one provides not only improves business relationships but also creates another quality that Jerry highly values, efficiency.
While working for Trend Homes, a production home company in Arizona, Jerry learned early on that working quickly, efficiently, and accurately created the best scenario for both the builder and the homeowner. “The faster you build the house, the better quality the house is,” Jerry explained. “If you take a year to build a house, it is exposed to the elements. We aren’t just building it fast to slap it together to get our margins. We are building it fast to enclose it, especially in the environment we are in.” The beauty and challenge of Flagstaff is the variability of its environment. With hot summers, cold winters, and the fluctuations in between, builders must be on top of their game to produce homes that are comfortable no matter the season. Capstone Homes makes it a point to build homes that are as energy-efficient as possible.
“I introduced Energy Star Certified homes as a standard,” Brian shared. “An Energy Star home is about 30 percent more efficient than a code-built home.” By building Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH)–a rigid certification through the U.S. Department of Energy–Capstone Homes exceeds the standards. ZERH homes are up to 60 percent more efficient to customers for whom this is a priority. “That’s including our cheapest, affordable home.”
By becoming experts in efficiency, Capstone is also able to share that knowledge with the community. Brian explained that educating others is part of partnering with Energy Star and the Department of Energy. “Capstone has started to become an example of the type of energy-efficient building that the city is now requiring other builders to meet.” Every customer is different, and whether their priority is energy efficiency, luxury, affordability, or some other combination of features, Capstone strives to deliver.
“Whatever someone wants to build, we can build it,” Jerry said. He also added that Capstone makes it a point to quote their costs clearly and accurately before ever breaking ground and before the customer has to commit to a piece of property. “That’s really where our biggest value is. You can find out exactly what something is going to cost before you even have to buy a lot,” Clint said. He explained that, often, people buy the lot before they have an architect or builder draw up plans for a house. Then they are stuck with this piece of land upon which they can’t affordably build their dream home.
Capstone helps home buyers avoid that dilemma, and helps them understand, from the beginning, what their costs will be. “Jerry created that design/build template, and we have just kept refining it,” Clint said. “With the experience over the years, we have been able to turn that price around really quickly for people. I don’t think we have ever given someone a price in that preliminary phase and not honored that when we have gone all the way to a full set of prints.”
Ultimately, Capstone is part of the community, and Flagstaff is a relatively small community. They want to build quality products that they can be proud of, and that will create happy neighbors within the community. They hire locally, source their tradesmen locally, and offer education to the city and other builders about efficiency and quality. They also support the community in other ways as well. “We support the 4-H club,” Brian shared, “and we support the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff with one of their major fundraisers every year. We also try to contribute to the local high school and sports teams.” Jerry noted that a lot of the requests for help come from their employees. “We want to help them help their kids.”
“We went and got some really good local partners and bought all of the assets. I draw plans, so I just started drawing. Brian was the superintendent and was working on the land. It was just us. We had one agent, and we built one model, had all local investors, and we just started building what was called Capstone Homes.” - Jerry Abbott, owner of Capstone Homes
Story written by: Sara Knight Photos Provided by: Capstone Homes