Graham Epperson landed straight out of college a corporate stint at Del Webb, a division of Pulte Homes that specializes in building sprawling subdivisions for seniors. He’s been with the company ever since, primarily in Arizona — one of the company’s largest markets — most recently as a regional vice president in charge of sales west of the Mississippi River.
After nearly 250 days on the road last year, he’s happy to be settling down in the Twin Cities, where he was recently named president of Pulte’s Minnesota division, the state’s second-largest homebuilder. Last year the company built 274 housing units worth $131 million.
Epperson has been on the job — and in Minnesota — only four weeks, but he already has plenty of ideas about the future of Pulte in Minnesota.
Q: You have finance and marketing degrees, and you’ve never worked in the trades; where do you get your interest in the homebuilding industry?
A: There’s a family connection. My grandfather was the owner of the largest realty in Seattle back before realties as we know them today existed.
Q: How much upside is their for Pulte in this market?
A: It is one of our smaller markets in terms of units. That being said, for Centex [a division of Pulte] and Pulte it has been a very large division at other times in history, and we would like for it to get back to that size. We’re very bullish on the opportunity and look forward to growing the business.
Q: Do you have a strategy that will help you accomplish that goal?
A: I want to broaden the types of consumers that we appeal to within the Twin Cities with a more varied product offering that is attractive to many more individuals within the area. Most of our houses today have a starting price that ranges from $300,000 to $600,000; we would like to get into lower and higher prices points.
Q: Who is Pulte’s primary customer today?
A: First-time and second-time move-up families, as well as some empty nesters.
Q: Today you’re selling only under the Pulte brand in Minnesota; are there plans to bring other corporate brands into this market?
A: Centex has built a lot of homes in this community, and I look forward to bringing that back to the area. I’m very interested in returning the Centex brand to Minnesota.
Q: Where’s the biggest growth opportunity in this market?
A: Our Centex brand is primarily focused on the first-time buyer. To make that work, though, we need a return of the first-time, new-home buyer. While the housing recovery is clearly underway, the first-time-buyer segment seems to be a little slow to get back into the market, but we expect they will. We know they’re out there, they need places to live. And with rents getting more expensive, we feel we can provide a product to satisfy their housing needs.
Q: Very few townhouses are being built in the Twin Cities. Would you expect that to change?
A: From what I’ve leaned during my four weeks here, there appears to be an opportunity to revitalize the attached-housing market, specifically for that first-time buyer. We might be getting to the point where that product is viable again.
Q: Any design trends we should be on the lookout for over the next several years?
A: We’re looking at opportunities to enable the consumer to become more flexible about how they allocate their space. We want to give our consumers the chance to truly personalize their home to best fit their family’s needs.
Q: What trends will disappear?
A: What’s going away are the restricted two options, ‘Do you want option A or option B?’ We’re interested in saying. ‘Here’s C, D, E, F and G.’ ”
Q: You’re familiar with several national markets; what’s unique about this one?
A: This is a very close-knit building community, and this is an environment that has to deal with challenges that others do not. Building through the winter, especially this past winter, was challenging to say the least. One of the first weeks here I was out on a homesite where they were doing excavation for the foundation and I saw them pull out a piece of frost about the size of a VW Bug and put it in a truck. Now that’s unique.