For Kenny Winter, President and CEO of Winter Homes, a custom home building company in Athens, Alabama, carpentry was ingrained in him at a very young age.
Home building is in the blood of Kenny Winter. In fact, you can say it’s come down through his family dating back a couple generations. Kenny’s grandad and great-grandad were both master carpenters, skilled in every single aspect of the trade. From landscaping to electrical wiring, they did it all.
Kenny fell under their tutelage at a young age. At first, he performed whatever menial tasks were asked of him. He learned to appreciate the heft and feel of a tool in his hand, the smells of new wood and earth and saw dust, the intricacies pertaining to wiring and plumbing. Even as the boy grew into a young man, furthering his skills at his elders’ sides, the thought of turning the trade he himself was slowly mastering into a career never crossed his mind.
The First One
Then something happened that would alter his mindset and redirect his focus. Kenny’s wife, Shana, got a job with the Madison City School system. They couldn’t afford to live in Madison so the Florence natives chose East Limestone instead, where he found a lot but no house. So with one year of college left (he transferred from the University of North Alabama [UNA] to the University of Alabama in Huntsville [UAH] when Shana accepted the position), Kenny decided the next best alternative would be to build one himself. So, that’s what he did.
With the few hours he had between school and his job working at a local restaurant, Kenny dove into the project with the help of his father-in-law. They did absolutely everything themselves and on a fairly limited budget. Then, after eight months, he and Shana had a home.
One night they were enjoying the comforts of their new home when they heard a knock at the door. Kenny answered. A man he’d never seen stood before him about to present an offer nobody could have seen coming. The gentleman had seen the house from the road several days prior, had marveled at the overall craftsmanship, and wanted to buy it. He offered Kenny double what he had put into it. And just like that he’d built and sold the first one.
Custom Home Builder
Comparatively speaking, Winter Homes doesn’t build as many houses per year as other home builders in the Tennessee Valley. In fact, Kenny and his team are not even remotely interested in quantity. The end result from hiring Winter Homes is a house that is truly custom. While a lot of “custom” home builders start off with good intentions to build completely unique dwellings, they quickly find out that it’s a lot more cost-effective and profitable to build tract houses instead.
Getting started in the home building business was no easy feat for Kenny. First of all, you have to have operating capital, money in the bank, cash on hand, to begin. Contractors and various other agents of the home building business expect to be paid immediately for services rendered. So with profits from the sale of the first one, Kenny was able to buy another lot. But that was it. He was tapped out and being new to the Limestone-Madison County areas, he didn’t know anybody willing to lend him any money either.
That’s when, by a stroke of good fortune, he met Athens-based lawyer John Plunk who would essentially become a mentor to Kenny. John was the attorney at the closing. At the conclusion of their business, the conversation transitioned to Alabama basketball. Kenny was wearing an Alabama visor and John supports just about anything that happens in Tuscaloosa. John asked Kenny if he’d like to go to a game with him, an invitation the latter quickly accepted despite his general disinterest in basketball.
Fast forward several years and you could say that the drive to and from that basketball game solidified the relationship that helped launch Winter Homes. John was serving on the board of a great little bank called First American and told the loan committee that he would happily be a guarantor for any loan they issued Kenny. That’s how much John believed in his young protégé’s vision to become a custom home builder.
It’s been nearly two decades since Winter Homes launched in 2002. During its tenure, the company has never wavered from its goal: to build custom homes. Kenny was fortunate early on to not only meet John but also Jimmy Schrimsher, who is Kenny’s right hand man. Jimmy is the ying to Kenny’s yang. Together, they make the perfect builder. And in fact, Kenny didn’t join Winter Homes full time until 2014; he was working a full-time banking job and building houses on the side. Jimmy ran the company throughout its early years and remains an integral part of Winter Homes’ success.
Your Home, Your Way
Quality is a word that’s almost been beaten to death. In this day and age, its meaning is much looser than it once was. But there are instances in today’s time when it’s the only certifiable thing to say about a product or service. So when you hear people say repeatedly that Winter Homes builds custom homes of the utmost quality, what they mean is that Kenny and his crew exude a level of excellence in every single facet of their work that literally speaks for itself. It’s the backbone of their company and an idea they stand solidly behind. For instance, rather than splay the Winter Homes brand on every billboard in town, Kenny is investing the company’s advertising dollars into a warranty program that lasts for a full year. Imagine that, a builder who is at your beck and call for a full year to come fix anything in your home on his own dime.
Second, the level of customer service you receive is nearly unheard of in the construction business. Your Home, Your Way means that what you ask for is what you get. You are a partner in the building process and Winter Homes will work their tails off to make sure you are totally satisfied. For example, if someone brings in a photo of a mantle they’ve seen on Pinterest and wishes to have something similar above their fireplace, you’d better believe that Winter is going to make that happen.
Winter Homes is a one-stop shop where customers can show up with their own floor plan or even just an idea in their head that Kenny will help flesh out. He helps create budgets and even secures loans for customers who aren’t sure how to begin the process. It’s part of what keeps him motivated in what he describes as a fun industry “where you get to do something different every day.” That is, building houses that are one-offs, totally unique. What only a true carpenter, somebody who has it in their blood, could do. No doubt his grandad and great-grandad would be very proud.