Written by Jason Gilmer | Photos by Anthony Harden
For Red Tree Builders’ Brandon and Amanda Bryant, their ultimate goal was not only to build houses that they could still be proud of many years later, but also to build a small family that could withstand the stresses and rigors of modern life and thrive.
There is a photograph, saved somewhere on a laptop in Brandon and Amanda Bryant’s majestic North Asheville home, that shows the moment in 2017 when Brandon was inducted as the president of the Asheville Home Builders Association. His wife, Amanda, who co-owns Red Tree Builders with him, is on the stage to help with the induction. As Brandon raises his hand to take the oath, the couple’s small daughter, Charlee, runs to the stage and raises both hands to take part in the ceremony.
That moment shows so much about the young, energetic, and entrepreneurially-minded family that has turned their company into a concierge builder and takes their slogan—Artfully Crafted, Beautifully Made—to heart.
“That photo represented everything about us,” says Amanda, who also serves as vice-president. “The thought would not have entered her mind that Charlee wasn’t doing it. She was doing it and she was doing it because it was a sacrifice, knowing that as Brandon stepped into that leadership role, that was another job… Everything we do, we’re all wrapped into one. If you get me, you get all of us. If you want Brandon, you get all of us. Same with Charlee.”
That familial spirit is what sparks how Red Tree Builders, the construction company that focuses on custom-built, eco-luxury green-built homes, engages with its clients and with each project. The Bryants and their staff want to make sure that when a project is complete, it is worthy of being a Red Tree home. As with every great artist, the company signs its work, but instead of a looping signature on a hidden 2×4, it is done on a metal placard placed discreetly somewhere on the property.
Business has grown in recent years for Red Tree Builders. There was a 132 percent increase in revenue from 2016 to 2017, and a 38 percent increase the following year. This company doesn’t plan to make the jump into mass production; it wants to continue to provide personal service and a personal touch.
“My philosophy is that your house should be a piece of art,” says Brandon, who is the company president and visionary. “It should be a reflection of you, but it needs to be something that will stand the test of time. Great design lasts forever.”
To choose the Bryants as your homebuilders means you, too, are a part of their family. Time spent with the couple in the planning stages is done at their home or over coffee as they ask questions about your life:
*Do you cook often and where are the kids when you cook?
*How important is outdoor living?
*Did you inherit your grandmother’s large five-piece bedroom set that needs a lot of space?
They aren’t building dozens of homes at once, but instead focus on building five to eight projects at a time with three to six more in the design phase. Because of this, face time with the couple and their small staff—they have four full-time employees—is bountiful. Brandon is often on job sites, watching the progress and talking with everyone about what is going on.
When the project is about two weeks from completion, they hold a summit of everyone in the company. They walk through the home. Employees point out potential problems or concerns. Notes are taken. A to-do list gets made, and the house gets those small touches that make it a Red Tree home.
“Seeing a home evolve from paper to real life is an incredible experience. When you are in the build process you are so focused on the task at hand that you sometimes fail to see the big picture,” says Ashley Kepley-Steward, who first served as an intern in the company and has been a project manager for the past year-and-a-half. “When you actually step back and think about the whole thing from an outsider’s perspective, it is really mind-blowing.
“Our ‘Homeowner Orientation’ is essential to our process. This is the time where we educate the homeowners on the ins and outs of their new home. We go over every detail, from mechanical and plumbing and electrical locations, operation and maintenance, to general home care. During this time, they are given the opportunity to look over everything and make sure it is how they imagined and if there are any items they would like to be touched up. This meeting brings us all together for the common goal of ensuring that we built them the home they have dreamed of.”
The process for Red Tree Builders to construct a home can take months or years; recently they signed a contract after more than three years of discussion about the project. If a homesite is ready when talks begin, the process can take only several months to get into construction.
During that time, though, meetings with the Bryants are the norm, not the exception. Personal service is key to their brand and to how they work. The homebuilding process begins with the initial meeting and then moves to the site visit, followed by signing a contract with the company, meetings with architects, and then the “bonzai meeting,” which makes sure the company and the client are in alignment on all of the details. Construction takes 10 to 12 months on average, and there are weekly updates about the project.
“Putting the buyer first promotes a family atmosphere between Red Tree and the buyer,” says project manager Dan Blackwell, who has worked at Red Tree Builders since 2017. “We update the buyers weekly and upload pictures so they can see the progress of the home. Local buyers go to the homes often and the out-of-town buyers get to experience the build through written updates and pictures.”
“Red Tree’s goal is to provide not only a quality home that is built to last generations, but to also establish and maintain an open and close relationship with the client,” adds Patrick Medlin, who is the company’s financial officer.
It isn’t just the clients who enjoy a family-like relationship with the Bryants, but also their staff. Conversations with employees typically involve questions about weekend plans or a spouse’s health.
Brandon and Amanda are amicable towards ideas from others, and they want their employees to feel a sense of ownership in the company.
“Brandon and Amanda have been not only bosses, but friends,” Blackwell explains. “They are very supportive and interested in our growth as project managers. The combination of collaboration and respect for our individual strengths and experience make Red Tree function more like a team than a hierarchical organization.”
Kepley-Steward agrees, saying, “Red Tree is very family-oriented. That is one of the things that attracted me to this company from the beginning. They truly care about you as an individual and treat you as family. Working for Red Tree has been very different from any employer I have ever had. They truly care about our ideas and opinions and use them to make the company better. There is rarely a week that goes by where Brandon is not asking us what we think about a new idea he has or if we see something that could be done better.”
As a college student, Brandon applied for an American Eagle credit card. He wasn’t looking to fill his closet with new jeans, sweaters, and leather belts; he just wanted to chat up a store employee. Amanda was a student at Erwin High School, located just northwest of Asheville, when she started to work at the Asheville Mall store, and Brandon, a Burnsville native, was a student at nearby Mars Hill University when they first met. Amanda also ended up at Mars Hill and they became friends, though they didn’t date until years later, and married almost 10 years ago.
Brandon actually proposed to Amanda on a plot of land two doors down from their current home. Brandon had bought that land and turned it into the first Red Tree Builders home. For them to get to that point, though, there were other jobs and other professional destinations.
Building homes isn’t how Brandon thought his career hunt would end. A job with a NBA team? Maybe. Working with high-end computer systems? Possible. Being in the sun checking to see if a sub-contractor has used the right siding? Probably not.
After he graduated with a degree in computer science he took a job—“job” might be a strong word since it was an unpaid position—in Portland, Oregon, for a company called Game Face Sports Jobs. The program prepares those who want to go into management-level jobs for professional sports teams.
For Brandon it meant cold-calling hundreds of people daily, trying to sell tickets to Los Angeles Avengers Arena Football games, along with Everett (Washington) AquaSox and Hudson (New York) River Dogs minor league baseball games. Eventually, his work at Game Face led to interviews with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, plus a job offer with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns that Brandon almost took.
“It was $13,000 a year, I had to be there in seven days, they had given me 24-hour notice to decide, and there would be 20-some of us doing sales,” Brandon recalls. “I did the math and, if I killed it, I’d make $19,000 a year without insurance. I got the job offer, and everyone was so excited for me—and then I said, ‘No.’ I could have figured out the money. I’d just gone three months without making money, so it wasn’t a big deal if I didn’t make any.”
He adds that the position just didn’t feel right. So, he came back home and helped his dad build bridges for a bit and then took a job in real estate, selling for Catawba Falls Preserve in Black Mountain. This became a job that he enjoyed and did well with, but it still wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do. Brandon outlines how he made the transition from real estate broker to starting a building company:
“It all kind of overlaps, including doing some real estate development work in between when building had slowed down. I remember my first house that I was building to sell was worked on while also building bridges for my father. Lots of evenings and weekends. I love to learn and read, and, in the beginning, definitely spent some time following and talking to builders in the industry who were beginning to focus on green when I finally got the nerve. They were few and far between, and unfortunately, most didn’t make it through the recession and/or decided to become teachers and writers.
“Simply stated, though, my biggest support was from family. Entrepreneurship runs in our blood, as does building. While I’m the first home builder, my family has [always] been in some form of construction—from building bridges to equipment, grading, and land. For classes, I’ve taken everything from advanced framing to green building, to studying building science. I’m now a Certified Master Green Builder. This certification has not always been around, but it reflects the importance of the industry moving that way.”
He notes that he initially got Red Tree Builders off the ground using money he had saved, adding, “I was able to take a small loan out from my grandparents for my first spec house to get the materials moving, and traded favors [that] included the family and friends for some other work—for example, my dad and neighbor helped with the grading and tree clearing. I was blessed to do this—and also sell the house. Shortly after, the [building] industry came to a halt, and some of my mentors didn’t make it. By not over-leveraging myself and a lot of luck, I took the very slow and steady road.”
Elsewhere, while Brandon had been searching for (and ultimately finding) his professional calling, Amanda had been doing the same thing, but without knowledge of what her future husband was doing. She became a teacher, loving the job except for the bureaucracy that bogs down young teachers as test scores permeate the learning cycle.
She moved to Florida to teach and worked a second job until hurricanes began to hit. It was then that she decided to move back. When Hurricanes Frances and Ivan brought torrential rains and flooding to Western North Carolina in 2004, there were hundreds of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agents who ascended on the area to help.
“I ran into someone doing an inspection of my grandfather’s house, which had flooded,” she says. “They told me they were looking to hire people. I became a local ambassador and got a public relations job.”
She continued to work for FEMA, accepting jobs in public affairs and congressional affairs and traveling the country. That work continued while she and Brandon dated and into their marriage. She accepted a job in Washington, D.C., and worked there as the couple opened Red Tree Builders in May of 2006.
Even after Charlee was born, the couple often lived apart for weeks. Their daughter’s first plane ride was to New York as Amanda worked for FEMA during Hurricane Sandy.
It wasn’t until last April, when another job opened up, that Amanda decided to leave FEMA.
The Asheville Museum of Science
For several years Amanda has been involved with the Asheville Museum of Science, including some time spent as a board member. The museum is an exploratory facility that opened a downtown location in 2016 after years in other locations and under other names.
It now consists of hands-on activities and a STEM lab where little minds and hands can discover, as the website says, “The connections between astronomy, geology, weather, climate, ecology, and paleontology to form the beautiful landscape we call home.”
Eventually the job of executive director opened, and Amanda took the position in order to continue what the museum had started and to grow the experience. The job, she says, is a 50-to-60-hour a week position that encompasses a lot of responsibilities.
“It changes on a daily basis, from working with the team to provide quality science education and hands-on learning, to problem solving,” she says. “I’m responsible for running day-to-day operations, building a team of staff and volunteers to carry out our strategic mission, and much more.”
Previous jobs in elementary education, public relations, and policy has helped Amanda tremendously in this new role. She loves that the STEM lab is used constantly during field trips and she is able each day to go into the museum and watch as children learn.
Even with this high-profile position she still has responsibilities with Red Tree Builders. The couple have built a strong team and enforce a set of standards, and this helps make it possible to do other things.
“Our success has really been built on surrounding our family with extremely passionate and smart individuals, that we learn from and become partners—family,” she says. “By putting in the sweat equity and love, Red Tree has flourished, allowing me to spend less time on the day-to-day. Early morning emails and evening site visits and client meetings have seemed to work most recently. When things go wrong, I’m typically able to step away and talk to Brandon by phone to quickly hammer out an action plan or provide support to his decision making as an advisor.”
But even with so much time spent on their jobs, Amanda and Brandon make time for their most important team member.
Keeping Their Family First
There’s an ever-going, fun-loving battle between Brandon and Amanda in their hope of luring Charlee away from the other’s profession. Some days their daughter is the vice president of the construction company, and on other days she’s the busy bee in the Asheville Museum of Science, flitting between jobs.
At the museum she’s in charge of sweeping escaped sand into the dinosaur fossil exhibit, and she’s often in the gift shop straightening the racks. Charlee has been known to make crafts to sell to visitors. Then there are the days she dons her yellow construction hat and picks up limbs or other detritus from a home construction site.
No matter where you see Charlee’s parents, you’re more than likely to see her. That’s also the case if clients are at the house for a meeting; there’s no storefront shop to welcome potential clients or to host brainstorming sessions, so the Bryants’ home (which was to be a spec home until Amanda fell in love with it) has taken that role. The over-the-garage office has tables and chairs for meetings and doubles as a homework spark for the kindergartner.
“She comes home and she’s working with Brandon two to three days a week. She’ll come to the museum and work with me. She goes to job sites with us,” Amanda says. “Brandon may be in the office with his team or with a client, and she is right there with them. It’s just this understanding. Most of the people we surround ourselves with and that we work with would never balk at that and, if they do, they probably aren’t the right people for us to work with.”
“This allows us to spend good quality time, in that four to six o’clock window, with our daughter,” Brandon said. “Ultimately, there’s work we have to do early in the morning and late at night after bedtime.”
Being a parent isn’t easy. Neither is running a business. Combining the two can make for tense times, but the Bryants roll with the adjustments. They set alerts on their phones to ensure conversation that doesn’t involve work. Saturday mornings are family time, whether it’s making breakfast together, watching cartoons, or walking the family dog.
“I would love to paint this perfect picture and say we are Chip and Joanna Gaines, but we are not,” says Amanda, mentioning the seemingly perfect working couple of HGTV fame.
“We’re all the stuff they cut out of the show,” Brandon quips, with a laugh.
The Greening of Red Tree
There was a time when Brandon drove a Cadillac Escalade, one of the largest SUVs in the luxury company’s fleet. As he became more and more learned in what green building is and he decided to embark on a career as a green builder, he traded the automobile for a used truck.
“I sold the Escalade because I didn’t think I could drive that car and have those principles,” he says. “I can’t say that I care about the environment and want to build efficient homes and roll around in a car that gets that low of gas mileage.”
His progression from real estate seller to home builder happened as the term “green builder” and the movement toward enlightening people of the holistic concept that homes have a positive and negative effect on the environment found ground.
Brandon admits that his family wasn’t “green” growing up, but says they weren’t wasteful, either. Talks with another realtor started Brandon on hunts about the concepts, and he read actor Ed Begley’s books about sustainable and eco-friendly living. The more he learned, the more he thought, “Why don’t people build this way?”
“I was early in my career, so there wasn’t anything I could say ‘this is how I’ve always done it’ and had to learn something new. I just decided to learn to build in this way.”
Being a green builder isn’t simply adding EnergyStar appliances to a new kitchen. While Brandon learned about what was needed to comply with national regulations, he had to teach others, too.
“I had to truly learn how to do it,” he adds. “And then explain to our trade partners. At some point you’d have to say, ‘Here’s the reason why we’re doing this. You’ve never done it like this before and it doesn’t make sense to you and you’ll probably roll your eyes after I leave, but, besides me paying you, here’s where I’m going with this.’”
Since Red Tree Builders opened, Brandon has been named the National Home Builders Association Green Professional of the Year and has been involved with national-level committees on a variety of subjects. The construction company has also earned honors through the Asheville Home Builders Association’s parade of homes events, including Craftsmanship Awards (2014 and 2017) and Innovative Awards (2010 and 2014). A Red Tree home was honored in 2017 with the North Carolina Home Builders Association’s Star Award for best energy performance.
“We’re not where we are because of us,” Amanda says. “We’re here because of all the people who have taken the time to work with us and grow with us and problem solve with us. It was a game changer when we figured out it was a whole team approach.”
“There’s a lot of other green builders out there,” Brandon says. “We have a build philosophy that we’re designing a home for you, so we want to really know how you live in the house. We want to build a custom house just for you.”
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