Detroit Free Press

27 May, 2006, page 5C

Hammers, Saws & Prayers

  • Construction workers share their faiths on the job — and ban swearing, too

By: David Crumm

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth grew up working as a carpenter with his father — but let's face it: Modern carpenters are known more for their macho behavior than their spiritual insights.

That's a stereotype that Birmingham builder David Force and his coworkers are trying to change.

"As construction workers, we get stigmatized," Ron Benoit, a tile contractor who works with Force, said this week. He was among a half-dozen men from Force's crew who gathered at a building site in Birmingham to talk about the spiritual bonds that have formed between them.

"I've worked on some jobs where you're just a number among hundreds of people. We all know there are work sites where guys swear and people can't be trusted," Benoit said. "What we're saying is: That's not how it has to be when people work together."

Anthony Jasso, a concrete contractor who's a regular on Force's crew, nodded his head. "Yeah, people can work together with real respect and concern for each other. That's how we do it.

Like, you'll hardly ever hear guys swear on our building sites, and there's never been drinking on the job, none of that stuff with us."

The nuts-and-bolts lessons these craftsmen have discovered instinctively about faith, diversity and community is the kind of lesson that corporations, schools and government agencies spend millions of dollars trying to promote.

In this case, it started in recent years as Force, a custom-home builder and frequent volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, began to notice little things about his workers' spiritual lives that he encouraged them to talk about.

One day, for example, he spotted Jasso, who belongs to a Pentecostal church, praying at a work site with a colleague who was feeling ill. Another day, Force went to lunch at a local restaurant with coworkers, he noticed some of them praying before beginning to eat.

On another occasion, Benoit invited Force to an evangelical revival and, even though Force is Catholic, he went along to glimpse the world from Benoit's spiritual perspective.

Over time, Force simply let it be known that, on his work sites, it's fine for workers to talk about their spiritual lives in a noncompetitive way. And the guys took it from there.

"For us, talking about religion is not taboo," said Benoit. "We know that

we're not all the same. I'm Baptist and I go to a Bible church. Other guys are Catholic. There are other faiths, too."

Force said, "The man I buy all my lumber and windows from is Muslim. And my Catholic plumbers are the ones who sent me my Baptist heating contractor. We've all learned from each other."

Benoit said, "What we've learned is that none of us should say, 'I'm right and you're wrong!' We don't do that. Everybody is free to have their own feelings."

Paul Reger, a carpenter who also is Catholic, said, "Other builders who come to our sites can see that there's something a little different among us. Like, they learn that we don't swear around here."

Lodo Malaj, a carpenter who belongs to an Albanian-Catholic church, said, "We accept everyone, whatever they believe: Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, whatever. If you want to work with us, there's only one thing you can't believe in - hate."

Al Mejewski, a Catholic carpenter, said, "It's all because, in the end, our lives aren't just about making money."

Force said, "That's right. Life's about looking out for other people."

"Yeah," said Benoit. "And, as we start each new day, we have no idea whose lives we're going to influence."

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Detroit News

13 July, 2006

Niche helps business lay a good foundation

  • Birmingham builder focused his attention on one area, finding success in a declining market

By: Lynne Schreiber

Birmingham - When Dave Force went into the residential building business nearly 30 years ago, he spent most days racing across town to visit his sporadically situated building sites.

When he moved his family to Birmingham six years ago, Force decided to focus his business where he lives. Doing so helped him create a specialty, which experts say helps any business thrive.

"I moved here for my family," said Force, who builds 10 houses a year, 90 percent of which are in Birmingham. "I wanted a neighborhood [with] kids for [my daughter] to play with. I became a die-hard Birmingham person who believes everybody should live here. It's easy for me to sell the community."

The niche approach is working for Force Building Co. Even in a down market with a surplus of homes for sale, Force says his market is strong. All of his houses are custom built, ranging from 2,200 square feet to 5,200 square feet, and costing $600,000 to $1.5 million. Lot sizes range from 40 feet wide to 100 feet wide.

He has three spec houses that are unsold - all under $1 million - and 10 others in the $1 million plus range that are sold.

"The resources in a small business are finite," said Birmingham-based Richard Sloan, co-founder and head coach of StartupNation.com. "When you focus on a niche, it allows you to channel your money, your time, your human resources, your creativity all on one concentrated target."

Like many businesses, builders are conducting more market research than ever, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research at the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. "The market has become very competitive and you have to have a niche," he said.

Niche-building will become more important as time goes on, according to Jim Haeussler, president of Peters Building Col in Saline.

"For builders to be known ... you're going to have to be able to locate land and know things that big builders do not," Haeussler explained. "You're not going to compete on price and volume. Is it customization? Is it the ability to locate land? Is it rehabilitating or tearing down with some special architectural expertise? Those things take personal knowledge. The [builders] that thrive have something people want."

Even in a down market, Force's specialty keeps him busy.

"I've actually turned down work [that] I didn't think was a good fit," he said. "Business has never been better. It's a small town, everybody talks, and word gets out."

McGrath noted that builders in particular "often make much better profits with a niche than duking it out with [big companies like] Toll Bros. and Pulte. Any industry in which a group of customers share similar and idiosyncratic needs is suitable for niche treatment."

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The Oakland Press

27 December, 2008, page A-9.

'Amazing' transformation

  • Volunteers make the difference at shelter dorm

By: Shaun Byron

It was an extreme makeover that was in extreme need of some professional help.

Terry Grahl, a mother of four from Taylor and an award-winning decorator, needed some professionals to aid her in making improvements to rooms for women in need at Grace Centers of Hope in downtown Pontiac.

What she got were numerous businesses and professionals lining up to lend a hammer, wrench and whatever else was needed.

"Everyone was magnificent," she said.

It was in late October that Grahl sent out a distress call to contractors to donate their time for repairs.

Numerous people in the building trades and home repair field, who supplied the expertise and labor to get the job done, heard that call.

That opened a floodgate of businesses that stepped up to the plate, Grahl said.

Numerous volunteers came together to replace plumbing and wiring, install ceilings and replace fixtures in rooms that are for women and families in need.

In all, eight private bedrooms and one apartment all were treated to extreme makeovers.

Some of the businesses that donated their time and materials include Force Building Company of Birmingham, Abbey Flooring of Livonia and Doege's Construction.

Grahl had spent an entire year collecting items for the rooms, preparing for the day she could decorate them.

It was only through the hard work and charity of these people to get the rooms in excellent condition that this was able to come about, she said.

"It was incredible," Grahl said, adding there were even people who helped transport the furniture and decorations that had been donated. "We had a gentleman, he called and donated two 20-foot U-Haul trucks."

David Force, owner of Force Building Company, said his company does mostly high-end work for multimillion-dollar homes.

"We are in better shape than a lot of other companies around," he said. "We are still building houses for people on the upper end of the spectrum.

"We felt it was our obligation that we have to give something back."

With that in mind, Force said his crew volunteered to work without pay and put their skills to work.

Plumbers, heating contractors and everyone else on his crew hopped into their work trucks and drove to the shelter.

Some of the employees were even called off job sites to help with the project.

"The crew I have working for me, is very different in that they are all very religious guys," he said. "With our crew, there is no swearing, smoking or drinking."

The quality of work performed by these craftsmen and contractors was the same as they put into the mansions they are paid to work on, Force said.

Aside from the bedrooms and apartment, the crew also repaired the centers' early childhood care center.

The crews replaced trim and took down doors that had holes in them.

"I'm very proud of them," Force said of his employees. "We had some plumbing issues, electrical issues ... they needed just about everything.

"We went to town on it. It was a joy for us to be able to do it, and it was humbling. It keeps you focused on what is important."

The work and dedication put in by the volunteers and business owner was amazing to Pam Clark, director of the women's program at Grace Centers of Hope.

The women living in the facility have had a boost in their self-esteem, especially those who may have not been raised with that quality of lifestyle, Clark said.

"There was black mold, old prison beds," she said of how the rooms looked before.

"It's homey and it's amazing. It just impresses me that people would give their time.

"When you hear so many bad things going on, it's good to know there are still people concerned with helping."

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Jewish News

8 September, 2011, pages 48-51

A Simple Plan

  • The surprisingly livable life of a contemporary home in Bloomfield Township

By: Lynne Konstantin

"For being a very contemporary home, it's also very warm and friendly and livable," says Jodi Caden. Which is exactly what the owner of this Bloomfield Township home wanted.

From the moment the homeowner, a Jewish businesswoman, and Caden, designer and owner of Birmingham's Caden Design Group, met, "we were totally in sync," says the homeowner. "I wanted simple, and I wanted a lot of light with nature showing through," she says. And most importantly, she wanted it to be a comfortable haven for family and friends, particularly her five grandchildren, who often spend the night.

So Caden designed the home and showed the homeowner three-dimensional colorized drawings detailing every aspect, from the grain of the lush cabinetry to the amount of light that would illuminate from the high-ceilinged windows. Given an enthusiastic go-ahead, Caden, along with architect Patrick Dyke and builder Dave Force, created a home of paradoxes -- simple yet inviting, functional yet stylish -- and just what the owner dreamed of.

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