Pilot Builders

Building is in Chris Hilsman’s blood. His father and grandfather built every structure on the family’s dairy farm with their own hands, and when Hilsman’s father finally decided to get out of the dairy business in the early 1980s, homebuilding was a natural progression. Hilsman worked for his father’s company on and off for many years before he ended up in the commercial construction business, but that changed once he visited a friend in Colorado and was offered the opportunity to build custom homes. Hilsman says he fell in love with the challenge and creativity of building custom homes, and that inspired him to found Pilot Builders in 1997. 

Today, Hilsman has grown Pilot Builders into one of the most successful independent custom homebuilders in Georgia. Along with its custom homebuilding services, the company provides renovations, interior design and design/build services. Hilsman says the company’s reputation for solid, high-quality construction is known throughout the industry, and the integrity with which it works is a major component of its success. 

“We feel like we build a top-quality home, and we stand behind that,” Hilsman says. “We’ve never built a home where we couldn’t use the homeowner as a reference.” 

According to Hilsman, one of the main reasons why Pilot Builders can offer customers such high-quality construction is because of the strong internal culture the company has developed over the years. The majority of Pilot Builders’ staff has been with the company for more than 15 years. With that type of continuity, Pilot Builders can offer customers experience that companies with high employee turnover can’t, and the camaraderie among its employees contributes to the quality of its work. The close-knit culture of Pilot Builders extends to its clients, as well. Hilsman says the company has built numerous long-standing relationships with customers and has never had legal issues with a customer.

LOOKING AHEAD

Pilot Builders’ strong reputation for building quality custom homes has been a significant driver of its success, but sometimes not even the most successful contractor is immune from challenges. Hilsman says the company experienced this first-hand with the onset of the housing downturn. One of the area’s largest developers went into receivership, bringing practically all of the homebuilding activity in the region to a halt. This created a serious problem for Pilot Builders, but Hilsman says the company survived by turning its attention to other services. 

“The way we got through it was basically reworking our business model,” he explains. Pilot Builders concentrated on its remodeling services. Thanks to the company’s diverse services and refocusing on another aspect of the business, Pilot Builders was able to make it through the housing downturn and come out the other side just as strong and healthy as it was before. 

The company continues to pay attention to the latest trends in the custom home industry. For example, Hilsman says, the company has seen a surge in the number of homes built with automation systems in recent years. These systems allow homeowners to control lighting, HVAC and other home systems from a control panel either in the home or remotely. 

Hilsman says the company also has noted a rise in the number of custom homes being built around sustainable features. He says the company always has been environmentally conscious, and was educating employees about green building techniques before the market caught up to the trend. “From a green building standpoint, we were just ready to do that,” he says. 

Even though the housing market remains volatile and forecasting is more difficult than it has been in a long time, Hilsman says Pilot Builders is confident that it can continue to hold onto its leadership position in the industry. “I see us continuing to try and improve and solidify our brand,” he says.

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