Travis Kidwell named 2021 Dealer of the Year
Honest Abe Log Homes has announced its Independent Dealer of the Year for 2021. Kidwell Construction, owned by Travis and Melissa Kidwell, headquartered out of the small West Virginia town of Points, topped Honest Abe’s sales charts last year. Travis is convinced that their success was in part because homeowners “want out,” have equity again and banks are lending at extremely low interest rates.
“When Travis says ‘people want out’ he means they want out of the hustle and bustle of city life,” explained Kidwell’s wife, Melissa, who works closely with him in their business. “We are not too far from the Baltimore/D.C. area. Much of the land here in Hampshire County and surrounding areas is purchased for second homes. The owners usually camp at first and later build a house where they have already spent weekends or vacation time. Many of them move here after retirement.”
However, it may be the Kidwells’ innovative approach to log home sales and construction that made the greatest difference.
A New Approach
“We sought out regular stick framing contractors and offered to train them to build log homes and showed them that we have clients to bring to them,” he said. “It was appealing to the builders as they didn’t need to find the work or even advertise. We are also there to support them with our services for the project as well. So far, it’s working. The amount of interest is at an all-time high. Right now we have a list of 22 prospects that we’ve had conversations with, and four have already paid deposits for 2022. It won’t last forever – we all know that – but we want to take advantage while it is for sure.”
Travis said he is looking forward to finding more contractors to train.
“It would be nice to grow sales without growing overhead cost – that is the advantage of delegating the builds,” he said.
Melissa added that training and hiring contractors has helped the business and the family move closer to achieving their goals.
“Most businesses have a goal of getting bigger,” she said. “Our goal is always to keep it simple. Travis helps the contractors along in the beginning to make sure they’re familiar with how to build an Honest Abe home. In the future, he can make the sale, hopefully do the site work, and the builders can take care of the job from there.”
Upping their online presence also contributed to Kidwell’s success, and they have plans for expanding that in 2022.
“My wife, Melissa, made us a decent website and reached out to customers to get reviews on Google,” Travis said. “That has helped increase traffic considerably as almost everyone now tells me they looked at my site and Google reviews and immediately wanted to talk. So, get the good reviews and you’ll get the contacts.”
This year they will be adding a YouTube channel.
“Our daughter is going to manage it and do the videos and editing,” Melissa said. “As I mentioned before, we have learned a lot of things the hard way through the years. This definitely includes jobsite mishaps! It will be a fun way to share some of what he has learned with others. He wants to show how to do certain jobs, and also mention safety tips.”
Dirt and Wood
Travis said that he has always loved building, and even as a child and youth he was building small projects like forts or tree stands.
“However, my main love is dirt,” he confessed. “I started to get on heavy equipment when I was 15 and loved it. Out of high school I went to work on utility construction and started getting chances to operate backhoes and excavators.”
Travis was first employed by his uncle doing residential excavating and septic systems. When his uncle died in 2001, Travis started his own business right away at age 22.
“So, the excavating business goes right along with log home construction,” he said. “We have been building them ourselves for years, but now we have switched gears in order to simplify operations. Since we no longer have crews of our own, we as a family primarily do excavating and septic systems. My sons, Mason and Carson help me (and Melissa) on septic and pipe jobs, and I have some other part-time help with other site work.”
The Kidwells began their tenure as an Honest Abe Log Homes Independent Dealer on Nov. 21, 2002. When clients began asking about log homes, he realized there was a demand for them in the area.
“So, I went to the grocery store and bought a log home living magazine and started flipping through pages looking at companies that were advertising for dealers wanted,” he said. “I had no internet, computer or desire to get them. David Everitt, dealer manager for Honest Abe, was the only person who called back and had a positive response. He wanted to meet and discuss, so the rest is history.”
This expansion required Travis to learn how to use technology, which he said “hasn’t been easy.” Melissa confirmed Travis is not a fan of technology but definitely sees the advantages of it.
“Travis is a lot more hands-on,” she said. “He doesn’t like sitting at a desk. He prefers being active, outside, and best of all – playing in the dirt! I remember when he became a dealer, and he found out he would need a computer for email. It was a little overwhelming to him at first. It didn’t take long for him to get the hang of it. From sitting at a desktop computer, to later having a laptop where he could answer emails from the recliner. Now, with a smartphone, he can take care of emails and phone calls as they come and doesn’t have to deal with work as much when he gets home.”
Changing with Customer’s Needs
In addition to the Kidwells embracing more technology, they’ve observed a slight shift in customers’ desires in the last couple of years. Travis noted that the log homes they are selling are little larger than in the past with most customers choosing D-log or Genesis profiles.
“Most customers ask about open floor plans,” Travis said. “For the most part it seems to stay under 2,500 SF around here. Fireplaces have become less popular recently, too.”
Melissa said that from her perspective, she’s noticed that sales seem to go better if they don’t worry about getting the “biggest sale.”
“We don’t think about the package cost or the possible commission,” she said. “It’s best to help the customer decide what’s reasonable and what’s going to be the best fit for them in the long run. I have retyped many estimates for Travis through the years. Customers often downsize from their original plan with the things they thought they needed or wanted. Travis is very straightforward with them and willing to work through the details to get to a price point they are comfortable with.”
Travis had a heart attack in 2018 at the age of 41, and Melissa said that has been another factor in why they keep things simple and try to keep the stress level down.
“It just gives you a different perspective on life and what’s truly important,” Melissa said. “He is doing great now! The doctor put in a stent, and of course he’s taking medicine. Lost a lot of weight the first few months and still keeps up with eating better and exercising with his daily hikes.”
The Kidwells are pleased, even surprised, that they won the Dealer of the Year honors, especially during a period when Covid 19 raged and building materials were often in short supply.
“I think it’s pretty neat,” Travis said. “Twenty-two years now in business, we feel we just got things figured out. A lot of trial and error leads you to be better prepared for each new challenge and to avoid things before they even happen. So, let’s hope we can keep it going smoothly.”
Crediting Travis with their Dealer of the Year honor, Melissa downplays her own role in making their dealership successful, explaining that she’s primarily responsible for typing proposals and invoices and managing the company’s online marketing.
“I’ve found that, because Travis is the one with the most construction knowledge, the customers really need to talk to him,” Melissa said. “I have seen all of the time and effort Travis has put into this. We have had to learn a lot of things the hard way. He has used that experience to figure out a plan that keeps the business moving but doesn’t sacrifice our family and spiritual priorities.”
Meet the family…
Travis Kidwell was born in Levels, West Virginia, and has lived in the area his entire life.
“I have two brothers and one sister, and I am the youngest,” Travis said. “Dad was a mechanic, mom a school bus driver. I love the outdoors, hunting, fishing, love to go to Montana and elk hunt any chance I get. Could see myself living there someday. Love football, playing it with kids and watching. My favorite team is the Buffalo Bills.”
He and wife Melissa live in Points, only five minutes away from his parents. Melissa is from a town about 30 minutes away called Fort Ashby.
“He jokingly calls me a city girl, because we lived in a subdivision and our town had a stoplight,” Melissa said. “Our area is very rural with curvy back roads and beautiful scenery. We drive an hour to ‘go to town’ either up to Cumberland, MD or down to Winchester, VA.”
The couple has four children, Samantha, Alanna, Mason and Carson.
“Only Mason and Carson are still at home now,” Melissa said, adding wistfully, “Time flies.”
The children attended public elementary school, and Melissa homeschooled them after that.
“This has given them many opportunities to go to work with us,” she said. “They are learning the construction trade by being on the jobs, seeing how it’s done. They help with any labor that’s appropriate for their age at the time. Of course, they can carry on the family business if they choose to.”
In recent years Travis, whose favorite band is Alabama, learned to play a guitar. He said that learning to play is not only fun, it has enabled him to teach his sons while they were young enough to catch on quickly.
“My hobbies are planning variety shows and other fun activities for our congregation or for the kids,” Melissa said. “I did the yearbook for the local elementary school for almost 20 years. I love making photo slideshows for weddings, graduations, etc.”
During the lockdown of 2020 the Kidwell family learned that they all had acting talent when they started producing their own videos just for fun.
“We got bored as a family and decided to make a hunting movie – hunting toilet paper, that is,” Travis said. “We called it ‘The Elusive White Roll.’ I never thought I’d like acting but it was pretty fun. Now our friends always make comments about it in conversation.”
The Kidwells are dedicated Jehovah’s Witnesses who are very involved with their local congregation.
“We volunteer a lot of time to sharing good news from the Bible,” Melissa said. “We have weekly congregation meetings (held on zoom since March 2020), and our preaching work is letter-writing and phone calls. Life is a precious gift, so the organization is taking the pandemic very seriously. We also have family worship every week, where we spend time together and discuss Bible topics and any questions the kids may have. We try to keep it laid-back and fun and usually have a snack. No matter what is going on in life or with the business, we always keep spiritual things and family a priority and make time for these things.”
Travis Kidwell offers his clients in West Virginia three vital elements for a successful home build. 1. Excavation services. 2. Log and timber home sales/custom manufacturing 3. Professional home construction.
Kidwell Construction Company
3157 Little Cacapon Levels Road
Points, WV 25437
304-492-5440 / 304-671-3389
Kidwell Construction has recruited and trained a number of builders in the region it serves. He provides training and support for the builders who are a part of his referral program. In 2022 he is looking for more builders with an expectation of even more growth.
Story by Claudia Johnson, Honest Abe Log Homes