BUILDING A LEGACY ONE HOME AT A TIME
This year marks a significant milestone for AR Homes®, the largest franchise network of independently owned and operated home builders in the country. As the company celebrates the 70-year legacy of its founder, Arthur “Art” Rutenberg, AR Homes® and its team members reflect on the remarkable achievements and contributions it has made to the luxury homebuilding landscape.
As an organization reflects on the tenure of its founder, there is a certain nostalgia that impacts employees and encourages them to look back at history to best understand how the company evolved into what it is today.
The history of the people and their stories serve more than just reminiscing. Looking back through the lens of time with today’s knowledge provides a hindsight and understanding of the creation of the company’s mission, value, and culture. The celebration of a milestone applauds the past and creates a refreshed look at the future.
Beginning his journey in homebuilding in 1953, Art Rutenberg built a reputation for quality, innovation, integrity, and customer satisfaction. Over the past 70-year evolution into what is known today as AR Homes®, the organization weathered economic uncertainty, and shifting market trends, all while maintaining its commitment to excellence. These achievements would not have been possible without its leaders and innovators.
STICKS AND BRICKS: THE JOURNEY OF THE FRANCHISE MODEL
When Arthur “Art” Rutenberg began his homebuilding business in Clearwater, Florida in 1953, deals were made with a handshake. The homes back then were simpler, and many didn’t yet include air conditioning. Regardless, they sold the most homes ever by any builder at that time.
Art Rutenberg pioneered the model home for people to be able to visualize their potential new home as they walked through it. He also created the idea of a split floorplan allowing for the owner’s suite to be situated on one side of the home with the additional bedrooms arranged on the other. He also incorporated wider hallways and planned windows so homeowners could experience views throughout the home.
“Home by home, the company’s reputation was built,” a famous line from founder Arthur Rutenberg highlights the impact his conviction to craftsmanship and excellent customer service.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Art Rutenberg sold thousands of homes across the state of Florida. By the late 1970s, Art Rutenberg was exploring the franchise concept, testing the business model, and pioneering the new business strategy in the homebuilding industry.
In 1968, Bobby Lyons, a fresh graduate of the University of Florida’s construction and building program, began working with Art Rutenberg as a regional estimator. Throughout the next decade, Lyons continued to learn about the construction industry in his various roles as a construction manager, area manager, and others. He moved and transferred to positions throughout Florida and Georgia to assist with top-level projects.
In 1978, Rutenberg sold the first franchise located in the Tampa area to longtime employees, Bobby Lyons and Charlie Raffo. Art Rutenberg knew that to see success with the new franchisee model, he needed to rely on the knowledge and expertise of this ambitious team.
“Art was a visionary. He was incredibly intelligent and always coming up with new and better ways to contribute to the home building industry,” says Lyons. “I had ambition. I worked with Art for years, but I liked the idea of being a business owner and the independence that brings.”
The franchisee model provided the best of both worlds – the support of a large and innovative organization with the autonomy of business ownership. The investment large organizations can make in marketing, advertising, technology, and other business systems can be cost-prohibitive for smaller independent builders. The franchise model gave the independent builder the ability to compete against ‘big builders.’
Since 1978, Bobby Lyons has remained a franchisee and expanded his footprint with a second franchise in 1988 in Ft Myers. During that time, he helped build hundreds of homes throughout the west coast of Florida.
AR Homes® continues to reinvent the standards as a best-in-class employer and award-winning organization. Today, franchisees experience the advantages of inventive home designs, a proven business platform, and proprietary tools – including Arthur Rutenberg Information System (ARIS) software and a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) award-winning website.
“Back then it was ‘sticks and bricks.’ We went from using legal pads and calculators to bringing in the new IBM computers that used punch cards. Nowadays, we use full 3-D simulations and immersive designs to provide the vision to our homeowners before we ever clear the lot,” says Lyons.
PEOPLE: BUILDING A STRONG FOUNDATION
Today, you can read any book or article about business, and it will state that people are a company’s biggest indicator of success. Long before that was written in textbooks, Art Rutenberg knew that statement to be true. Like Art Rutenberg, Bobby Lyons owes much of his success to the people he surrounds himself with every day.
Two shining stars include Lori Garton and Tim Rose. Lori Garton is the building company president at the Tampa-based franchise. After previously working for Art Rutenberg for nearly 20 years, Lori Garton joined Bobby to continue the growth of his franchise. Since joining AR Homes® Tampa (Lyons Heritage Tampa), she was awarded the Builder of the Year award – the second woman to ever earn the achievement.
In Fort Myers, Tim Rose is the building company president overseeing an elite team of homebuilding professionals. With his extensive experience in construction management, purchasing, customer service, and sales, he aims for a perfect experience for his clients.
As most industries experience, the economy of homebuilding is cyclical. During The Great Recession, no industry was hit as hard as the homebuilding and homebuying industries.
“We were able to weather the storm of The Great Recession because the people who work with me helped us get through it. Tim and Lori were there day after day ensuring that we made right on the promises we made to our clients. We finished every home and we did it the right way. From that, we were able to keep our reputation and I could sleep at night knowing we did the right thing,” says Lyons.
Lyons – with help from Lori Garton and Tim Rose – did weather the storm. Through his dedication to integrity and to his employees, the franchise locations took the road less traveled and ensured all its customers had their home built and received their home with the quality they expected.
FUTURE FOCUS: BUILDING TOMORROW WITH TODAY’S LESSONS
Under Bobby Lyons leadership, the franchise has been recognized for its excellence in customer satisfaction and quality earning the title AR Homes® Builder of the Year four times and receiving the Gold Cup Award for the highest customer satisfaction ratings.
“There are few things in this world that make you feel as proud as when you finish a home. You know the work that went into it – nail by nail. You know that the vision you showed the homeowner at the beginning leapt from the page and into reality. You know that the home will now be the stage for memories for years to come,” says Lyons.
As AR Homes® celebrates the 70-year legacy of Art Rutenberg, the philosophies he set in motion all those years ago becomes crystal clear. Today, AR Homes® — with the help of its franchisee builders – continues its journey with the mission to deliver innovative, original home designs of exceptional quality while providing a pleasant buying experience. There are few stories that truly embody growth and success like Art Rutenberg and Bobby Lyons. When asked what the future holds, Lyons simply stated, “I just don’t know when to give it up.”