October 3, 2018
Catlett builder follows Golden Rule to success
Photo/Don Del Rosso
Golden Rule Builders has grown to 30 employees and $7.5 million in projected revenue this year, says Joel Barkman, pictured here in the company headquarter’s conference room.
It’s just good to be able to work with somebody you can trust. I never had any concerns that everything that was suggested to me wasn’t for the better of the whole project.
— Jimmy Messick, Messick’s Farm Market co-owner
Golden Rule Builders
Joel and Patty Barkman
Custom home building and remodeling company
3409 Catlett Road (Route 28), Catlett.
30, including 12 who live in Fauquier.
• Projected 2018 revenue:
• Office hours:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays or by appointment.
• Website: www.goldenrulebuilders.com
• Facebook page: Click here
When the Ohio native moved to Fauquier in the mid-1980s, he planned to get a degree in electrical engineering.
To pay the bills, including community college tuition, Joel Barkman went to work for a local homebuilder.
Around that time, Marvin Mast — a friend he made through a Northern Virginia company that distributes Christian-themed publications — suggested they start a home-construction business, Mr. Barkman recalled.
“Marvin said we would build one or two houses a year, and I could still take classes,” recalled Mr. Barkman.
In 1987, they established Golden Rule Builders of Catlett. But Mr. Mast didn’t care for the home construction business.
After a year, the men — both devout Mennonites — parted on good terms, with Mr. Barkman retaining the company, which partly takes its name after the Biblical principle “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“He didn’t want employees,” Mr. Barkman said of his former partner. “I really wanted to grow it.”
Did he ever.
Today, Golden Rule has 30 employees, with projected 2018 revenue of $7.5 million.
Next year, the design-build company, which specializes in custom homes, remodeling and additions, expects to do $10 million worth of business, Mr. Barkman said.
It builds about 10 homes a year, along with 40 to 50 remodeling jobs, including additions, bathrooms, kitchens, basements and sunrooms.
He never thought the company would achieve anything like those numbers, Mr. Barkman admitted.
“It’s been conservative growth from the start until now,” he explained. “My intent was to finish school. I wanted to grow and have a few employees. But vision always drives you.”
Mr. Barkman, 57, quit college after three semesters to focus on the business. But someday he hopes to return to school and get a degree.
In the company’s second year, he hired a couple of carpenters to help him.
“We did our own framing,” said Mr. Barkman, who picked up carpentry skills from his father and from working around the family farm. “The first few houses I did my own electrical. We did our own trim work. We built our own cabinets for quite a while.”
He initially built “spec” homes, using “stock” plans.
Partly because of market conditions and personal preference, Mr. Barkman switched to custom homes.
“I really enjoyed working with the client directly and didn’t return to spec homebuilding.”
The largest home the company has built totals 10,000 square feet. The most expensive one — with an elevator, movie theater and an ice cream parlor — cost $2.6 million.
“Our niche is really to have distinguished homes and projects,” said Mr. Barkman, noting the company never has built the same design twice.
As the company expanded, he began spend more time behind a desk than with a hammer in his hand.
Mr. Barkman struggled with that.
“I always thought if you had to be in an office, that would not be me.”
But, “I pretty much had to make a decision of what I’m going to do. Do I want to be in the field, or do I want to build a company that can do more and other things? At that point, I made a conscious decision to grow the company.”
In 2006, Golden Rule employed 15 people, built about four homes, did about a dozen remodeling jobs and generated approximately $3.5 million in revenue, according to Mr. Barkman.
A year later, “The Great Recession” took hold.
“Our numbers went down more than half,” he said. “But we didn’t lay off a single person.”
Instead, the company left some positions vacant when employees left, Mr. Barkman said.
“I thought we were going to bleed red ink, but we never did. Work just kind of came in. The Lord just provided as we needed the work.”
As the economy rebounded, so did Golden Rule, he said.
Warrenton financial advisor Stan Parkes got to know the homebuilder when they served on the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
Volunteering at the Warrenton Spring Festival two years ago, Mr. Parkes had a casual conversation with Golden Rule Design Manager Dennis Reitz about his interest in building new home.
“That’s kind of how it got started,” Mr. Parkes said of the decision to hire the company.
Mr. Barkman and his staff couldn’t have been more accommodating, Mr. Parkes said.
“I wanted a Mediterranean-style house,” he recalled. “I found this house that was designed to be a winery. My wife wanted more of a French, countryside type of house.”
The couple met with Golden Rule staff about a dozen times, with Mr. Barkman participating in about half of those sessions.
It took about a year to design the two-story, approximately 4,000-square-foot stucco home, which will stand on 14 acres in Culpeper County, Mr. Parkes said.
“It wasn’t because they were slow. It’s just we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do. And, I was in no real big hurry.”
Workers broke ground in mid-summer on the home. Mr. Parkes expects it will cost about $850,000 and be completed by January.
“I just trust them,” he said of Golden Rule. “I know they’ve got my best interests in mind. They’re not the cheapest people around. I don’t want cheap.
“But I feel like they treated me fairly. They’re great to work with. No attitudes.”
While residential construction comprises most of its work, Golden Rule occasionally does church additions or a commercial project.
Four years ago, the company built Messick’s Farm Market — a 2,500-square-foot, post-and-beam, barn-like structure on Route 28 near Bealeton.
It took about 18 months to design, obtain county permits and complete the building, market co-owner and dairy farmer Jimmy Messick said.
Mr. Messick praised the Golden Rule staff for its responsiveness and attention to detail.
“It’s just good to be able to work with somebody you can trust,” he said. “I never had any concerns that everything that was suggested to me wasn’t for the better of the whole project.”
Mr. Messick also spoke about the owner’s relentlessly positive attitude, which seems to set the company’s tone.
“Joel’s just a great guy,” he said. “You never see him without a grin from ear to ear. And regardless of what kind of day you’re having or what kind of mood you might be in, you always part uplifted.”
Mr. Messick estimated the metal-clad structure cost $1.2 million.
Always thinking about ways to extend Golden Rule’s reach, Mr. Barkman believes Millennials could represent the next opportunity to do that.
“We have a close eye on them right now,” he said. “They’ve been living with Mom and Dad through the recession. We thought they would always be renters, and that’s proven very wrong.”
His staff continue to work on “plans” to tap that market. “We’re starting to dabble a little bit with it. We really haven’t refined it.”
Despite a work schedule that has kept him on the run for decades, he finds time and resources to give to local and other causes.
His family last year pledged $250,000 for the construction of a science and technology building at Lord Fairfax Community College’s Fauquier Campus.
He also leads organizations — one based in Colorado, another in India — that serve the disadvantaged.
And though Mr. Barkman remains committed to strengthening the company and shows no signs of slowing, retirement could be eight to 10 years away.
“It’s on the horizon. I’m not sure what I’ll do. But, I will probably always be involved in charities.”
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