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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Demand for mountain getaways propels a Banner Elk builder


When the work day is done, Matt Vincent often goes for walks near his home in Boone. The mountains are serene, particularly in the evenings. “This is the place I love,” he says. “I have three boys and we go on hikes. I grew up here. It’s a beautiful place and you can see why so many other people want to live here.”

As the son of Jay Vincent, owner of Vincent BerkshireHathaway, one of the region’s oldest and most prominent real estate agencies, he’s the echo of his own youth.

Indeed, the lure of the Tar Heel high country is the magnet that has made his VPC Builders of Banner Elk a successful builder of high-end residential, commercial and other properties. Vincent’s business has enjoyed revenue gains of 20% to 30% in recent years, and is on track to top  $30 million this year.

Clients, suppliers and others that deal with Vincent and his 30-member staff every day say that the business reflects values sometimes missing in modern commerce. His company’s name reflects that with letters standing for value, professionalism and communications.

“Matt’s real serious, but level-headed,” says Alex Hooker, executive director of the Watauga Habitat for Humanity. The agency builds homes for the needy and Vincent has been a long-time supporter. “I like the fact that he’s local. A lot of the builders here are from out of town. He comes from a great family.”

Vincent, 41, graduated from Appalachian State University in 2004 with a degree in banking and finance. He admired his father’s work ethnic – up at 4:30, a workout, then his day job – but discovered real estate was “not my cup of tea.”

Matt Vincent and Thor at the VPC Building office and Vincent with his wife Casey and their three children.

Among other things, he laughs, he dug perk holes that enable builders to determine if the soil of a lot will perk, or absorb moisture for septic tanks. That put him closer to the community. “I enjoyed doing things with my hands,” he says. “Here in a small town, you get to know everybody and everybody is somebody you are proud to call your neighbor.”

He obtained his general contractor’s license in 2003 and created VPC in 2010.

“At the time, we were doing mainly residential building but have since diversified into commercial,” he says.  The company has a home products division that does roofing, windows and similar work.

New, high-end residential construction still makes up about two-thirds of VPC’s work, but the company has segued into other ventures such as converting basements into heated living space.

That, Vincent says, can keep employees busy even during the high country’s tough winters, one of the challenges his company faces. Count rugged terrain, sloping lots and high rainfall among others.

“In the flatlands you can take just about any house and put it on any property,” he says, “Up here in the mountains you can’t do that. You have to design the house around the lot.”

The result in VPC houses is often striking. The company has won more than a half-dozen industry awards this year for design originality. It also been recognized as one of North Carolina’s best places to work. That’s notable given the lack of affordable housing in the state’s mountain areas.

Mountain Building Supply owner Tammy Mantooth, one of VPC’s suppliers, says she knows of at least one worker living in a tent because he can’t afford  more permanent housing. VPC has responded by paying higher than national wages and upping other compensation, Vincent says.

Most of VPC’s residential construction is in the $2 million range, while its biggest project exceeded $7 million. It has its own drafting staff, relying on outside architects for design-build contracts.

The bulk of VPC’s clients, says Vincent, are business owners from Charlotte and Raleigh. Absentee owners are still common, though, and covering all bases, VPC offers a home-watch program for seasonally vacant homes.

Increasing costs, material scarcities and high interest rates have hammered even top-end builders, and though easing recently have taken its toll.

“We have had a lot of good friends who went out of business and bankrupt,” Vincent says.

However, more than good market strategy and placement has served the company. Some who deal with it on a daily basis say its professionalism is noticeable.

Mantooth says VPC is a longstanding customer, never missed a payment and that Vincent is known for his integrity. “All I’ve ever needed was his word,” she says.

Vincent concedes that professionalism is important to him. Employees wear what he calls the uniform, and though not formal, it’s effective – knit shirts, same colors, cut. “It looks like in the morning; you got ready to go to work for the day. And the simplest things my dad taught me, many people have forgotten – following up on your emails, returning calls and always doing what you say you’re going to.”

Such measures are more than superficial. VPC routinely sends employees to sales-training courses, seminars and similar exercises. Clients  notice the result.

  “I’ve never interfaced much directly with Matt, but I work mostly with his senior staff,” says Bob Pudney, Beech Mountain town manager.  The town recently awarded VPC a $2.1 million contract to build a city hall and visitor center.  “It’s going extremely well and I would call them the top tier contractor in our area. Their attention to detail is great, and their customer service is impeccable.”

Vincent enjoys his hikes with his three sons, but he’s determined not to push them into following his steps.

“But one of things they most enjoy is going to work with daddy.”

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