Sarasota, a St. Albert home building and realty company, has been handing the keys to new-home buyers for the last 16 years.
What started as a small operation in the Acheson family’s basement with just four home builds in its first year has now blossomed into a team of 200 working to build more than 40 homes each year.
Gary and Janet Acheson knew they wanted to start a family business, so in 1995 the pair decided to trade in their hats as an accountant and realtor respectively to make this dream a reality.
“We’d just built our own home and enjoyed the experience, so we wanted to get into a business that could be focused here within this marketplace, within the city of St. Albert, so we started building homes,” Gary said.
In the second year of operations and despite a difficult housing market, Sarasota doubled its home builds. To date, the company has planned, built and sold more than 700 homes to local families.
“It’s a really enjoyable business. When you open the door and a client takes possession of their new home, it’s a joyous occasion,” Gary said. “We get a lot of enjoyment when we find our clients a great home.”
The company focuses exclusively on the St. Albert market — something he said makes them experts in the field.
Daughters Kristin Boser and Michelle Fogolin remember growing up with the Sarasota office in their basement.
“It started in our house, in our basement and it evolved from being our office there and growing from four houses to … having a show home,” Bowser said.
Four years ago, the business added a realty component to its operations and expanded from a show home office to its current location at 25 Carleton Drive.
The company tends to build mid- to high-range homes, which is a difficult model for attracting young families. To accommodate this demographic, Sarasota is developing more-affordable homes for young families.
“You need to listen to what clients’ needs are and continue to have your product evolve to meet those needs,” Gary said.
Janet agreed, adding new concepts are added regularly reflecting the demands and needs of buyers.
“We think of who’s going to be buying it, who’s going to be living there,” Janet said. “We’re trying to build homes that have features that cater to families.”
Each year, 40 to 50 new homes are constructed by Sarasota, but the business expects to see that number to increase when the more affordable options are introduced next year.
Fogolin said the business would avoid becoming a high-volume builder because it does not want to lose its one-on-one relationship with homebuyers, which has helped make Sarasota a fan favourite.
For the last decade, the company has been awarded St. Albert’s Leading Home Builder Award.
Sarasota has grown from the mom-and-pop operation it started as 16 years ago and now includes more than 200 individuals considered family.
“It really, truly has developed into a family business now,” Gary said. “When I use the term family, I mean immediate family as well as our extended family … we have employees and trades that have been with us since day one.”
The people behind the business are the key to success, he said.
“A successful business versus one that’s not successful, at the end of the day, the success or failure is dependent on the people,” he said.
Fogolin and Boser grew up with the business, cleaning homes and doing odd jobs, and after pursuing business degrees from the University of Alberta, now work full-time for the company, along with their husbands.
Both women were pre-teens when the business kicked off and have been immersed – entirely by choice – in the business ever since.
“It’s our work, but it’s our life too. It’s your family,” Boser said.
“We don’t know what it’s like to not be in it because it is our lifestyle,” Fogolin said.