Tag Archive for: Thelen Total Construction

Randy & Nancy Thelen in 1980.

Randy & Nancy Thelen in 1980.

Built to Last: Thelen Total Construction looks back on 40 years in business

Reflecting back 40 years, when Randy and Nancy Thelen started their home construction business in their home in 1974, think about this: The yearly inflation rate in the US was 11.3%, the 55 mph speed limit was imposed and daylight savings time observed year round to save energy. (Due to the 1973 oil embargo.) The global recession deepened with unemployment rising to 9%. A home mortgage rate was 9.79%. Mortgage rates rose to an astonishing 18.16% by September 1981!  Not exactly the most opportune time to start a business.

Yet, Randy Thelen was young enough not to be deterred by the pessimistic outlook of the country and driven enough to find a way to succeed. Deeply interested in designing and building homes from a young age, he started the company after high school; and initially did home remodeling projects. Nancy took care of the bookkeeping. His brother, Robert joined his company in 1976 when he graduated from high school.  (Today, Robert oversees home construction as site superintendent.)

In 1980 Earth Sheltered homes did save a LOT in heating & cooling costs! But there are much better options today.

In the1980’s, Earth Sheltered homes did save a LOT in heating & cooling costs! But there are much better options today.


When home energy costs rose dramatically in the 70’s, it became the impetus for Randy to use energy-efficient home building methods, design, and products – even building a number of earth sheltered homes in the early 80’s.  In that respect, the company was “green” way before “green” became a popular buzz word! Randy has continued his education in green home building science and is a certified Green Home Builder by the National Association of Home Builders.

Construction and business education is so critically important to building a successful business and the best resource for up-to-date construction education, research, building products and technical expertise is the National Association of Home Builders. Randy availed himself to every educational opportunity by the NAHB. Strongly believing in the power of the organization, Randy helped start the local builders association – Lakeland Builders Association in 1979, and has served three times as President.

The business continued to grow in the 80’s, and Marianne O’ Brien -Hurlburt (who recently retired in 2011 after 25 years), joined the company first as a bookkeeper and then took on construction project management duties.

A former corner gas station was remodeled into the Thelen Total Construction office in 1992.

A former corner gas station was remodeled into the Thelen Total Construction office in 1992.

Randy’s son Jason came on board in 2011 as project manager, and is also closely involved with Randy, meeting with clients in the home design phase.

Jason’s not the only offspring involved with Thelen Total Construction. In 2004, Randy’s daughter Katie started an interior design business – Katherine Elizabeth Designs, which created a synergistic alliance; giving our clients the opportunity of personalized guidance with color schemes, materials, lighting, floor coverings and furniture.

Parade of Homes 1994

Parade of Homes 1994

This is a family business; not simply because of family directly involved in the business, but also true of employees. Several employees have 20 or more years with the company. “It’s a place where employee’s work, attention to detail and input matters,” said Melody Fehling, the office manager since 1994.

Thelen Total Construction carpenters have a mind-set of building each home as if it was their own, and the office staff; Sue, Jim and Melody continually focus on creating a smoother home building experience for clients from start to finish.

2002 Parade of Homes; at over 11,000 sq ft, our largest and most elaborate home yet. We plan to have another spectacular home around this size in the 2015 Parade of Homes!

2002 Parade of Homes; at over 11,000 sq ft, our largest and most elaborate home yet. We plan to have another spectacular home around this size in LBA’s 2015 Parade of Homes.

Living and thriving in the community creates a natural desire to give back. Over the years we’ve partnered with many community organizations, sharing our building expertise:

Ribbon Cutting at the Wiswell Center, built by Thelen Total Construction in 1998

Ribbon Cutting at the Wiswell Center, built by Thelen Total Construction in 1998

We’ve designed and built the Wiswell Center at the Walworth County Fair Grounds in 1998. (Keeping the unique and historic octagon shape of the original building) We were part of the Elkhorn Mathesson Library and Community Center expansion project and most recently in 2013, been part of creating  “The Tree House”; the Walworth County Alliance for Children building.

“It’s personally gratifying using our building experience, working with other dedicated individuals to make our community a better place,” said Randy. “We continue to support many local charities and causes.”

We create lasting relationships with our homeowners. They know we are around to listen and help; whether they’ve just moved into their home, or its ten or more years later. One of the most telling facts is that several homeowners volunteer their time helping us staff our Parade Home each year! They simply enjoy talking to prospective homeowners about their homebuilding experience, and the quality of our homes. Said John and Linda Bauer, “Thelen Total Construction was wonderful to work with. They put your needs first, and make you think of everything in the planning process, so in the end, the final result is a home built for you.”

We believe that building a custom home should be one of the most rewarding, enjoyable and stress-less experiences in your life.  Our satisfied clients who continue to refer us and our area wide reputation for beautiful homes are just two of the reasons we have been in business for more than 40 years. For that we are immensely grateful.

Thelen Total Construction 2013 Parade of Homes

Thelen Total Construction 2013 Parade of Homes

Over the four decades we’ve designed, built or renovated over 250 homes in the lakes region of Walworth County. From small beginnings and tough economic times and during times of prosperity, our mission remains to build distinctive homes and treat each homeowner like theirs is the only home that matters.  Because of all the places we hold dear in our lives, your home is the most important. We come to understand that for us, for our families and for you – a home is everything.

Thelen Total Construction home nearing completion

Thelen Total Construction home nearing completion

The 2011 Gallup Poll of Honesty and Ethics in Professions asked people how they would rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Nurses were at the top with 82% of people polled rating honesty and ethics at “high / very high”. Members of Congress were at the bottom with just 8% of people rating their ethics at “high / very high.” Where were Building Contractors? Just below Bankers with only 26% of people rating Building Contractors  “high / very high.”  If it’s any consolation to home builders, it’s improved over the last seventeen years. In 1994, the percentage was only 17%!  At least people were three times as likely to trust them as they were to trust a congressman!

The fact of the matter is: People do not have that kind of trust in building contractors, because many builders do not deserve it. This sentiment is nothing new. For more than a century, the building profession has tried to eradicate unprofessionalism with zoning, licensing, permitting, inspections and all sorts of legislation. We tried every regulatory attempt we can think of. Some of these efforts have had some impact. Nevertheless, we stand near the lower quadrant of the reputation totem pole.

Up until now, the entire modern era of building, our profession’s reputation has suffered. It’s been too easy for bad contractors to mask their performance with a license or bare minimum code compliance. It’s been difficult for people to find great companies among the mediocre or really bad ones.

Fortunately, that has all changed in recent times. The winds of change started happening with the emergence of customer ratings on sites such as Google, Yahoo, Yelp, and Angie’s List.

Next: The Rating Sites get Rated too. 

The Rating Sites were rated by Consumer Reports in 2013. Consumer Reports had some concerns that some rating systems can be gamed by fake reviews and that advertising on the sites can sway visitors. Advertisers on Angie’s List get more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads. Who indeed, can you trust?

Knowing how important reputation and reviews are to choosing the best builder, in 2005 we asked GuildQuality, a company that provides customer satisfaction surveying for builders and remodelers to send our clients a customer satisfaction survey after move-in. We like that GuildQuality’s surveying is completely impartial, and their website has no paid advertising. It’s also a great tool that helps us identify where we need improvement and helps us deliver an exceptional client experience. For a summary of our customer feedback, click here: GuildQuality.

Recently GuildQuality posted that in 2009, they looked at the recommendation rate among all Guildmembers, including those who have recently gone out of business. They observed that among those in early 2008 that had a recommendation rate below 80%, one in five had gone out of business a year later. Among those with a recommendation rate greater than 95%, only one in fifty had shut their doors.

The verdict: Companies with exceptional service are 10X more likely to succeed than mediocre businesses. 

The internet is making service and quality more transparent, and the scales are tipping towards the best home contractor businesses. The poorly run companies and service providers will find it increasingly difficult to find customers, and could potentially go out of business. It’ll be interesting to see a Gallop Poll in another 5-10 years to see if the “new reputation economy” improves the honesty / ethics rankings of building contractors!



Consider all the details - large and small that make it a home for you.

Consider all the details – large and small that make it a home for you.

I read an article recently in Houzz that really resonated with me. It was written by Bud Dietrich, an architect in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, and he thought there was a perception out there that when you build a new home, you’ll never get it completely right. There will always be something you forgot, or something you’d do differently if you’d have another chance. People just believe that the house they build just won’t be 100% right.

You know what?  It’s simply not true! I’ll share with you the steps he wrote about and the ones we live by too, that will ensure that your new home will be perfect, with no regrets.

Know Thyself. Who are you? What do you like? What do you hate? What is your ideal living space arrangement? What’s your typical weekday? What’s your typical weekend? What do you enjoy doing? (We get to know you with questions like these in our own Design Outline, a step-by-step, room-by-room outline that helps you help us create the perfect home.) So yes, while we all share a lot of common traits, we are also quite unique. You can begin with a room count, square footage and a style, but then take that to the next level by tailoring the perfect plan to you and yours.

Hire a Professional. Just like there are benefits to hiring a lawyer rather than representing yourself in court, or going to a doctor to diagnose and treat an ailment, you’ll benefit by hiring professionals such as a design/ build home builder, an architect or an interior designer. They will help you in countless ways including:

  • Helping you get to know yourself and what you want
  • Guiding you to the best solutions for your particular issues
  • Asking you things that you never would have thought about

Make sure you hire the right professionals though. Doing your homework to find the right person is well worth your time. They are not all equal. An experienced professional that listens to you and whom you can work with will save you time, money and grief throughout the project.

Think Big. Don’t think “big” relates only to size; it doesn’t. Think about how your home relates to and becomes part of the landscape, and how a home is a reflection of you and who you are. Remember that “big” is what gives your home its uniqueness and defining character.

Think Small. Designing and building a home involves making many, many decisions. Some of these will be big, but many, many more will be of the small detail variety. It can seem daunting, but with the guidance of a design professional, having a universe of options available will mean you’ll select the perfect detail.

Think In-Between. From the scale of the big idea to the smallest detail, it all comes together somewhere in the middle. This is where you’ll live; where you will enjoy the outdoor sights and sounds from the screen porch, loving that the counter is at the right height, contemplating the morning vista from your bedroom window, and more. You don’t want to skimp on the amount of time you’ll spend planning and designing this middle ground.

Enjoy. It’ll take longer than you thought, and you’ll invest more than you expect. But in the end you’ll have a home like no other. The details… You’ll revel in the touch and feel of everything. You just can’t wait to be home to enjoy how the light fall across the wall, or how that little extra storage makes all the difference.  You’ll have a place that you won’t feel you need to change, to expand, to redecorate, to remodel for many, many years to come, if ever.

Welcome home!


Thelen Total Construction Parade Home

Close to 1,200 people saw our Parade home during the open house event a few weeks ago, many telling us it was their favorite one in the Parade of Homes. Our home in Lakeland Builders Association’s 2013 Parade of Homes was one that can be described as Modern Vintage. A richly detailed home, with  nostalgic architectural details. You just leave your stress at the door when you enter the relaxing lakefront abode. And what can be better than a “Modern Vintage” home? We designed and built a home that only looks like it’s 100 years old without the headaches that come from owning an actual 100-year-old home!  One with excellent energy efficiency, long-lasting, maintenance saving building materials, a layout that functions for how you live today, and with all the modern electronics and appliances that add ease and enjoyment to your life.

Some visitors who admired this home own authentic historic homes on Lauderdale Lakes and other areas. A few we talked to asked how they could renovate it, keeping the character of their home yet have a home that functions for modern living.  Or is the best solution to tear down and create a new “Modern Vintage” home? (Sometimes that can be the less costly solution.) It’s a  difficult decision to make, usually fraught with emotion, especially if you have family ties to the old historic home. If this is you, please contact us for a personal analysis.

One of the favorite details of visitors was the upstairs barn doors in the home. (Or do you call them “sliders?!”) If you love “sliders”, you’ll enjoy this article in “inthralld” with great photos of barn doors as a design element in other homes.

Barn Doors add character to the home

Barn Doors add character to the home 



GuildQuality Guildmaster AwardWe were excited to be notified that Thelen Total Construction was recently selected by GuildQuality for their Guildmaster Award for superior delivery of customer care!

In granting the Guildmaster Award, GuildQuality considers two primary metrics:

The percentage of clients who would recommend Thelen Total Construction and the percentage of clients who responded to the GuildQuality Survey.  88% of our clients since 2005 have responded to the Guild Quality Satisfaction Survey.  From the responses, Thelen Total Construction achieved a 100% recommendation rate  from clients!

Since 2005, we saw the value of GuildQuality membership in order to gain direct feedback from our clients. As Randy Thelen explained, “If we had surveyed clients ourselves, we may not have received a totally candid response back. And we strongly feel in order to continue to succeed – we need to know where we are meeting and exceeding expectations, and where we are falling short from the vantage point of our clients. GuildQuality surveying helps keep our focus on client service company-wide. We can acknowledge employees and subcontractors who are doing a great job, and we are able to make necessary corrections where needed.”

Listening, working closely with our clients and addressing their individual needs is what kept us in the custom home building business for almost four decades. Our continued success depends on happy clients referring  friends and neighbors.

Today, people are also looking at online reviews to help them make all kinds of buying decisions. Which review sites can you trust for one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make? GuildQuality is completely independent and surveys all clients, so you can be assured of its accuracy and integrity. So even if you don’t have a family member or friend who could recommend a custom home builder, you can trust the legitimate customer reviews on the GuildQuality’s website; helping you make a very informed decision on the right builder for your new dream home or renovation project.