Riggs Construction Builds Trust With Design-Build Model

By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor

Amie Riggs Swarts and Bill Riggs

Amie Riggs Swarts and Bill Riggs are third-generation owners of Riggs Construction & Design.

Riggs Construction had a long and successful history as a carpentry subcontractor and remodeler when Tom Riggs, son of the founder, decided to take the company in a new direction in the late 1990s.

Riggs began building home additions in the late 1980s, but the company found itself bidding on more and more plans that were never getting built, said Tom Riggs’ daughter, Amie Riggs Swarts. By switching to a design-build strategy, the company was able to recover its momentum and build on the trust it had established with long-time clients in St. Louis County’s central suburbs.

“Design-build creates a partnership between the client and the builder,” Swarts said. By working together through the design process, they can reach agreement on how to complete the project to the client’s satisfaction and keep it within budget.

“We try to cover all the bases before we go to a construction contract,” Swarts said. Design-build remodeling now accounts for 75 percent of Riggs business, with carpentry subcontracting about 25 percent.

Swarts and her brother, Bill bought the 55-year-old company when their father retired in 2011. Swarts is vice president, sales and marketing manager and the company’s lead salesperson. Bill, the president, is the chief estimator and he oversees production and administration.

“What we do for a living is make (customers’) dreams come true,” Bill Riggs said. Riggs has done multiple projects for several clients, including one that is up to number 23. “It’s humbling to know that people put that trust in us.”

Riggs builds trust by assigning the same personnel to serve particular clients, Swarts said. One client has used the same carpenter for 16 years. Riggs also does small tasks for regular clients, even changing light bulbs as needed.

“I want my field staff to take care of the client’s property,” Swarts said. “Our repeat business is what carried us through the recession.”

Riggs sends customers a job rating form at the end of every project. The form has 13 questions that ask customers to rate them from 1 to 5. Riggs passes the results along to its staff, sharing praise and addressing any problems. Swarts says she seldom sees a rating lower than a 5.

“Nothing is perfect,” Swarts said. “If something doesn’t go right, it’s right at the end of the job. That is what matters.”

Riggs is an open-book company, sharing its financial information with employees. The company has a budget meeting at the beginning of the year, which lays out goals and how Riggs expects to reach them.

Swarts said each crew sees the number of hours and dollars allocated to a project, which helps them understand what the job entails and how to keep it within budget. The whole process increases employees’ buy-in to company goals, she said.

Training is an ongoing process. New hires typically need four weeks to get through a checkoff process that involves meeting every employee. Each person has something specific to teach newbies.

“The beautiful thing here is that we have very little turnover,” Swarts said. The company has a dozen full-time employees.

Crews have weekly training meetings on safety and the company’s culture. The company has a detailed policy manual, which lays out the company mission and vision as well as policies on safety, etiquette, automobiles, incentives and the company’s environmental or green policy.

Riggs expects everyone to volunteer or participate in charity projects. The company led the building of an all-access, all-terrain playground at Keysor School in Kirkwood and built a “book buggy” for the Kirkwood library to promote reading at the city pool. Riggs also patronizes Stray Rescue.

Swarts said being BBB Accredited “reinforces the faith and loyalty our existing clients have in us, but more importantly, the accreditation offers new clients an initial sense of trust…before ever picking up the phone….It is in fact proof that Riggs Construction is trustworthy and held to a higher standard than many others in our industry.”

As a business owner, Swarts said being part of BBB gives her“peace of mind knowing I belong to a group, a neutral party outside of our walls, to turn to for advice if ever a client becomes difficult to manage.”

As the third generation running a family business, Riggs and Swarts say they hope their young children will someday take over the business.

“My oldest will probably be the boss until her youngest shows up,” Riggs said with a meaningful look at Swarts.

Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. This year’s TORCH Award Luncheon will be Oct. 14 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St .Louis. For more information, click here.

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