Jack Hartsell Talks Upscale Home Construction, Formula for Success

Jack Hartsell has been a player on Little Rock’s upscale residential construction scene for more than 40 years.

Bio: Jack Hartsell

Background: Jack Hartsell grew up in Rose Bud (White County). A tour of duty in Vietnam (1965-68) with the Marines interrupted his early construction career. He helped build a church in Da Nang, though most of his time overseas was spent serving as an infantry grunt. He mustered out as a sergeant. Hartsell has overseen the construction of scores of custom homes and specialty residential projects.

How did you get into the business?

I am a carpenter by trade. My grandfather learned the trade and passed it down to my father, who taught me. By the time I was 12, I could do most of what carpenters can do. There were nine of us kids, so we all had to work. I was 18 when I built my first house, a 1,000-SF house in Russellville. I read in the paper about a man needing someone to frame a house. I was able to finagle my way into building the whole house and built two more for him.

After returning from Vietnam, where I served with the Marines, I started Jack Hartsell Construction about 1970. Custom homes, residential remodels and commercial work are the majority of my business. I also have a millwork shop, specializing in elliptical and circle staircases. We also make other items, such as doors, moldings and many other custom pieces.

What’s the local market like for upscale homebuilding? How did you fare during the post-2008 recession?

I’ve been very fortunate to stay busy during the slowdown, but it seems to be getting better. I don’t see as many large houses. People are putting more money into a smaller package. By the time we’d get finished with one project during the slowdown, an old customer would call me. That would keep flour in my barrel, so to speak. I didn’t make as much money, but we were able to keep going through it.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the business?

I can remember building top-end houses for less than $100 per SF. I never thought I’d see the day when they would go for $250 per SF. Materials, labor costs — everything has skyrocketed. There are not as many young men becoming carpenters because it’s hard work. I’m wondering if it will become a lost art.

What are some of the amenities in vogue with upscale homeowners?

Recently, I built a wine cellar using an old oil tanker that was used as a storm shelter before the wine cellar was built. It’s accessed through a custom spiral staircase we installed. Also, I have built a shooting range in the downstairs of a home. Another home has a ballroom. The popularity of outdoor kitchens and outdoor fireplaces is coming back along with custom media rooms. We’re seeing more of this as the economy improves.

What are the most important components in your formula for success?

1) Quality of work that my personnel and I maintain. My employees have been with me for years. I have some carpenters who have been with me for 30 years. 2) Standing behind my work has rewarded me with repeat clientele. I have had the good fortune to build more than one home for many of my customers, some as many as three or four. As some of their children have grown into adults, I am now building for many of them.