Area tiny home business experiences steady growth, high demand

Authored By Chloé Morrison

Wind River Tiny Homes is located in Apison. This is one of the first homes the Wind River team built. (Photo: Staff)

Since launching in 2014, an area tiny home construction company has grown slowly but steadily, and owners have plans to continue their business with deliberate expansion.

In 2015, Wind River Tiny Homes completed six tiny home builds; in 2016, they built eight, and they are on schedule to build 10 this year.

Next year, owners Travis Pyke, Caleb Knowles and Jeremy Weaver aim to produce 12, and they have plans to expand their production capacity. 

They are selling more than tiny homes; they are also selling a lifestyle choice that the business owners have firsthand knowledge about, Weaver said.

“People reach out because they know that the owners live in tiny homes,” he said. “Some people didn’t know, and once they find out, it’s a way to connect on this whole other level … In the design process, it really helps to be able to share from experience.”

TV and social media
Shortly after the business launched, the business was featured on television show “Tiny House Nation.”

For the show, the team built Weaver’s 275-square-foot home, which he and his wife still live in.

“We built that in eight days for the TV show,” Weaver said. “That helped us a lot and gave us early credibility. We were fairly new and we knew we could build a tiny house, but it’s [about] getting your brand out there.”

The episode continued to air in reruns, which helped drive a steady amount of traffic to the business’ website and prompted inquiries from across the country, Weaver said.

Between that and the company’s social media use, the business has grown organically without any other marketing, he also said.

“We’ve been very active on social media from the beginning,” Weaver said. “Our voice on social media has a very personal vibe to it.”

New shop
Wind River Tiny Homes recently started construction on a new shop that will allow for increased output.

“Right now, our constraint is production,” Weaver said. “We are booked out five or six months for the build schedule. Currently, we can’t build fast enough to meet the need.”

The homes are currently built on Weaver’s property. They can build two at a time with their current setup.

The new workspace will allow them to build three at a time, which will up the business’ production to 15 homes a year.

With this production plan, Wind River Tiny Homes focuses on quality and customization.

“Some tiny house builders are going the route of mass manufacturing and trying to scale up so they can crank out as many as possible,” Weaver said. “But what we offer is a little different. The sky is the limit on customization.”

(From left to right) Travis Pyke, Jeremy Weaver and Caleb Knowles are the men behind Wind River Tiny Homes. (Photo: Wind River Tiny Homes)

Cost for customization
The cost of a home varies depending on the amount of customization.

A tiny home with minimal customization costs about $40,000.

A higher-end home with custom work and features, such as solar panels, costs about $70,000, Weaver said.

“A lot land somewhere in the middle,” he said. “Our sweet spot is $60,000 to $80,000.”

The customization is what bumps up the price. And many people want solar systems, which tacks on an extra $10,000, he said.

Some customers see something such as a custom bookshelf that turns into a desk on Pinterest and don’t realize how expensive that will be, Weaver said.

“That’s going to take one or two guys several weeks to build,” he said. “It’s the labor [that costs]. The material isn’t that expensive.”

A more affordable option
The Wind River team wanted to focus on quality and customization and build fewer houses a year, all of which raised the price points for the products.

But they also want to make the tiny home lifestyle affordable for everyone.

Next year, the team is planning to roll out models that are more affordable and come with less customization.

“That’s the long-term strategy—to have two levels: a high-end custom [product] and something more affordable,” he said.

At the end of 2015, the Wind River team filmed a television pilot that focused on building a tiny home on a permanent foundation.

The team built an urban micro-home in five weeks while a TV crew filmed it, but it never aired.

“They own the rights, and that was the last we heard,” Weaver said. “We had to wait a certain amount of time to even mention we had built this.”

Last year, the Wind River team was finally able to release pictures of the micro-home they built. It was the first they’d done on a permanent foundation.

“Since then, even until now, we’ve had the most demand for that house,” Weaver said. “We get an equal amount of emails for that one house as for all the others we’ve built combined.”

Many contractors don’t build permanent tiny homes because the profit margins are too low, he also said.

Weaver and the other co-founders are dabbling with the idea of building permanent homes, but creating the mobile houses provides a work–life balance that the team values.

Because they are mobile, the team can build them on their own property. If they start building permanent homes, they have to travel to the site daily, Weaver said.

“We wanted to live in tiny houses and build them because we wanted more balance in our own lives,” he said. “We have to walk that line of taking hold of opportunities versus saying no.”

For now, they aren’t doing homes on permanent foundations, but—because they built one for the show—they have design plans for those types of projects that they will sell.

“If someone [else] wanted to build one, they could buy the plans from us,” he said. “We want people to be able to build and enjoy [their homes], and this is a way that helps us scale how much money we make without having to scale our operations.”