Derby puts emphasis on 'custom' building

Derby puts emphasis on 'custom' building
David Derby of Derby construction talks to one of his builders, Ben Hoffman, about a project in Somerby.

The word "custom" appears on the Derby Construction logo not once, but twice, and with good reason. 

It's a word that owner David Derby takes seriously.

"A lot of people put ‘custom’ behind their name as a builder in this town," says Derby, "but there are very few true custom builders.  My definition of a custom builder is somebody that does the design work and builds the home and does not subcontract all their labor out."

That fidelity to definition is paying off for Derby; his company is a perennial stand-out at the Rochester Area Builders Fall Showcase of Homes.  The crew won an award in 2010, 2011 and two this year: The People’s Choice Award on the Showcase of Homes and The People’s Choice Award on the RAB’s Remodelers Tour. 

This year’s double victory is a first in the event’s history.


Event winners are picked by votes of attendees, who tour the homes along the route and vote for their favorite.

Derby Construction’s success at the RAB Fall Showcase mirrors the trajectory of their last few years.

Though Derby started the business 15 years ago, its momentum started gaining five years ago, when he and his longtime ‘better half,’ Ashley May, who helps run the business, started a family together.

"We had children," says Derby, "and that’s the biggest motivator for any of us.  Since that point, it’s grown by leaps and bounds."

Today, the company builds roughly two to three homes per year and does approximately 20 remodels in that same time span. 

Derby studied art in college; echoes of that experience appear in his work process and commitment to detail, both in design and material selection.

"As an art major, this really is more than just building the houses for me.  It’s my job and my hobby, and you can ask my customers about that.  We stick a lot of time and effort into these to make sure that they turn out well."

He designs each aspect of a project personally, from cabinet plans to tile layouts to paint selection (he favors warmer fall tones) to windows, helps the customer make important choices about details, then shows up on the job site with his crew of in-house workmen to bring concept to reality.


"The house is literally designed and built from the ground up by just myself and my guys," says Derby.

To make things more simple and less costly, he started up relationships with a few regional industries, dealing in larger quantities, which allowing him to pass savings onto his customers.

"The Amish build all my cabinets for me, a custom trim manufacturer right out of Southern Minnesota makes all my hardwoods and all my trim work.  It’s all native hardwoods," he says.

Prospective customers can get a feel for the materials in the company’s showroom, located on at 5812, Highway 52 N, where an array of cabinets, trim selections, tiles, windows, carpeting and more is on display.

Having all the elements of a project in one place makes the process simpler, according to Derby.


"That is part of what’s unique about us: you can come in here, you can get your design, we can go through your design… I will have everything here and you can look at everything right in this location.  It’s less confusing for the customers, it really helps me help them through the process.  If I didn’t have it all here, it’s me sending them out to get tile samples with no influence to help them and a lot of people want that help - that’s what they’re looking for when they hire a contractor."

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