Design Home CenterBy Anna Vangsness • Mar 2017 • Category: Feature Story
Creativity by Design
Brian Fischer constantly revises his draft for the future of New Ulm’s long-running Design Home Center in his leadership role.
“Why me?” is a question that Brian Fischer has asked himself many times over the years. He asked it when he felt a calling to turn to arts in high school, and he certainly asks it now that he is the CEO of New Ulm-based company Design Home Center. However, for Fischer, asking “Why me?” isn’t a cry of pain, but one of elation when he realizes how his life has been shaped by one company.
A building, remodeling and home improvement business, Design Home Center prides itself on its motto “Your Home is Our Business.” Since its inception in 1954, the tight-knit group of employees work with each customer to help bring their visions to reality. Design Home Center sells, delivers and installs building and interior decorating products for virtually any project a customer comes to them for.
Though Fischer didn’t always have his eyes set on the architecture and design world, it didn’t take him long to figure out his passion was helping people’s dreams evolve in front of their eyes. Fischer grew up on a dairy farm near Courtland and graduated from a local high school. It was during his time there that he found himself immersed in the arts.
“I was an artist in high school,” he says, a smile coming across his face. “I loved drawing animals, nature and homes. Anything, really.”
Thinking drawing was a hobby and nothing more, Fischer worked in the agricultural field after graduating from high school. It was eight years down the road that he came to realize he wasn’t taking advantage of his skills which included vision, design and the ability to share his ideas with others. So he headed back to school, attending what is now South Central College in North Mankato, for architectural drafting. It was a career path he knew would allow him to hone in on his creative skillset.
Upon graduation in 1987, the second-career student was hired at Design Home Center as a draftsperson. Although it was his first choice of jobs, it wasn’t the only employment offer that was extended to him.
“I turned down two major jobs to come here,” Fischer says. “One was a large architectural firm in Mankato and the other was Olympic Fire Protection in Owatonna. I never looked back.”
For Fischer, the driving force to accept the position at Design Home Center was that the job allowed him the opportunity to work with residential projects and have one-on-one contact with customers.
“I like being personable and using the talent and creativity that I have,” he says. “I love sitting down with a customer and just letting ideas explode. I’m a visual person and I can see things before they all happen and I am just so blessed with all of those things. It’s made me a better salesman and communicator because if you’re not a visual person, you have no idea what’s coming out of a concept.”
In just one short year, Fischer moved up in his career and became a project lead for the company, spending much of his time designing and drafting concepts for Design Home Center’s customers.
“I became the major designer and project manager here and things progressed up the ladder from there,” he says.
When a previous owner retired from Design Home Center, Fischer stepped into the lead role in 1995. He became a 75-percent owner of the company in 2014. These days he wears a few more hats, which include CEO, CFO and president. Though busier in the past three years than he was before, Fischer gladly accepts the challenge of leading the successful company.
“I still sleep great,” he says with a laugh. “I go to bed at a reasonable time and I want to be up early. When I get to work, I’m full of fresh air and energy. I don’t need the coffee in me.”
Looking back, Fischer says when he started his career at Design Home Center he had no intention of becoming an owner.
“There were some breaks that went my way and I had some opportunities that were offered to me and some tough decisions to make,” he says. “But, the decisions have been good ones and my decisions have been blessed since.
“I was a farm boy before coming here. People don’t think they can be in positions like I am, but I’m an example that you can do it,” Fischer continues. “Sometimes you have to have the right opportunities fall your way. I’ve been very fortunate thanks to the people and community that I have been a part of.”
Though he may not have had the intention of becoming a business owner, what helped him climb the ladder of success was a keen sense for organization.
“I’m a goal setter and I follow through,” Fischer says. “I love strategic planning and putting tactics down for plans; not only for the company, but for other individuals and myself. I like to set goals and I put deadlines on those goals; that’s what moves me forward.”
A married father of four adult children, Fischer knows that it can be difficult to balance personal and work life. But he still finds time to give back by being active in the community. This year, he’s serving as the New Ulm Farm City Hub Club President and is on the Board of Elders at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm. Fischer credits his leadership skills, which help him excel at his job, to the connections he’s made throughout the years.
“I think my leadership skills have come from having the opportunity to lead a church congregation for six years when I was church president,” Fischer says. “That’s where I learned a lot of my communication skills, too. I had good mentors to network with, talk to and share those leadership things with. Part of it is taking a lot of courses over the years through organizations I’ve been a part of, and part of it is being blessed with certain talents.”
A humble man, Fischer is quick to acknowledge that his success wouldn’t have been made possible if it wasn’t for his second family – his team at Design Home Center. He currently manages 16 employees, each of whom specialize in certain fields of the business. From project sales, delivery and customer service to full-service interior decorating and carpentry, Fischer is proud of the dimensions that the Design Home Center brings to the community.
“We have knowledgeable people who specialize in all areas,” he says. “If you tell me you want a pole barn built, I’ll tell you straight out that I can’t do it, but I know which of us can. We work as a team and each of us brings something to the table. We like to take advantage of each other’s skills. It’s no secret that it’s a team effort here.”
“We feed off of each other; we’re a family unit,” he continues, gesturing to the help desk just outside of his office where a customer is being greeted by one of the sales staff. “We have a lot of employee development; that was important for me. You start with something and it takes one or two people, and then there’s a third and a fourth person that is encouraging everyone else.”
Many of the processes at Design Home Center are made by taking into account each employee’s considerations and inputs. With more than 240-plus years of service combined, Fischer and the staff at Design Home Center all agree on one thing: “We have the greatest job in the world,” Fischer exclaims. “We get to take people’s ideas and make them into an actual vision. I can drive around New Ulm and the surrounding area with my wife and I know what’s in some of these houses. I’m privileged to say, ‘we did this exterior and that entire addition.’ As a team, we’ve developed relationships with the people in the community. It’s priceless and it’s so rewarding. I get to do my job, and yet Design Home Center is making a difference in the community and we are so happy about that.”
It’s been Fischer’s mission since becoming a majority owner to make sure customers, vendors and employees feel like they’re at home whenever they set foot in the business. Every third Thursday of the month from April through October, Design Home Center invites contractors, excavators, plumbers, electricians, bankers and realtors to join them for a “grill out” to thank them for their business. Last year they fed more than 600-plus people during those nine months. Design Home Center’s staff prepares and serves the meal.
“They appreciate it, but we appreciate them just as much,” Fischer says, gazing out the window in his office, which looks into the showroom.
He has not one, but two large interior windows in his office of Design Home Center. Yes, they let in natural light and allow him to see his employees, but that’s not why Fischer had them installed. The CEO uses them to ensure that he knows just who is coming into the company.
“I make it a point to greet people by name,” Fischer explains. “I’m not afraid to get out on the showroom and say ‘I’m Brian, thank you for your business.’ People want to feel like they’re important when they walk out of a business, not like a customer.”
The full-service atmosphere at Design Home Center is reassuring. A homeowner can feel comfortable asking for suggestions on a project, knowing that they are getting top-notch help.
“We’re here to make long-lasting relationships with people,” Fischer says. “We’re different than big-box companies because you can’t bring that employee home with you to measure carpet or put in the kitchen cabinets you just bought. Once you leave the store, you’re done. Here, it’s the service and the quality you’ll get on projects that we like to think gets people coming back.”
In 2017, Fischer will be ushering the Design Home Center into its 63rd year in business. No longer able to design as much as he’d like because of his ownership duties, Fischer hopes that his career will come full circle to where he began.
“Every day I miss drafting,” he confides. “But, right now, when I talk to my fellow lumber peers, I know that my role is to manage. I can’t do both at the same time. If I did, both areas would hurt. I take a design job or two here and there, but I don’t do what I did. When I first came here, I strictly did new homes and remodels and that’s my passion and I’m not ready to give that up.”
For now, though, Fischer knows giving up design is what’s best for the company. As for what the future holds though, only time will tell.
“I have a passion for management and leading because I know I can do it and I love the challenges,” he says. “I still have a passion for coming up with awesome additions. Maybe that can be down the road – I haven’t burnt out from it at all. My goal would be to get back to that. It’s just not in the cards now, but we’re working on a path that may give me this opportunity again.
About Design Home Center
Situated on the western side of New Ulm on Highway 14, Design Home Center strives to create an atmosphere of respect, cooperation and friendliness between customers and vendors in every building project. They were named Northwestern Lumber Association’s 2012 Minnesota Lumber Dealer of the Year as well as New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 New Ulm Business of the Year.
Aiming to bring ease to their customers, Design Home Center installs just about everything they sell and has a staff of 16 employees to help get the job done. They specialize in remodeling, interior decorating, home improvement, new homes, kitchens and farm and utility buildings. Not only working with homeowners, Design Home Center also works with subcontractors.
“We encourage people to come here not only for products, but for knowledge as well,” Fischer says. “Our showroom and conference rooms are open to subcontractors to use. They can bring their own customers in and we’re on hand to help if they need it. We like everyone to know that our showroom is their showroom. The idea behind it is to bring awareness of services in the community by saying ‘your contractor is our friend and you’re my friend, so let’s work together.’”
What’s Trending In Home Design
When it comes to remodeling, interior and home designs may seem to change from year to year, but often times, large changes don’t shift until the 15-20 year mark as products evolve and get better.
Fischer says Design Home Center has begun to remodel homes that were original remodels completed by them two decades ago.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” he says. “We’re still remodeling homes built in the ‘70s, where the soffits and cabinetry only go up to the 84” mark. Whether they’re countertops or paint colors, if people are on the current timeframe of updating their homes, it will happen within 20 years of originally being done.”
A Unique Hobby
Each year from November through early February, Fischer takes up his favorite hobby of more than 30 years: coyote trapping. By the time he gets to work at 7:30 a.m., he’s already finished one run and completes another over his one and-one-half hour lunch break.
“I only trap within seven miles of New Ulm,” Fischer says. “Just in that area, I average about 90 coyotes a season.” Coyote trapping is not only a favorite pastime of Fischer’s, but one that benefits others and is in demand. However, because of a busy schedule and time constraints, he refers parties looking for trapping assistance on to his network of friends who also invest their time in the hobby.
Once he traps the coyotes, Fischer harvests the fur before shipping it to Canada. From there, it goes to Canadian markets through auction houses, where they’re sold to Greece, Russia, Italy and Japan. The countries use the purchased fur pelts for production in their garment factories.
For the past 10 years, Fischer has presented on coyote trapping and serves as our District 7 co-director of the Minnesota Trapper Association, which includes Mankato, New Ulm and surrounding areas to the west. Additionally, he produced three DVDs that are sold around the country including overseas in which he discusses trapping techniques, history and methods.