- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Jackye Crane drew the Mardi Gras king cake as a school art project when she was eight years old. In the center, she wrote the biggest wish in her young life.
When I grow up, I want to work for my dad!
When Jackye entered LSU’s Engineering School and began working toward her degree in Construction Management, even her parents thought it’d be a short-lived course of action. She was one of only three women in a program with 150 men.
Yet, she thrived in the program, eagerly learning new skill sets like commercial and industrial construction management. In 2010, she graduated with honors and went to work for her dad in earnest, earning the company’s vice-presidency. King cake wish fulfilled.
As of January 2016, Jackye had one-upped the king cake dream. Her father had new business cards made for a surprise. On the new versions, beneath her name is the word “president.”
The dynamic father-daughter team will continue working together, with Jackye now at the helm. While she’s keeping on top on new construction techniques and materials, the company’s core values will remain at the heart of the business: Customer service and quality.
“We built our reputation and our business by always going the extra mile,” says Jimmy. “We get attached to families when we’re building [their houses] for them, we all feel part of the process. Jackye and I will even be there on moving day, helping them get into their new home.”
Jackye points out that in 2015, 78% of the Crane’s business came from returning clients working on new projects.
“The people we’ve worked with before and the houses that we’ve built are our best advertisements,” says Jackye.
Their client list reads like a Gulf Coast Who’s-Who of people known for their discriminating taste. Currently, several Crane Builder signs can be spotted on lots while driving down Beach Boulevard. The company’s website includes powerful testimonials from clients as well as a sample gallery of projects. Also prominently displayed on the website is the company’s motto: “If you think hiring an expert is expensive, just wait ‘til you hire an amateur.”
The Cranes get competitive bids from sub-contractors and pre-qualify them to make sure they’ll get top quality work. But the final decision is based on finding “the right fit.”
Jackye gives an example. “Sometimes we need just a basic electrician, and sometimes the better fit is one who is also skilled at installing audio and security systems. That way the job isn’t piecemealed and our client gets the best craftsmanship for their money.”
Jimmy Crane adopted that philosophy early on. A New Orleans native, he graduated in the first class of LSU’s new Construction Technology program (the same one Jackye graduated from 38 years later, although the name of the program has changed). He then worked in New Orleans for a small upscale residential renovation company for eight years before hanging up his own shingle in 1980. In the past 35 years, he’s specialized in renovations and new residential construction. Jackye, born in 1987, literally grew up in the business.
In 1986 Jimmy and his wife Sharon purchased one of the most architecturally significant homes on the coast. The historic gem facing the beach in Waveland became an ongoing restoration project — a labor of love that increased the amount of time they spent out of the city.
Jimmy began working on the coast in the mid-’90s, mostly at the behest of friends. The business on the coast mushroomed, as did their love for the area. By 2008, the family moved their household and their business to Waveland full time.
When their home fell victim to Katrina, Jimmy rebuilt higher and with new fortified techniques. Now a cottage in the back of the lot that was constructed as temporary living quarters after Katrina serves as the company office, nesting under the canopy of an ancient live oak tree.
Like her father, Jackye enjoys the fact that the construction business doesn’t entail spending all day in an office. Another aspect both enjoy is that it’s a people-oriented business.
“I love doing residential work, whether it’s renovation or new construction,” says Jackye. “I’m not working with boxes, I’m working with people. There’s a personal side. For instance, during a major renovation, when you start tearing a house up and making a mess, it’s not easy on the family. But we all work through that together and the end result is always positive.”
“The more bells and whistles a house has, the less cost-effective modular is,” says Jackye. “But it can cut construction time in half.”
The Cranes work with two different companies to construct modular homes; in fact, Jackye’s own house is modular. She’ll often invite clients over for a tour so they can “kick the tires.” She points out that modular doesn’t have to be small. A recent “hybrid” home (combining modular and conventional techniques) they constructed in Pass Christian is 8500 square feet.
Fortified building is also a Crane specialty. Not only is the building stronger, some homeowners owners will be able eventually lower insurance rates substantially. Being well versed in the building codes and the requirements of local building officials in Waveland, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian also saves clients anxiety and time. While the Cranes offer some design services, they often work with architects as well.
Between the options the company offers and the reputation for quality they’ve built, it’s small wonder the Cranes keep a full roster of projects.
“But Jackye’s running the show now,” Jimmy says. It’s hard to tell which shines brighter: his pride in his daughter, or his smile.