Written by: https://smokymountainnews.com/news/item/32553-perkins-brothers-turn-custom-home-building-business-into-youtube-fame
“Living the dream” is what comes to mind after spending a couple of hours with the Perkins brothers and their construction crew on top of a mountain in Nantahala.
The sun was shining overhead and the autumn colors were at their peak as the builders finished up work on another custom built house that will soon be a three-story, 2,000-square-foot mountain getaway for a couple in Atlanta. The lot offers 180-degree views of the mountains looking toward Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“You can see Clingmans Dome in the distance,” Erik Perkins says, pointing over the horizon.
A loveliness of ladybugs swarm the outside of the house, covering all the windows and siding. Jaime Perkins swats them out of his face, but they continue to gather on the collar of his shirt and his blue jeans.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said
A sure sign of good fortune, the Perkins brothers have definitely seen their fair share of it the last couple of years as the videos on their YouTube channel continue to get record numbers of views.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy going from being up on the side of a mountain never seeing anybody to having hundreds of thousands of people a day seeing you,” said Erik, regarding their newfound social media influencer status.
The Perkins Builder Brothers YouTube channel now has more than 347,000 subscribers and gets over 2 million views per month. Their Facebook page has 164,000 followers and their Instagram has 15,500 followers.
Jaime and Erik also know how much hard work has been done behind the scenes for years before their social media pages went viral.
“The YouTube thing meshes well with this business, but don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of work — most people give up because it’s so much work,” Erik said.
The Bryson City natives have been operating the custom building business their father started for the last 20 years but have only spent the last two years building an impressive online brand by filming, editing and publishing their own “how to” videos on the construction sites.
In the 15- to 20-minute episodes, viewers can watch the home construction process from the time grading work begins until the final touches are made. Erik is the main cameraman and does a majority of the recording on his phone and all of the editing from his iPad. He earned a bachelor’s degree in multimedia from UNCA before he went into the family business, but found a way to utilize his skills in videography.
When he told his brother and business partner about wanting to start making videos from the job site, Jaime gave him the go ahead, but neither knew how popular the videos would become online. In their minds, they were just building custom made homes in Western North Carolina — nothing fancy like the mountaintop mansions you see on HGTV or the dramatic renovation finishes found on Extreme Home Makeover.
“Yeah, we just sort of started winging it. For about a year we probably did more topic-based videos — how to install a piece of siding or how to frame a wall — some of those now have millions of views, but it was very sporadic in the beginning,” Erik said.
“We didn’t think there would be any interest in people watching it — it’s just custom home building with regular customers — but yeah, the interest is definitely there,” Jaime said.
While being interviewed on a podcast called Startup Hustle hosted by Matt Decoursey, the CEO of Full Scale, Erik was asked if he’d thought about doing a start to finish video of the building process for the YouTube channel. His first thought was, “No, that sounds like a lot of work.” But the more he thought about it, the more it sounded possible.
“So about four houses ago, I said, ‘all right, let’s try this,’” he said. “I made a video about every step of the process and that’s when we really started growing.”
It’s impressive the number of videos they post, but Erik says it’s not as time consuming as one would think. At the end of the day, the main job is to produce a quality, custom house, but videoing progress and processes each day has just become part of the job.
“We do like this one-take kind of style where it’s not very produced. If it’s something that needs a little more explanation or if it’s really loud, I’ll just mute the audio and just explain it with voice over later, but yeah, there’s no real plan,” he said. “It’s really a great format for us, too, because we literally don’t have to do anything different from what we’re already doing. We just do our job and that becomes the show that week.”
Now that the crew is settling into the new workflow and getting used to the cameras rolling all the time, Erik said the team is working on developing their character roles a little more.
“You know, Jamie tells really bad jokes,” Erik teased his brother.
“Yeah, I tell horrible jokes, I talk too much and I give way too much detail,” Jaime agreed.
“Jason’s always bitching and moaning about whatever it is we tell him to do. It’s very much reality but we try to make sure that the little personality pieces get in there too,” Erik said. “And I’m the one who’s late to work or I don’t have all the tools I need and take everyone else’s.”
The formula seems to be working well — there are plenty of people who watch for the fun, the mess ups and the laughs, but there are also plenty of people who watch to learn some new skills.
With a growing reach online, the Perkins brothers have had plenty of opportunity for growth, but they’re not looking to expand their business.
“Our actual construction business, we don’t want it to grow,” Erik said.
“We could be doing 10 houses at a time right now if we wanted to, but that’s not what we want,” Jaime added. “We’d be strung out and losing our minds and probably our wallets too because that’s a lot to keep up with. We’d have to hire so many people to make that work.”
Erik said it’s typical for them to turn down a dozen new house requests a week — otherwise they could be booked out for years to come. With the Nantahala retreat close to completion, the construction crew has three more custom builds scheduled out plus a piece of property a few miles west of Bryson City where they plan to build up to 10 spec houses to sell. With housing options being in short supply across Western North Carolina, these potential homes will no doubt be in high demand.
“These won’t be high dollar, but they’re not going to be basic either because we have to build a house that’s interesting — that gives us the freedom to design a house that we think will be a good build for the show,” Jaime said.
“Yeah, it’s got to have some unique details and some curb appeal. It can’t just be a square box,” Erik agreed.
So that’s the next challenge for the Perkins brothers — how can we build eight to 10 homes in a neighborhood that are similar but not duplicated.
Then there’s the social media aspect of the business that is growing as well. It’s at a point where Erik can no longer manage it all on his own and has had to hire freelancers to help manage the business’ online presence now that it is taking on advertisers and corporate sponsors. It’s a great problem to have.
“That’s really the bread and butter of what a YouTuber does,” Erik said. “There’s several big companies that just give us free stuff for our builds and pay us to use their products like this siding company, the decking, and Lowe’s provided a sponsorship of all the plywood in this whole house.”
So many people look at YouTubers and think, “I could do that.” To those people, Erik says, “Well you better plan on making a hundred videos before you get paid a dime and even then you may never get paid a dime.”
Social media is a fickle thing. You never know what people will resonate with and when one video that you least expect could blow up the internet. The moment when one share becomes a thousand and then a million.
“You could make 200 videos and post them regularly and they could even be pretty decent and you’d just never get more than a thousand subscribers ever,” he said. “Maybe you make one video that just takes off or something like that, but I don’t know, sometimes it’s just luck. I was just stubborn enough to just keep trying.”
The construction crew enjoys a lot of laughs and cutting up together on the job site — it’s what keeps the work enjoyable — but it’s not always fun and games. It’s dangerous work and safety is critical.
Jaime became the focal point of a series of videos on the Perkins Brothers YouTube channel last year after he lost four of his fingers while using a power tool. How-to videos quickly ceased as family and friends focused on his recovery.
In a video from a hospital bed, Jaime shared what had transpired in his woodworking shop at home early that morning. He was using a jointer — a woodworking machine used to joint together flat boards. He had the jointer still running when he and a friend began using a different machine and forgot to turn the jointer off.
“The jointer is like a table. I’d set some boards on it and because my earmuffs were on and the vacuum was running, I neglected to notice the jointer was still running. The guard wasn’t covering the knives,” he said. “I reached across the jointer to pick up the wood and before I could have any reaction, it sucked my hand into the machine.”
With his left hand wedged in between the cutter head and the infeed table, fortunately the machine stalled. Jaime was able to reach the off switch and unplug machine. Had it not stopped, the damage to his hand would have been far worse. Jaime’s friend was able to help him pull his hand out from the machine. He doesn’t remember everything from those few moments, but he must have screamed out in pain because his wife heard him from upstairs and came to check on what happened.
“This was a very preventable mistake. I tell everyone to be safe on the job and I feel like I’m as cautious as anybody, but this was a bad mistake,” he said. “I try not to beat myself up about it and stay positive.”
Perkins Builders fans watched as Jaime went to the doctor to take the bandage off for the first time. His hands shook in nervousness as he tried to hold the camera steady. It’s the first time he saw that he lost four fingers at the knuckles. He experienced excruciating pain as the bandage was removed because it had stuck to the stitches on his fingers. Even through the traumatic event, Jaime thanked his crew for continuing work at the job site and all his friends, family and supporters who were quick to organize a Go Fund Me page to assist his family with medical expenses.
“I hope to remind people of the dangers of being in the trade that we’re in where you work around dangerous machines. I want to encourage people to be safe,” he said. “I have read hundreds of your comments and it reminds me to be thankful for what I still have and I thank God that I didn’t get injured worse than I did.”
By June, Jaime was putting a video together about the first time returning to use the jointer in his woodworking job with some new safety precautions in place, including adding a light to indicate when the machine is running. He openly shared the mental and physical struggles during his recovery process, but he stayed positive about the situation with support. Danner sent him a pair of slip-on work boots so he could begin easing back into work. Sitting around at home was not something Jaime was used to and he was eager to get back to the job site as soon as possible.
Today, after several intense surgeries and a year of healing, Jaime wears a metal prosthetic device over his left hand that allows him to have about 90 percent use of his hand. He’s thankful to still be able to do what he loves.
“There’s just something really satisfying about getting something done,” he said.
Every day on the construction site is a new adventure and presents a new problem to be solved. No two builds are ever the same and there’s no one particular fix for the challenges the crew faces each day — that’s half of the excitement of following the team throughout the process.
“We just tried to put a microwave in, but the trim we already did last week was all in the way so we had to rip it all off and put it all back together,” Erik said. “There’s no textbook way to do everything that we do. Even though we’re repeating a lot of the same processes, every house is different. Same process, different scenario.”
After watching a few of their videos, it’s easy to imagine the Perkins Brothers showing up on cable TV with their own reality show one day. They have the talent, energy, personalities and good looks needed to make good TV.
Erik said they auditioned for a reality show deal a while back but didn’t get it. Now that they’ve found a good niche on YouTube, the Perkins brothers aren’t so sure whether they want to continue to pursue the reality TV route, though it’s still a possibility. They are currently in discussions with a network, but a confidentiality agreement prohibits them from giving any more details.
A TV show would completely change what they are doing now. Instead of those one-take videos with the conversations off the cuff, a TV show would take more time, more takes and scripts to memorize. The TV show would become the job as opposed to the building business being front and center.
Erik and Jaime agree that the right situation would have to come along for them to reconsider the sweet spot they’ve worked so hard to find. Until then, they’re content to continue growing the YouTube audience.
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