Icon’s Vulcan II printer stands
over 11 feet tall, is 33 feet wide,
and weighs just under
The printer streams out five to seven linear inches
of concrete per second. This means the shell
of a 2,000-square-foot building can rise in
just a few days.
; HOW TO PRINT YOUR NEXT HOUSE
Icon’s technology is a radical shift from building with sticks and bricks.
to exercise your priestly calling through TreeHouse. I want
you to try with all your heart to finish what you started. The
church will always be here.” He said a prayer over the couple,
and a business was born.
Ballard and Loomis teamed up to raise a $6.8 million
funding round, led by Container Store co-founder and fellow
Texan Garrett Boone, who would become the company’s
chairman. They took the advice of investors and recruited two
executives from Home Depot, since they had no real experience in the field. One of those veterans became CEO. Loomis
signed on as president and Ballard as vice president, focusing
on product selection and services.
The first TreeHouse opened in an Austin strip mall in late
2011, and was a notable misfire. Rather than being something
radically new and innovative, it was a pricier but typical big-box
store, with high shelves stacked floor to ceiling with hardware—
just like Home Depot. It failed to meet sales goals, and within
two years, the board pushed out the entire leadership team
except for Ballard, and asked him to be CEO. He had just turned
30. It was time to make good on his promise to the bishop.
Then Jenny was told she had breast cancer—while she
and Jason had two babies at home, one of whom, they’d just
learned, had epilepsy. They prayed hard and decided he
should take the job. The doctors had caught Jenny’s tumor
early, which simplified treatment. “We said, ‘It’s a year of
surgeries. Let’s just knock this out and move on,’;” she says.
“It’s a bump in the road, not a hole.”
“It became clear to me,” Ballard remembers, “that if
TreeHouse ran the normal retail playbook, we were going
to die, because retail is dying.” He immediately rebuilt Tree-
House as a kind of collaborative project-planning space and
showroom, where customers could sit down with, say, a solar-
panel expert to map out an installation and work through
the finances. Sales grew. Ballard scored a deal to be the first
retailer anywhere to carry the Tesla Powerwall residential-
energy-storage unit, and outsold much larger competitors for
hot home brands such as Nest and Big Ass Fans. “If TreeHouse
doesn’t end up working,” Boone took to saying, “there is no
truth in the universe.”
By early 2017, the company was preparing a new Dallas
store, and planning several more. Ballard had begun assem-
bling a tech team, and they had created a virtual-reality tool
for doing walk-throughs of the new stores to figure out
optimal floor plans and to serve as a neat tool for TreeHouse’s
project consultants (salespeople) to use with customers to
help plan home improvements.
But Jenny’s cancer came back, and this time the prognosis
was dire. She would have to undergo a wrenching chemotherapy regimen, and it wasn’t clear if she’d survive.
Ballard had been an avid cross-country runner in college,
and, as a coping mechanism, he returned to his old sport. In
the middle of the night, after working all day at TreeHouse,
caring for his sick wife and two children, and getting them
all to bed, he would quietly slip out the front door and start
running, with no destination in mind. Some nights he ran
30 miles, while his family and employees slept. “I can sleep
when I’m dead,” he told Jenny.
He supported Jenny during each of her weekly chemo
sessions. She supported him when he signed up to run the
The printer’s frame slides back and
forth on a track, while the lower lateral
arm moves up and down and this
printhead goes side to side.