Family, business grow together

U-40 SteveCorey_Randy.jpgStarwood Rafters was first founded in 1964 by Joseph Wozney and two partners. The three men used to haul hay to supplement their day jobs. During the course of hay hauling, they noticed the old barns. They studied the Gothic facilities and developed a truss especially for that style. Over time, the dairy industry grew and so did barns. With large freestyle barns came the need for an innovative modern truss. Starwood Rafters designed and developed the Lam-Ply Truss, which combines plywood, glulams and dimensional lumber to make a stronger truss.

It is a one-of-a-kind design.

Today the company is run by brothers Corey and Steve Wozney, and brother-in-law Randy Sluga. Despite all having grown up with the Independence, Wis., business, all came to make a career at the company at different times through very different paths.

Corey Wozney, 38, always liked working with wood. He attended tech school for two years, which helped him prepare for his career. “It gave me the basics of working with different types of wood and how they react, terminology, stress readings, and the basic design of structures.” He was a carpenter before deciding to join Starwood Rafters in 1990.
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One of the reasons he decided to make the jump was the chance to be his own boss. “I liked the challenges of running your own business,” he says. He manages the company as one of the owners, but he also deals with the shipping, some design, and production. He goes out on site and delivers the trusses when needed. “I pretty much do anything that’s needed to be done, including travel,” he explains.

Steve Wozney, 42, always knew he’d someday work for the family business, but he began his career in an opposite direction from construction or building. He attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, graduating with a degree in finance in 1989. He then went into the banking industry.

He joined Starwood Rafters in 2000, after his father, who had earlier bought out his other two partners, decided to retire. He found his banking experience came in handy when he made the transition to the building business. “In banking, the lending customer comes in with a specific need,” he says. “In the truss business, everybody builds differently. We try to best fit the individual customer’s needs.”

At Starwood Rafters, Steve Wozney’s primary roles are design work, estimating, and the financial end of the business.

Randy Sluga, 41, grew up with the Wozney family. “Our families were best friends,” he explains, “and I later married their sister.” For 12 years, Sluga worked on road construction and ran heavy equipment. In the winters, when road construction work came to a halt, Sluga would work at Starwood Rafters.

“Corey and Steve wanted me to join the business,” Sluga says, “and 4-1/2 years ago, I finally said ‘Yes.’”

Sluga does all the drawings and sets up different projects. He helps build, when needed, and tries to keep things organized. “I try to make the process as efficient as it can get,” he says.

The company employs 15 people year round, and the age range of the employees is wide. “We have one guy who is about 70,” says Steve Wozney, “one who is 50, and the rest are under 40.”

Corey Wozney was 21-years-old when he joined the company, which put him in the position of being in charge of workers much older, as well as dealing with older, more established clients. He discovered, however, his age wasn’t a factor as long as he met their needs. “There is always someone hard to make happy,” he says, “but you try to deal with them and fit their needs.”

One of the ways he takes care of his customers is to take the shipment himself to first-time clients. Starwood Rafters trusses are used on dairy and agricultural buildings across the country, having been used in dairy buildings from Vermont to Washington. He thinks that helps business.

“We have a lot of repeat business,” says Corey Wozney. He attributes that to the quality of the product, as well as the uniqueness of the trusses. “We’re the only ones who make this kind of product.”

Corey Wozney adds that Starwood Rafters has made a contribution to the dairy business over the years. “There is the ‘cow comfort’ factor. Farmers are happy with their buildings because of the better ventilation. That makes cows more comfortable, and cows milk better when they are happy.”

He was on board with the company when it saw a jump in business in 1993. It coincided, he explains, with the growth of large dairy farms. “We had one product out there, and we held an open house, and it started to spread from there.”

Starwood Rafters built a 12,000-square-foot production facility with a hoist system, which opened in the winter of 2007. “We’re no longer held back by the weather,” says Sluga. “Before we didn’t have the room to do things indoors.” Steve Wozney thinks the new shop will help boost production quite a bit, which will hopefully lead to more business.

“We would like to expand to other eastern states that have a booming dairy industry,” he says. “I’d also like to see more local work.”

One project that has benefited from the new facility is the production of cedar wood beams for a company in Kentucky. “I like working with cedar,” says Corey Wozney. “I like the characteristics of the wood. It doesn’t rot, and it takes a lot less maintenance.”

One of Corey Wozney’s favorite things about the industry is the unique ideas people come up with. “They have different spans, different profiles of buildings. It’s a real challenge to meet their needs,” he says.

Steve Wozney likes that there is always change. “Banking was always the same,” he says, “but here nothing is the same. There is always a different approach.” Randy Sluga agrees, and enjoys the daily challenges. “The schedules can be tight,” he says. “I like the challenge of making the deadline.”

However, Sluga’s frustration with the business is it depends on having all the workers present on the job. When guys are missing or they are short-handed, it can slow down production and make deadlines harder to meet.

Because Steve Wozney is so involved with logistics, he says the thing that frustrates him most is the lack of uniform codes from state to state. “Each state has its own laws when it comes to transportation, same with billing. You have to keep up with the codes.”

All three men plan to be with the company for many years to come. Corey Wozney is seeing the next generation getting involved, as well, as his oldest son comes to help out on Saturdays.

“I hope it continues,” he says, “and that it continues growing. I see myself doing this until I retire.”

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