If you have an idea, would you give that idea to your boss or try it on your own?
Steve Eby decided to do it on his own.
After working for a farmer near his family’s home in Greencastle, Pa., and learning the post-frame building business, Eby began to come up with some ideas on how to improve the building process.
“I had some of my own goals and ideas, and I wanted to try them out,” Eby says. So, in 2002, he started his own post-frame building business. He hired three of his friends to help him, and it has grown from there.
His company, ProChoice Supplies, now employs eight people and does between $2-3 million in business each year. Over the years, the bulk of his work has been building horse barns, but lately, he finds himself moving to commercial buildings.
“Our buildings are just a shell,” he says. “We go beyond the call of duty, from start to finish. Our buildings are unique, as far as the design goes.”
While the company has a draftsman on staff who actually does the drawing, Eby oversees the building designs himself. “I’m involved in all phases of the process,” he says, “from sitting down with the customer to going out on the job.” The one thing he doesn’t do anymore is the actual building. He has a supervisor and crew who do the physical work. “My job is to make sure the customer is pleased and that the construction work is done on schedule.”
Getting an early start
When Eby began working in post-frame construction at 18, he had no prior experience. His father was a farmer in Clear Spring, Md., where Eby grew up. He never took any building classes in high school, and decided not to attend college. But he was a fast learner, and shortly after he began working for the farmer, he moved up to a foreman position.
During that time, he came up with a better way to roof a post-frame building, and that’s when he decided to move in his own direction. Now his roofing system is his building signature, constructing a roof that is stronger and more durable than the typical post-frame roof.
Today, Eby is a Perma Columns distributor. “When I build a building, I want to do something for the customer that I would do for myself,” Eby says. “It makes sense to work with concrete and steel when you want the building to last a long time.”
Nearly all of Eby’s work is near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border and into southern Maryland. His clientele list developed mainly from word of mouth. “People heard about the buildings we did,” Eby said, which generated into new business.
Turning ideas into reality
One reason his clients come to him is his willingness to take a unique idea and make it come true. One building his company is currently working on is a bulk food store that will have an ice cream parlor/dairy and a small convenience shop with a deli. The building will also have a drive-through window.
Another unique construction is what a passerby might think is nothing more than an old-style barn. However, this barn in Hagerstown, Md., is not for farm animals. It is specifically for events, like wedding receptions. The barn has two floors, including a loft area and a silo, complete with an elevator.
Eby’s youth has never been a factor when dealing with customers. “Most people guess me to be older than I really am,” he says. He credits his experience in the business; after all, he has been working in post-frame construction for nearly a decade. Plus, most of his employees are younger than he is.
Although this isn’t a family business in the sense of the father handing the reigns over to his son, Eby’s company is family oriented. Both his brother and brother-in-law work for him, and his job foreman is married to his cousin. Even his business and his marriage are linked. “I started the business two months before I got married,” he says with a laugh. “Only a little bit of stress there.” His wife is involved with the company as the bookkeeper and payroll secretary.
Having a sense of pride
His favorite part of his job is the sense of accomplishment he feels when the job is done, the customer is satisfied, and a good-looking building is constructed.
“It’s exciting to get to that point with a customer,” he says, “where you see a good idea turn into the building the client wants.”
His accomplishments have been well rewarded, too. He has won awards from NFBA for his horse barns and commercial buildings.
One of his few frustrations in the business is the permitting process. “We build according to code,” he says, “but getting the job off the ground with permitting causes time delays.” And as a contractor, he adds, it is hard to juggle jobs when you haven’t planned it.
Eby says he sees himself staying in the post-frame building industry for many years. While he knows he’s already doing a good job in a thriving business, he expects to keep learning and becoming more familiar with the industry as a whole. He also feels the industry has a lot of growth potential as it moves into commercial building construction.
He also hopes to expand on his own ideas, possibly making his roofing system and other design ideas available to other companies. “You’ve always got to be thinking,” he says. “You’ve got to always stay open to new products and new ideas.”