Family comes first. Thats what Jason Somerville decided when his job with Wick Buildings had him out on the road more frequently than he liked, leaving his wife Tammy and their young children home alone.
The better you are in this business, Jason says, the more you have to travel.
And it was no fun being a single mom, Tammy adds.
Something had to change, Jason explains. He liked working with Wick Buildings, and because there was no Wick dealer in the vicinity of Chippewa Falls, Wis., the Somervilles decided to start their own business. They incorporated their business, Custom Structures, in January 2004, and are exclusively Wick Buildings dealers.
The partnership between Tammy and Jason Somerville began almost a decade ago, in college, when they were introduced by acquaintances. Tammy, 30, grew up in Eau Claire and was an elementary education major at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Jason, 35, grew up in Marshfield and studied construction management at Indianhead Technical College in northwestern Wisconsin.
Now, in their business, Jason is a builder and technical advisor on sales calls, while Tammy runs the office, takes care of marketing and handles most of the sales.
Even though I went to school for education, says Tammy, I always worked in business management jobs. Her work history prepared her for her current role. Everything happens for a reason, she adds.
Setting the tone
Custom Structures works year-round, usually with two crews of four employees. Recently, the Somervilles hired a full-time salesperson.
He was a customer of ours, Tammy explains, and they offered him the sales position. Initially, he turned it down, but like other customers and employees, he attended the Somervilles annual pumpkin-carving party.
The day after the party, he called to accept the job, Tammy says, The party changed his mind. This was the kind of atmosphere he wanted to work in.
Its a story both Somervilles are proud of. They both say that, as a small company, they need something to make their business stand out among other post-frame builders. The personality they created for Custom Structures is one where clients are treated as friends. We stay in contact with our clients, says Tammy. And they think were doing them a favor by giving them an awesome building.
Despite his young years, Jasons work experience gave the business its status when they first started. He began his career with Morton Buildings, and then moved to Lester Buildings, where he was a foreman, before taking a job with Wick.
Age was never really a problem, says Jason. You have to qualify yourself no matter what. You have to show that you know what you are doing. Our clients know Im knowledgeable. What also adds to his reputation is his single business approach. All I do is post-frame buildings, he says. Im not a jack-of-all-trades. It must be working, he laughs, because the company is doing over $1 million in jobs every year.
Partners in business, in life
Becoming business partners with ones spouse actually may have been a little tougher than building customer relationships, the Somervilles say. Construction was Jasons career, not Tammys. Yet running a business was something they had to learn together. I was looking at Jason for help and advice, says Tammy, while he wasnt sure how the office operated. Our first year was a learning curve for both of us.
However, she adds, being partners in business has made them stronger partners in marriage and better parents. They work as a team in all aspects of their lives.
If there is any downfall to being married and working together, it is being able to separate business from home life. Both had to learn how to go home at night and leave work at work. On the other hand, says Tammy, talking shop at home helped me learn the business.
Custom Structures constructs post-frame buildings for residential and commercial uses. The projects run from small garages that take a day to build to office buildings and airplane hangars. Recently, the Custom Structures built a 4-H building and a garage with a wrap-around porch in a suburban neighborhood.
The Somervilles work has gotten the notice of its parent company, Wick Buildings. In addition to its Elite Awards, which are based on sales, Custom Structures won Building of the Year awards in 2005 for a garage with a breezeway on each side in the suburban category and in 2006 for a combination 13,000-square-foot equine barn and garage in the agriculture category.
But perhaps the most special award for the Somervilles was the Extra Mile award in 2006. That award is given to a dealer who has gone beyond the call of duty with the quality of work and customer/business relations.
It was a complete surprise and a really neat experience, says Tammy, recalling when their name was announced at Wicks national sales meeting. It was nice to be recognized for our hard work.
Now with nearly five years of experience behind her, Tammy Somerville loves the industry. Both she and Jason agree that they enjoy delivering a quality product to their customers, as well the opportunity to see a building from its conception to the moment of completion.
Delivering someones dreams is a phenomenal experience, says Jason.
What frustrates the Somervilles most is a potential client who only cares about the bottom dollar and not the relationship. When thats the case, the Somervilles feel like somethings missing from the deal.
Plus, Tammy adds, sometimes the customers think they know what a pole shed is. We have to get rid of those misconceptions.
As for the future, both Tammy and Jason admit they both have a lot to learn, but in different areas. Whereas Jason says time management is his major hurdle I need to learn when to separate myself from the business Tammy is still learning the challenges of running an office. They see the industry and their business moving more into the commercial building arena.
Ask the Somervilles why their company has become so successful in a relatively short period of time and each is quick to credit the other.
I have a great wife, says Jason. Without her, the business would falter. Id just be a hammer jockey.
In turn, Tammy says Jason taught her a lot about the post-frame business, which makes her feel more confident about her job.
I wouldnt do it if I didnt enjoy it, she adds. And I like that I can arrange my schedule around my family.
That, of course, is the whole reason Custom Structures was founded.
Family comes first.