Zach Sobaski broke his leg in a snowmobile accident.
At the time, he was working for a building company in his hometown of Washington, Iowa. His job duties included packaging lumber and delivering it to jobsites. But with a broken leg, he couldn’t do any physical labor. “Sales were about the only thing I could do,” he explains. It turned out he was pretty good at it.
Energized by his success in sales, Sobaski decided to move his career in a slightly different direction. While continuing his job, he attended Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, getting a degree in construction technology.
“I was already using what I was learning in school,” he says. And at age 20 and with a couple of years of actual job experience, he knew much more about construction than his recent high school-graduate classmates. Between his education and his experience, Sobaski realized that he could sell buildings on his own. In May 2003, he started his company, Eastern Iowa Buildings, and by September 2003, he sold his first building.
“I never could have done it without school,” he says. “It gave me the skills I needed for the real world.”
Sobaski is one of the many talented, hard-working young members of the rural building community. In conjunction with Rural Builder’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2006, the magazine is featuring industry members who are younger than 40 years old, identifying the leaders of tomorrow who are already pulling their weight today.
Eastern Iowa Buildings had a very humble beginning. Sobaski did everything himself — from sales to putting together the packages — from his apartment. “I’m sure the neighbors wondered about the lumber deliveries,” he says with a laugh.
In those early days, he subcontracted one crew, headed by a former co-worker, which he was able to keep busy for part of the year. Then, in 2005, Sobaski hooked up with Lester Buildings.
“It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “I was a new business and people hadn’t heard of me, but they knew Lester.”
Affiliating with Lester grew Eastern Iowa Buildings’ business. Sobaski’s original crew is now working year-round, and he’s added on two more crews, all as subcontractors. Like Sobaski, who will turn 27 in October, the men who work on his buildings are all under 40, many of them under 30, and one crew led by men in their early 20s. And this past spring, Sobaski’s younger brother, Justin, joined the company after his college graduation to handle the company’s finances.
“Being young has helped, I think,” Sobaski says. “In the beginning it was hard because I had no portfolio. My first customer was someone I had worked with in my previous job. Once I had a portfolio to show people, I had a sense that people wanted to help me succeed.”
When he first started his company, Sobaski focused on suburban and hobby buildings. Since partnering with Lester Buildings, three-quarters of his work involves post frame commercial buildings.
One unique building Sobaski built was a bio-diesel plant near his hometown. The plant will turn soybean oil into fuel and is the project of Sobaski’s high-school friends. The large, irregularly shaped structure is all wood. One area is 32 feet high and 80 feet wide. The building will house the factory and offices. It took eight men and three months to construct.
Another project that Sobaski is very excited about broke ground in late August. He joined with some other investors to build condominium-style shops and offices. The 43 one-story units in four buildings will be post-frame, ranging between 30×40 and 30×60.
“It’s exciting building something for myself,” he says. Although he plans to sell most of the units, he intends to keep two for Eastern Iowa Buildings. One unit will be office space for the company; the other unit will be a showroom.
Sobaski is thrilled with the growth and changes happening in his company.He admits, however, that he’d like the company to stay at this size for a while. His crews are busy, but they aren’t stretched, allowing the company to provide the highest quality work. Eventually he would like to hire his own crews, rather than subcontracting.
Sobaski admits that his skills are with the sales and the construction part of the business, while his weakness is the business operations side. That is his brother’s strength. “We’re still having growing pains like any new business,” he says. “Hopefully bringing my brother on board will help.”
Even though he has been involved in the post-frame building business since graduating from high school, Sobaski still believes he has a lot to learn. “I joined the National Frame Builders Association. Someday, when I have more experience, I hope to serve on a board,” he says. He’s also excited to learn more about the commercial market aspect of the business and introducing new products and a new way of thinking to customers.
His favorite aspect of owning his own company, he says, is driving down the road and seeing the completed project. He also enjoys working with his customers, although collecting debt has been his biggest challenge.
Sobaski thinks the future looks bright, for both the industry and personally. Along with the growth of his business, Sobaski increased the size of his household when he married his wife, Annie, in May.
With projects like the condo shops and bio-diesel plant, Eastern Iowa Buildings shows the sky is the limit when it comes to what can be built.
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