Under the roof or under the hood

In the equine construction market there are horse lovers who also happen to be builders, and there are builders who also happen to serve horse lovers.
Which approach is better? Wooster Buildings of Wooster, Ohio, resolved the issue a dozen years ago when the company was founded by partners who represent both points of view. “I ride horses and enjoy being around horse people and horse barns,” says Ervin Hostetler, while co-owner Terry Shultzman laughs, “I like horses under my hood!”
Yet since they started building horse barns and other post-frame projects in 1993, Shultzman and Hostetler say they have “found a great balance” in creating a business that derives 40 percent of its revenues from light commercial jobs, 40 percent from agricultural construction, and 20 percent from horse barns and residential outbuildings.HBB-Wooster4.jpg
Wooster Buildings performs about 70 to 100 projects per year that range in value from $10,000 to more than $500,000. Its yearly work typically includes about 10 horse barns, which run the gamut from four-stall facilities valued at $30,000, up to projects worth $250,000 with riding arenas that might span 80 feet in width and 200 feet in length.
“Horse barns are nice-sized projects for us,” explains Shultzman, because contract values and profit margins tend to be higher on average than with other types of buildings. “Post-frame construction for a barn isn’t really all that different from other post-frame projects we do,” he adds, “and for a barn project, we usually don’t have to get a permit!”
The town of Wooster is about an hour south of metropolitan Cleveland, and about half that distance due west of Akron and Canton. While it might be a challenge for Shultzman and Hostetler to survive on equine construction alone, the demand for recreational horse barns is growing as city dwellers buy acreage in the countryside. For that reason, Shultzman explains, “Building horse barns is a nice addition to our bottom line and helps us achieve a nice diversity in the projects we do.”
Many of Wooster Buildings’ commercial projects are office/warehouse combinations, while its agricultural jobs include many dairy barns. In general those markets are good, but demand can fluctuate according to the national and local economies, changes in the business cycle, and rise or fall of farm prices. By diversifying his business — and tapping into an equine market driven by leisure rather than economics — Shultzman reports that “when one segment of our work might be down, another segment is usually up.”
The company also maximizes its profits by being a turnkey builder. “For some reason, people in our market are used to contracting separately for their own plumbing, heating, and electrical,” allows Shultzman, “but except for excavation, we do everything else. We pour the concrete and erect the barn shell, then do everything from stalls to overhead doors.” In so doing, he adds, “Our company has been fortunate for 13 years to keep the same suppliers for concrete, lumber, trusses, stall fronts, doors, gates, and other needs for equine projects.”HBB-Wooster5.jpg
Having good connections is no surprise, considering the way that Shultzman and Hostetler began their company. Shultzman entered the construction business in 1978 and spent the next four years doing sales, design, and project management for Morton Buildings. Then after 10 years with another builder, he was ready to launch out on his own. Hostetler went to work in 1976 for Morton Buildings, spending seven years as a crew laborer and then a decade as a foreman.
According to Shultzman, “Both of us had a desire to be in business for ourselves. So we started Wooster Buildings in 1993, figuring that I knew how to sell and Ervin knew how to build.”
The company prospered from the start. Its first job was a two-car residential garage, and the second project a combination horse barn and carpenter shop. With their focus on quality workmanship and customer satisfaction, the two men quickly won new contracts. Beginning with a crew of six in 1993, the following year Wooster Buildings added another six employees, and then six more the year after that.
Incredibly, in 13 years “we’ve never done any advertising at all,” reports Shultzman. “It’s all been through referrals and word of mouth.” Requests to build horse barns also keep coming, though Wooster Buildings does not advertise in equestrian publications or attend horse shows. Devoting that much time to a market that comprises 20 percent of their business is not feasible, notes Shultzman, “and besides, we’d rather use our time to give customers a quality job.”
Today the two co-owners have been joined by two sales reps. The four of them each take calls from customers, then each one follows the building process through to completion. “So if one of us takes a call,” Shultzman relates, “he handles the sale, does the quote, takes care of the design, controls the job, and serves as project manager until the building is completed.”HBB-Wooster6.jpg
The philosophy of achieving growth through satisfying customers is illustrated by a recently completed equine project in Uniontown, Ohio. Several years ago the company had built a small barn for Jim and Michelle (the couple has asked their last name not be used). Then in 2003 the couple decided to buy some acreage and build their dream barn. Who did they call for the $165,000 project? Given their prior positive experience, the couple contacted Wooster Buildings.
In the end, the owners opted for a 60×120 riding arena with a 14-foot ceiling, attached to a 30×60 barn with an 11-foot ceiling and dormer windows. The complex also incorporates a 24×32 garage to house vehicles and equipment. The arena is set off by attractive brick work on the front, which matches the couple’s main residence, while the whole complex is topped by three cupolas.
The barn itself features three 12×12 horse stalls, a 12×12 wash bay and 12×12 tack room, a 12×16 foaling stall, and a 12×20 feed room with an open stairway to a loft. Two porches grace the sides of the barn. Ground was broken in fall 2005 and the project completed in spring 2006.
Over the 30 years that Hostetler has been in the construction business, he says that “horse barns have definitely become bigger and fancier, with more attention paid to the aesthetics on both the inside and outside.” Shultzman seconds that motion and, even if his own horses are kept under the hood of his car, he agrees that “horse barns are really great projects to do!”

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