Horse Barn Builder: Building his own dream

Horse barn builders have a unique business, a business of building their customers’ dreams.
But what about their own dreams?
What features and amenities would someone who builds horse barns for a living put in his own barn? That’s the question Gil Friesen faced at the end of 2005. After 40 years in the building business, the president of Stockade Buildings of KC in Garden City, Mo., was ready to construct his own equine facility. “My wife Shelly had been after me for 12 years, so I had to do it!” he laughs. “But really, we both love horses and I also wanted a barn I could show to new customers as an example of what our company can do.”
By the spring of last year the new barn — at the Friesens’ own Tender Touch Farm in Garden City — was complete. Visitors can now “ooh” and “ahh” at the impressive 6:12 roof pitch, the functional cupolas, the porch with decorative stamped concrete, the 324-square foot office and the veterinary area with flagstone floors, the well-appointed bathrooms, the alleyway with rubber pavers, the stalls with individual lighting controls, the tongue-and-groove ceiling of southern yellow pine, the 862-square foot trainer’s apartment with custom cabinets and ceramic tile, the handmade saddle racks, the overhead doors, and more.
“We stayed with metal for the exterior of the barn,” Friesen explains, “and then we made the interior of the barn nicer and nicer as you go inside.” Customers who see the barn can experience new and even better amenities around every corner. As Friesen points out, “If you have a nice show barn so that people associate your company with quality, then they’re willing to pay more.” In all, the stall barn is 36×78 while the all-purpose building — which houses the offices, wash bay, and apartment — is 36×62 with an 8×50 porch.
Yet all that square footage isn’t only for show. Shelly Friesen operates Tender Touch Farm as a business in its own right. “We offer quality American quarter horses and paint horses, along with many products and supplies that we’ve found will help us keep the horses healthy and happy, and will help our horses give us a great ride,” she explains.
A good example of the quality horses for sale by the Friesens — and who are housed in their new barn — is Smarty. The gelding recently tied for first place in the Mid-America Working Cow Horse Futurity. His sire is an American Paint Horse Association World Champion Senior Cutting Horse, as well as the first APHA and National Cutting Horse Association Million Dollar Sire, having sired earners of more than $2 million.
Shelly Friesen has herself won numerous national awards. And in addition to her horse supply business, she is a longtime horse chiropractor and even horse acupuncturist. “She’s a nationally known horsewoman,” her husband Gil says proudly. “Horses are what we do and how we have fun. We’ve gotten to know horse people, and Stockade is among the few builders in the Kansas City area that design horse barns.”
Forty-two years ago Friesen entered the building business primarily to perform commercial remodeling jobs and occasional homes. By 1980 Stockade Buildings of KC began constructing pole barns and, as the company has evolved over the years, now relies on equine projects for about 80 percent of its volume and commercial jobs for the rest. “We do very little residential work anymore,” he adds, “because there are so many small builders today who can low-ball us.”
Instead, Friesen’s market is upscale baby boomers, ages 45 to 60, “whose kids have left home and now they can go ahead and build a better barn,” he relates. “That age group, 45 to 60, is probably about 70 percent of our customers.” Those customers are also within a 75-mile radius of his Missouri office since Friesen decided some 15 years ago to cut out long-distance travel and stop pursuing projects around the country.
Close oversight of his projects enables Friesen to ensure a high level of quality and workmanship. “Our goal is to build our customers more than a barn, but to build them a masterpiece,” he explains. Quality, style, and functionality are the three principles which guide Stockade Buildings of KC — starting with optimal site selection; then by using quality building materials such as premium painted metal and southern yellow pine; and finally through a laminated column building technique that virtually eliminates splitting, warping, and cracking.
Horse barns constructed by Stockade Buildings of KC typically from $250,000 to $300,000 in contract value, although Friesen and his team have built equine facilities worth up $750,000 as well as small barns for under $50,000. Most customers are individuals and many are novices. He has decided to leave the million-dollar barns to others because, as his father taught him, “I don’t want to get into a card game I can’t afford! We don’t want to be the biggest, just the best.”
As such, annual volume for Stockade Buildings of KC generally ranges from $1 million to $1.5 million. “That volume fits our company size and our personnel,” Friesen explains. He employs one building crew directly on his payroll, plus two subcontract crews and two repair crews. In all, then, he generally engages between five and 10 employees.
Though Stockade Buildings of KC advertises in several local horse publications, Friesen estimates that 80 percent of his leads for new projects are past customers and referrals. He begins by asking five questions:
– How many horses does the customer have?
– What facilities does the customer want?
– Can a personal meeting be scheduled?
– Will the customer visit Friesen’s show barn, plus two or three others of similar size? (“It’s always great,” he says, “when a prospect can hear a past customer give us a testimonial.”)
– Does the customer have a design in mind?
After that, Friesen puts into practice two general principles for designing horse barns. “We build it for the horses and then throw in what they people want,” he notes, “and we try to keep the barn as low-maintenance as possible so that owners can spend more time riding and less time for doing maintenance.”
The formula has worked. Friesen is a 2001 inductee into the Rural Builder Hall of Fame in recognition of his achievements, which include more than a dozen national and regional building awards. Yet he is just as proud of the fact that, as he explains, “I’ve built 150 horse barns in the Kansas City area and, because we design them to match their surroundings, no two barns are alike — including my own!”

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