Horse Barn Builder: Off to the races

“I enjoy horses,” says John Fuog, “but it’s the barns I’m really passionate about.”
The president of Fuog/InterBuild in Purcellville, Va., admits with a laugh that “I traded in my horses a few years ago for a set of golf clubs!” But he adds, “Customers hire me not because I profess to be a horseman, but because I have a passion for building barns that are soundly constructed and safe for their animals.”HBB-Fuog1.jpg
Among those who appreciate Fuog’s passion are the owners of West Virginia’s Charles Town Races, who hired Fuog/InterBuild to construct four barns totaling 63,000 square feet and 341 stalls. The $1.5 million, eight-month project was completed in 2006. Yet the company also takes on repair jobs worth a few hundred dollars and, says Fuog, “Our bread-and-butter is three- and four-stall barns.”
That’s a change from 1981 when Fuog set up shop in Virginia’s Loudon County. The historic region has always been horse country — in fact, nearby Brandy Station was the scene of the Civil War’s largest cavalry engagement, a battle that involved 17,000 mounted troops. “When we started 25 years ago,” he says, “our construction business consistently was mostly agricultural projects.” Yet over the past generation the county’s rolling hills have attracted developers from nearby Washington, D.C. HBB-Fuog10.jpg
The county seat at Leesburg is now a bedroom community and even Purcellville has become a small college town. “The population of Loudon County has grown seven-fold since 1981,” Fuog reports, “and for a time we were ranked as the fastest-growing county in the whole United States.” Over the years Fuog/InterBuild has responded by getting into light commercial construction, then residential work and storage barns.
“But we’ve built post-frame horse barns since the beginning of our company, and they’re still about 75 percent of our volume,” Fuog relates. At the same time, however, horse barns have changed as the clientele has shifted from farmers to hobbyists — or from men who are running aHBB-Fuog11.jpg business “to the woman of the house who is building her dream,” he says.
“We emphasize turnkey projects,” Fuog continues, “because that’s the best way to provide the service that most of our customers need. People either have time or money. If they have money but don’t have time, that’s where a turnkey builder can help. They don’t have time to act as their own general contractor.”
Yet if horse barns today feature more amenities, Fuog points out, “The basics — from site grading and drainage to ventilation — remain the same.” He first began to learn those basics some 30 years ago as a Northern Virginia representative for an Ohio building supply company. The firm did not perform contracting and, after five years in sales, he decided in 1981 to launch his own building business.HBB-Fuog6.jpg
Since then, the growth of Fuog/InterBuild has mirrored the growth of its sales territory. The company is licensed in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, and performs some 35 projects per year with a workforce of two crews and 12 employees. Fuog admits that serving a fast-growing region has its challenges. In the late 1980s his company was more than double its present size. “But I realized,” he explains, “that size and profitability are not the same thing.”
Now Fuog/InterBuild performs about 60 percent of its work with its own forces. “We subcontract the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical because, in our state, those trades require a master’s license,” Fuog says. He counts himself fortunate not only to have subcontractors that have served the company for nearly 20 years, but two crew foremen — Philip Carter and Wes Hilton — who have been with Fuog from the beginning. “That’s really rare,” he says, “but that kind of combined experience, more than 100 total years between us, gives us a real edge.”HBB-Fuog7.jpg
In competing for customers Fuog displays at a few horse shows, advertises in some horse publications, and puts signage on his trucks and at his jobsites. “But I really believe that the key to being successful is working hard to manage our customers’ building experience,” he states. “That even starts with the initial phone call. I can’t tell you how many times customers have said they had trouble reaching other builders and told us, ‘I’m so glad somebody finally returned my call!’”
From the purchase agreement, through the drawings and then the actual construction, “we try to be a good listener and see the project through our customers’ eyes,” Fuog says. “And we’re always doing a lot of research to find good suppliers who can provide cost-effective, high-quality stalls and other equipment. There are some builders in our territory who build barns for wealthy customers and don’t bother to shop around for equipment. But we can often increase our customers’ satisfaction by saving them money on the items they want.”HBB-Fuog9.jpg
Fuog finds that his research is aided by a commitment to professional involvement. Currently he is president of his local National Frame Building Association chapter, so that through professional networking and attending shows he can make valuable contacts.
Most customers choose from Fuog/InterBuild’s two product lines of raftered and clearspan horse barns. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the company performed a daunting custom job in 2005-06 for Charles Town Races. Plans called for four buildings — a small 5,000-square foot storage building, two barns at 44 feet wide by 390 feet long, and the largest barn at 76 feet wide and 310 feet long. “They say the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time,” Fuog remarks, “and so we decided to build the project one barn at a time.”
The company put an office trailer on the site and Fuog reported there for work — every weekday for seven months. After the June 2005 groundbreaking, he scheduled crews and subcontractors to work six days a week. All went according to plan until December 2005, when he was asked to meet with the owners of the facility. “Race tracks have their own politics,” he explains, “and the owners had agreed among themselves not to occupy the new barns until the last one had been finished. So they wanted to know if I could wrap up the project early.”HBB-Fuog4.jpg
The owners requested January 2006 as a new completion date, which gave Fuog and his team only a matter of several weeks to finish the mammoth project. Yet somehow the task was achieved. “Like I said, the key is managing your customer’s experience,” he notes. “If you can do that, then you’re bound to get more work through repeat business and referrals.”
Emblematic of his commitment is Fuog’s decision to hire Abraham Goy, an 83-year-old veteran of World War II who fought in the D-Day campaign at Normandy. “He comes in one hour a day,” Fuog explains, “just to call up our list of customers and ask how they’re doing. The customers enjoy it, Abraham loves it, and we’ve gotten some new jobs out of it. I think it’s something that every builder could do.”
The results are found, for example, in letters such as a note Fuog received recently at his office. The customer had wanted her own horses and barn for 20 years and “there were many years that I thought I would never have a horse of my own,” but “thanks to everyone there, I also have a beautiful stable that I thought would never be possible!” Then she wrote:
“My husband and children tease me sometimes due to the fact that after the posts had been set I went out and stood among what felt like the ribs of Moby himself, in awe of what would come to be known as my ‘equine cathedral.’ It might not be such a monumental thing for a company that’s used to constructing buildings ten times the size of our stable, but for me it’s everything I had hoped for so many years would eventually materialize if I just kept faith in my dream. I very much believe that sometimes something is truly meant to be. Thank you for helping me achieve that. I know it would have been an impossibility without your involvement. Thank you also for your honesty and patience with a person that had never done anything like this before.”
Providing that kind of satisfaction explains why — even if Fuog admits he is better on the golf course than on horseback — his passion to build quality horse barns remains as stronger as ever.

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