Timber barns in a kit

Want proof that two heads are better than one? Since Joel Edmonds and Marc Dickson joined forces in 2002, their Rodeo Construction company has vaulted from $600,000 in annual sales to an expected $6 million in 2007 — and that includes a 50 percent boost, in a single year, over Rodeo’s 2006 volume of $4 million.
How did they do it? “Marc started the business in 1993 and did a great job of building a quality reputation,” explains Edmonds from his company office in Arlington, Wash. “But as just one person, Marc was focused on operations and too busy to advertise.”
Dickson and Edmonds had been friends since high school and, after their 1986 graduation, started working for the same log home builder. Both entered the Army Reserve and were called up for active duty during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. After their service, Dickson started a building business while Edmonds went to school for a degree in animal science and then earned an MBA in 2002. Soon the two men teamed up, with Edmonds joining Rodeo as chief executive officer and Dickson fulfilling the role of chief operations officer.
Since then, Rodeo has enjoyed a rapid rise as the new partnership positioned the company to exploit an opening in the local construction market. “Initially we built everything from houses to hangars,” Edmonds explains. “But Washington State has had a housing boom that attracted many of the builders into doing homes. That left an opportunity for us to fill a niche in the equine market, which we’ve focused on the last two years.”
Further, since Washington gets more than its share of rain, covered riding arenas are popular. “People here like to ride their horses year-round,” Edmonds reports, “and we’ve established a reputation for being very good at building covered arenas.” As a further quality control measure, Rodeo has also set up its own steel fabrication shop to make trusses and stall fronts.
Five years after becoming partners, Edmonds and Dickson now build some 15 equine projects per year ranging in value from $100,000 to $750,000. “We do both custom work and standard designs, and have constructed horse barns from two stalls to 50 stalls,” says Edmonds. According to size, their smallest projects are 40×20 and the largest include facilities up to 100 feet wide and 276 feet long. Rodeo Construction employs four crews, three on the company payroll and one exclusive subcontractor, that travel up to 50 miles from the home office.

Electronic Expansion
Yet the company’s success prompted Edmonds and Dickson to think about further expanding their outreach. “Since we specialize in timber-frame barns and have developed some great designs,” Edmonds relates, “we thought there might be an opportunity for us to make up kits and ship them around the country.”
Upon investigation, Edmonds discovered that the Pacific Northwest is the source of most domestic barn lumber. Thus Rodeo would be assured of a readily available lumber supply and reasonable transportation costs. Then Edmonds noted that, after putting up a Rodeo Construction website (www.rodeoconstruction.com) in 2004, he was getting an increasing number of unsolicited online requests for horse barn plans.
Thus the two partners formed Rodeo Barns in July 2006 as a division of Rodeo Construction. “We funded the start-up costs of the expansion through cash flow and loans to the company by Marc and me,” Edmonds recalls. But their calculated gamble has paid off, with barn kits being sold to customers as far away as New Mexico, California, and even Hawaii. “We’ve done some advertising, some direct marketing, and some trade shows,” he states, “but the response has been mostly through the Internet — between 220 and 900 unique visitors per day.”
Horse owners are drawn by the distinctive and attractive timber-frame design, and the fact that Rodeo Barns provide a complete package so that “once your barn is up, you can move your animals right in,” points out sales director Jeff White. The all-wood designs are by professional architects and engineered to meet building codes in owners’ specific locations. Further, the company’s Premier Series packages, he adds, “are the only timber-frame, complete barn packages available.”
A second Standard Series uses standard lumber and comes in designs from two stalls to eight, while the Premier Series offers either monitor or gable designs in sizes up to eight stalls. “And you can do even larger barns because our kits can be modular,” White states. Prices range from about $28,000 to $65,000 for Standard kits, and $45,000 to $92,000 for Premier packages. Designs are also suitable for conversion to other uses, such as storage facilities and overhead loft living quarters.
“Most of our customers have three to six horses,” White continues, “and so the 40×36 four-stall designs and 40×48 six-stall designs are the hottest sellers. Also, our customers often have very nice houses, so that the timber-frame Premier Series accentuates their properties.”

Crunching the Numbers
Given what he believes is the soundness of Rodeo Barns’ basic business model, Edmonds has the confidence to predict a 50 percent boost in 2007 annual sales over 2006. “For one thing,” he explains, “with our barn kits I know the risk and I get a consistent profit margin. By contrast, with the equestrian projects we build ourselves through Rodeo Construction, the risk varies and the margin can vary.”
Selling kits and doing actual construction can be compared another way. Edmonds figures that to sell 10 to 15 barn kits per month he needs four employees. To actually construct the same 10 to 15 barns onsite, the company would need two project managers and 40 field crew workers. At present Rodeo is selling four or five kits per month but, as word-of-mouth spreads around the equine community, Edmonds says the economics of his business model allows the company to scale up without adding significant overhead.
“Right now we’re selling directly to consumers,” Edmonds remarks, “but we’re thinking long-range about distributorships and franchises. That’s because our customers ask us all the time to refer local builders who can erect their kits.” And if any builders are interested a obtaining kits and then offering the barns at retail to their own customer base, “We’d sell to those builders in a heartbeat,” he says.
Edmonds is confident the equine market will be robust for years to come, affording Rodeo Barns a bright future. “As wealth grows, people have more toys and need places to store them,” he explains. Horse barns offer a significant opportunity to meet a growing desire among people who want to keep their own horses. And beyond that? Edmonds is already thinking about more plans to expand his product line and grow his company. “Maybe vacation property,” he muses, “or affordable housing?”

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