Joe Kramer has been building pole buildings since he was 14 years old.
“My first job was cleaning dirt out of the holes,” he says. “I went from that to running my own company.” That business is Delmarva Pole Building Supply in Wyoming, Del.
Kramer’s early entrance into the post-frame building industry came about because of his family background. Born in 1970, Kramer lived in Hartley, Del., until he was 12. That’s when his parents decided to move to the Lancaster, Penn., area for religious reasons. Kramer was educated in Mennonite schools, finishing his formal schooling in the tenth grade.
“My older brothers had gone to school to eighth grade, so compared to them, mine was a higher education,” Kramer laughs. “But with the curriculum the Mennonites used, I got a good education.”
Kramer’s father had a small company that built pole buildings, and like his older brothers, Kramer went to work in the family business. Eventually, he left his father’s company in order to return to Delaware, “to join the same church my dad left when we moved to Pennsylvania,” he says.
He was working as a foreman for another pole builder when Kramer suffered a back injury and was let go from his job.
“To provide for my family, I started my own little pole building company,” he explains. “All the advertisements had my cell phone on them, so everything was run off my cell phone. If anybody called, they talked to me. I was also the sales person, and I was the guy who came out with the building crew.”
Success comes quickly
Delmarva Pole Building Supply was begun in 2000. In those early days, Kramer’s wife helped with the bookkeeping and eventually, he hired one of his brothers as his office manager.
“Within four years, we were doing $8 million in gross revenues. It was hopping,” Kramer says.
Despite his quick success, Kramer prefers being a small company. Whereas he once employed 25 workers, including front office staff who helped to run the business, he is now down to seven.
“I saw my business was close to going under,” he admits. “The main thing is watching expenses and making sure they don’t get out of hand.”
Being a smaller company has allowed Kramer to become more hands-on within the business again. “I’m enjoying the business like I haven’t in years.”
And his business is to build quality post-frame in the Delmarva Peninsula area. He also does some work in New Jersey and the Maryland Eastern Shore.
From garages to horse barns
“We build 24×24 garages for home owners,” he says. “We also built a horse barn that was 90×300.”
Kramer focuses on smaller projects, like the guy who needs a new shed or the farmer who wants a building to stow equipment. Although he once built commercial buildings, he has decided that, as part of his downsizing, his only commercial work would be building shells.
Some of his recent projects include a number of churches and the Apex Arabian horse barn that was his 90×300 building. “It has stalls on one end, the arena on the other,” he says.
Another major project is a horse facility in Delaware. “We built that almost from the ground up,” he says. It has 10 horse barns and the buildings range in size, with the largest building at 280×200.
Even though he’s owned his own company for almost nine years, Kramer says his youth has never been a factor in his business relationships.
“I grew up in the industry,” he says, “so everybody who builds pole buildings in Delaware is someone I know. And I went to school with the sons of a lot the other builders. I was also running crews for different companies when I was 21 years old.”
His customers, he adds, learn that he is a man of his word and that he keeps good credit. That means that Kramer is a builder they can trust.
Asked about his favorite part of the industry, Kramer pauses for a moment and then chuckles.
“I’ve been in it for so long, I have to think about it,” he says. “I have a familiarity with the business,” he says. “I know it from the ground up to the CEO level.”
But as he thought, he came to the same conclusion as many others in the pole building industry – the relationships he’s built over the years.
Value is top priority
As for the challenges, the answer was quicker. “You’re always looking for the most economical way to build a building and give the customer value. We don’t sell the cheapest building, but we try to get the most value for the price. That’s our priority.”
Another challenge is educating the public on what a post-frame building is. “I used television commercials to explain it when I first started,” he says, “but now more people know. That knowledge has increased demand.”
Downsizing, while helping his business, has also created more competition for Kramer. One thing that makes Delmarva Pole Building Supply different from other builders is that he not only constructs buildings, but also sells supplies to other builders.
So what does the future hold for a man who began his career when he was barely in his teens?
“It’s hard to say,” he says honestly. “I’m told that the demand is going to be really picking up. People think when things go down, they always go down, but when they go up, they always go up.
“I look at it like this,” he says. “I trust in God to take care of me. It’s the one philosophy that works.”