Under 40: Jim Spane

Usually, a barn is just a barn or a garage is just a garage — unless it is built by Jim Spane’s company. The creative touch used by Spane Buildings produces a building that is as attractive as it is functional, a fact in which Spane takes a lot of pride.

“We’ve developed cool, unique designs,” Spane says. In turn, his business, based in Stanwood, Wash., continues to grow at a steady pace.

Jim Spane literally grew up with Spane Buildings. His father, Victor, founded the company in 1945, and by the time Jim was born in 1970, Spane Buildings was well established. As a teenager, Jim Spane spent his summers working for his father. After high school, however, the younger Spane went in his own direction. He got his real estate license. He also got a captain’s license and ran small fishing charters. In addition, he took business and architecture drafting and construction classes at Western Washington University.

However, in 1993, Victor Spane was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This spurred Jim Spane to do what he thought he might do later in his life, if at all — join his father’s business.

“I actually bought the business from my dad in 1994,” says Spane, and until his father’s death in 1995, he worked with Victor to learn the ins and outs of running his own company.

“My father was well respected, and he was a great role model for me,” Spane says. “He believed in honesty, fairness, quality, and hard work.” These are all traits that Spane has incorporated into his own business ethic.

Taking over a well-established rural construction business also meant that Spane went from being the boss’s kid to the boss. He tried to keep everything the same from his father’s days as owner, at least in the beginning, to help with the transition. During those early days, Spane found that he had to earn the trust of men who were once his father’s employees, some of whom had been at Spane Buildings for decades.

“We had to weed out the bad from the good,” Spane says. “But now we have guys with a lot of experience in the overall business, but fewer years at the company.”

Spane, 35, is one of the many talented, hard-working young members of the rural building community, as are the subjects of the stories that follow this. In conjunction with Rural Builder’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2006, the magazine is featuring industry members who are younger than 40 years old, identifying the leaders of tomorrow who are already pulling their weight today.

Spane Buildings builds all types of structures within the rural construction industry: post-frame, stick frame, steel frame. The company builds agricultural buildings like horse barns and arenas, as well as airplane hangers, garages, and accessory dwelling units.

“We don’t build anything on spec,” Spane says. “Everything is custom.”

Most of his company’s business comes from repeat clients, and almost all clients find the company by word of mouth. Spane Building employs 40-45 employees year-round, while during the peak building season the company will have eight to 10 crews working on projects. While he was a teenager working for his dad during summer vacation, Spane was a hands-on employee. Today, however, as the owner, his duties have moved indoors where he works with marketing, management, and sales.

“We expect our employees to be highly skilled and work well with our customers by knowing their expectations and exceeding them in all aspects of the job,” Spane says. “Our focus is developing great leaders and skilled professionals in the industry.”

Spane Buildings’ customer base varies greatly. Although farmers and rural business owners are the heart and soul of the company, Spane also erects buildings for Boeing, retirees, and start-up businesses in the Seattle and Bellingham areas. Spane also is seeing a lot of business from those with disposable incomes who want structures to house their planes and horses.

There are a lot of “cookie cutter” designs out there, according to Spane, something his company aims to avoid. “We specialize in deluxe buildings, something with character, rather than a box.”

The sophisticated structures are a legacy of Victor Spane. “My dad did more elaborate designs, but there wasn’t much of a demand for them back then,” says Spane. “Now everyone wants them, so we have come up with even fancier designs.”

As much as Spane enjoys the rural building industry, he does feel frustrated by some of the environmental regulations that are becoming more common in the Pacific Northwest.

“Some regulations make it difficult to build,” Spane says. “You get a permit, but you can’t start working because of the nesting season of an owl.”

The future, however, looks bright for Spane Buildings. Customers want the high quality construction and the stylish designs, and that means that Spane’s company is seeing a lot of growth.

“We’ve served the community for more than half a century, designing and constructing buildings for three and four generations,” says Spane. “We offer a superior product at an affordable price.”

For someone who once wasn’t certain he wanted to be part of the family business, Spane is glad that he came on board. “It’s been very successful.”

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