If you ever go on a vacation to the French countryside, and chance upon a barn that reminds you of one populating the Nebraska prairie, you may see a sample of the work from a company in Wayne.
Len Dickinson and his wife, Jule Goeller, started a company five years ago which blends building and selling technologically advanced pre-cut, pre-engineered kits which preserve authentic Great Plains post-and-beam barns and outbuildings.
Sand Creek Post and Beam offers big wood post and beam timber barns and outbuilding kits—many of which even are perfect for a one-of-a-kind rustic home. The frames are assembled on a customer’s existing foundation, and if that customer needs construction advice all the way up to turn-key construction services for the new barn, well, they provide that, too.
Each barn kit includes foundation sill plates, full-dimension Eastern red cedar sills, post and beam frame, Ponderosa pine premium siding, roof sheathing, gable vents, and hardware and fasteners. The finishing touches that make the company unique include hand-crafted windows, flower boxes, doors and cupolas, with individually paned glass and traditional designs.
The workers at their 27,000-square foot factory in Wayne, and their facility in Cleveland, Ga.,mill, cut and assemble the barn. Then they painstakingly disassemble the barn to ship to the customer.
Of course, it’s not a new idea, Goeller said. “Many of the barns in Nebraska years ago were built from kits from Sears or Montgomery Wards. So we brought back an old business and we’re reviving a niche. People don’t have the time these days to do things like get tools and go find people with expertise to build a barn. So if you could have something shipped already pre-packaged, wouldn’t that would work great?”
Like in days of yore, when they receive their shipment from the company, some of their customers depend on help of neighbors, relatives and, yes, even whole towns to gather for an old-fashioned barn raising.
Keeping with its back-to-the-prairie environmentally-friendly business model, Sand Creek Post and Beam uses all-natural materials, with no chemical preparations. “We pay Arbor Day to plant 10 trees for every customer we have,” Goeller added.
From the beginning, it was a hit
It all started when Dickinson convinced an ambivalent Goeller to sell their home in Lincoln and move to a property near Wisner her great grandparents had lived in. Eventually, after a lot of thought and research, the two began their timber framing business – and it was an immediate hit.
With catalogs off their ink jet printer and a magazine ad by the summer of 2004 comprising their marketing, the two had sold three barn kits by the end of that year. She laughed remembering her husband’s reaction to their first order: “Jule, look at this, we just got a check for $6,000 from a customer in Michigan – he just sent us an order form and a check! Jule, I think this is gonna work!” Just one problem: they had no factory to produce their barn kits; the first kits were put together out on a driveway. One of them was delivered to a place near Grinnell, Iowa, but got word the customer was short a few materials in the shipment. Goeller remembered with builders ready to start again after the holidays, the couple borrowed her father’s pickup on Christmas Eve, drove across the state in the winter cold to deliver the wood, and stopped for pizza on the way home.
But building barn kits out on a driveway would only take the business so far. The city administrator of nearby Wayne took the couple to lunch in April 2005 to propose using the town’s revolving economic development fund for $25,000 toward the business if they could find a bank to match it. With the funds, the business hired a technician for computer aided design, and a couple of young folks for plant operations. They rented out part of a building they shared with their landlord, but they had to move their equipment back out of the way every night so he could park his trucks inside. Growing rapidly, by January 2006, their landlord even built a building next door for his tenants to do the factory work—no more moving equipment back and forth at the end of each work day.
Putting the financing together
In late 2006, the couple entered a business plan competition through the University of Nebraska, and on their banker’s recommendation, met with Loren Kucera of the Nebraska Business Development Center in Wayne to help with their entry. While they were named a finalist in the competition, of more benefit was the relationship they started with the Wayne NBDC director, a relationship that was invaluable when the company looked to expand the next year.
Even as Sand Creek Post and Beam opened their small plant in Georgia in the fall of 2007, the Wayne facility eventually proved too cramped. Over the next year, the company embarked on an expansion project which would mean more factory space, an ability to complete more orders, and more jobs for local workers. Kucera played a crucial role for the business coordinating the SBA loan package and grant applications.
The company was approved Oct. 3, 2008, for a 7(a) loan for $559,400 from BankFirst in Norfolk to purchase the plant their landlord had built for them, and giving them the chance to add a separate lean-to for building doors and windows for their kits.
Around the same time, the firm nabbed a community development block grant for $200,000 to build a second plant facility on the Wayne property; Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy even stopped by for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Finally, a loan from the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District for $100,000 allowed the company to acquire an abandoned bank for its office building. The size of its manufacturing plant now is 27,000 square feet.
Sending a piece of Wayne around the globe
From 2006 to 2009, the company grew from $1 million to $5.1 million in revenue, and to 37 employees. Even Inc. Magazine recognized the firm by naming it the 218th fastest-growing company in the country in 2009. Already over $4 million in revenue for 2010, Goeller said their fourth quarter “always our strongest.” Last December alone, the company had $1 million in sales, and she said they are on track to have between $6 and $7 million in revenue this year.
“When hard times hit, people cocoon, pull in, and do things with the family, do things at home, and our barn kits really fit that need,” Goeller said. “People use them for homes, second homes, cabins, a place to entertain, or for a guest home. It’s kind of for the Alpaca crowd, people who want to get away from the crime and the city. I think that our products appeal to that.”
Plans for the future include placing small production units strategically around the country to cut down on shipping costs. “We would like to expand our sales network, and look at doing more international sales,” Goeller added. “We sold one barn delivered to France, another to Alberta, even people from Australia are interested in obtaining our products.
“We will continue to focus on expanding our barn homes and commercial projects and expanding our markets,” Goeller added, “Our construction services department can work with our customers, whether they’re going to do it themselves, to hiring someone to put up the kit, or whether they take advantage of our turn-key operations.”
While the company continues to look toward future growth, they’re proud of their ties to the past, and a picture of rural America of days gone by.
“We even saw a TV commercial for four wheelers, and by chance one of our barns was used as a backdrop,” Goeller said. “That shows our barns really tie into being in the country and being tough and rugged. Some people use a barn when they want something to look American; well, we build those barns!”