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Engineered metal building systems increasingly popular option

Gulf States sees dramatic growth in domestic sales

STARKVILLE — Gulf States Manufacturers, manufacturers of engineered metal buildings systems, has experienced a dramatic growth rate in domestic and international sales, thanks to the increasing popularity of engineered metal buildings.

“The engineered metal building industry now accounts for 70% of all low-rise, non-residential construction in the U.S.,” said Sigurd Jensen, vice president and general manager of the Starkville-based company. “That’s a significant statement. Many people thought engineered metal buildings were commercial and industrial in nature. Now, if you were to see the dimension of architectural application to these engineered structures, you’d see the diversity of the architectural uniqueness of these facilities.”

With more than 280,000 square feet and 400 employees, the Starkville plant has the capabilities to produce 1,200 tons of metal buildings per week. Since it was founded in 1968, Gulf States has shipped more than 60,000 orders worldwide to customers that include Coca-Cola, NASA, Wal-Mart, Federal Express, Disney World and Anheuser-Busch.

The strength of engineered metal building systems is in its manufacturing process, Jensen said.

“The process includes engineering, drafting and design, which is closely linked to manufacturing,” he said. “The design/build segment of our business is growing very rapidly, drawing on the extraordinary attributes of engineered metal buildings.”

Even though the company has steadily grown since it was established more than 30 years ago, it has doubled since 1994, said Wilfred “Wil” White, controller.

“Gulf States Manufacturers was originally the idea of Clayton H. Richardson, who went to Bill Jones, president of Columbus Marbleworks, for initial financial backing to start up the company,” said White, a 27-year company veteran. “The first job was shipped in July 1969. At that time, Gulf States was a pretty small company. For the first several years, our total office was comprised of a one-story house for the engineering and drafting departments and a mobile home for the administrative department, all located at the corner of Highway 12 and Stark Road in Starkville. We had people working out of closets and everywhere possible. Since then, we built our office in its current location, have expanded it four times now and have expanded our plant a number of times.”

In June 1994, a group of four investors, including White, along with Code Hennessey Group, purchased Gulf States Manufacturers Inc. from its original owners and began operating as Gulf States Manufacturers L.P., he said.

“The following year, we purchased Kirby Manufacturers in Tennessee, a metal building company that was about the same size as we were,” White said. “In March 1997, we purchased CBC in California, another metal building company that was about half our size. At that time, we formed Associated Building Systems, a grouping company for the three of us to operate under.”

On Dec. 21, 1997, Jannock Ltd., acquired ABS and incorporated it into its metal building division, he said.

Based in Toronto, Ontario, Jannock (NASDAQ: JANNF) is the largest supplier of metal products to the Canadian construction industry. Its commercial and industrial division accounts for 50% of all sales. The residential market represents only 3% of the company’s sales, with agricultural and infrastructure markets accounting for the balance. Net earnings for the second quarter 1999 were $123 million, according to Jannock’s Web site.

“Our division operates through dealers who become a permanent part of the operation,” White said.

With buildings in all 50 states in the U.S. and 30 foreign countries, the company’s goal of making every new Gulf States customer a repeat customer has been extremely successful. About 97% of all business is repeat, said Michael Dalton, marketing manager.

“Our repeat success rate is more or less because of the attention to detail we give each project, the way we’re intimate with and interact with our customers,” said Dalton, 31, who has worked at Gulf States since the age of 17. “We attack the market on a project-by-project basis. Customer service has always been a strong point of Gulf States. We go for more complex projects — that seems to be our market niche. We do simple work, but we are equipped to do more of the complex work that a lot of manufacturers in our business don’t do.”

Overseas sales increased prior to the Asian financial crisis, but have slipped in the last few years, Dalton said.

“Overseas shipments have come back up, but we still haven’t seen the business we were fortunate to have four years ago,” Dalton said.

Observers expect a rebound for American manufacturers as Pacific Rim countries emerge from their economic downturns.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@msbusiness.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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