The Shed Building Industry and COVID-19

Nearly every state in the country has instituted “stay at home” policies and closed non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemic.

Fortunately for the shed-building industry, the outdoor construction nature of the business has allowed builders and dealers to continue selling and building structures.

Still, things aren’t like they were just a few weeks ago.

“It is definitely new territory in terms of developing strategies and trying to predict where each day or week will take you,” says Casey Wiggins, owner/sales director, United Portable Buildings, with corporate headquarters based in Temple, Texas. “Sales are being affected, but not to the level that was expected. We are still seeing strong sales for sure.”

He adds that right now the keyword for the business is “communication.”

“We have developed policies to communicate with customers, dealers, vendors, and, of course, our internal team,” Wiggins shares. “We are changing up our ads and marketing strategy for the time being to resonate with the customer that is at home.”

Current Impact

Tom Saurey, president and chief executive officer of Tuff Shed, a nationwide manufacturer of backyard buildings, says the company is closely monitoring developments nationally and locally.

“Our team regularly meets to discuss the safety and health of our employees and customers,” he shares. “We are regularly evaluating our policies and procedures during this period.

Tyler Mayhan, general manager of Oklahoma-based Better Barns, says the business has been greatly affected to the point of stopping all inventory builds in its shed production plant.

“We will continue to produce orders as they come in,” he says. “Since our operation includes several other product lines, all our builders are still able to work within the organization for the time being.

“I believe at least a large part of the crisis in Oklahoma can be attributed to the low oil prices and uncertainty in that industry, so it’s not just the COVID-19 issue that is currently affecting us.”

Anthony Taylor-Weber, owner-builder-designer of Outdoor Office in Sherwood, Oregon, says he has seen changes due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but much of it is due to the uncertainty of the future.

“The clients we speak with are concerned about their financial future and many are hitting ‘pause’ until they have a better feel for their own outlook,” he says. “Fortunately, Outdoor Office has had a few builds in waiting and those are continuing as scheduled, but it’s the builds that are about six to eight weeks out that are pausing their plans.”

The business model for Outdoor Office is designed around the “work-from-home” business, employee, or hobbyist.

“So for many of our clients, they have been our biggest support system around creating new business even during this time of uncertainty,” says Taylor-Weber. “They have turned to social media and blasted how thankful they are to have an office/studio they can work from home as usual without the fear of losing their job due to layoffs or temporary closures.”

Josh Hanrahan, who handles marketing for Ziggy’s Home Improvement, which has several stores in the state of Washington that provide home improvement products and services, and builds and delivers sheds, says the stores are still open.

“It has certainly slowed down business, which is why we feel now is an even more important time to be there and open for our customers,” he says. “We are still building sheds as of today—we are taking it hour by hour indeed.

“From what we have heard, everyone is trying to stay open still, but it is hit or miss from spot to spot.”

Scott Vallie, owner of Huntsville Portable Buildings & Carports, a dealer in Texas, says that he continues to advertise, but interaction is dropping off.

“Facebook Marketplace activity has dropped to almost none, even with adding extra discounts trying to make things happen,” he says. “Just based on the number of calls I’ve have taken in the past two days, the repo market is about to explode.”

“From the RTO side, it’s all about understanding that there are jobs being lost every day,” says Wiggins. “So it will be a case-by-case decision as the customers get to the point that they cannot pay, then deferred payments will most likely be the easy answer to begin with for sure.”

Terry Scheetz, owner of Terry The Shed Mover, a shed hauler in Nevada says his moving business will get busy soon.

“We are still working as we are never close to people,” he points out.

Business and Safety

So, what are shed-building business doing to stay in business and keep employees and customers safe?

In most areas, Tuff Shed factories remain open for business, as they qualify for exceptions to local and state “shelter in place” orders, Saurey says.

“We also have begun to focus our delivery and installation efforts on essential building projects,” he shares. “In the past week we have delivered buildings in multiple cities to healthcare facilities that will use those buildings as part of their daily employee screenings or for storing supplies used for COVID-19 testing completed outside the hospital.

“We’re also being a resource for groups combatting homelessness. For example, the mayor of Sacramento on March 19 asked us to produce as many homeless shelters as we can, as fast as we can, according to a city-approved design. If our factories are closed as non-essential businesses, we will be unable to meet this type of demand, which is increasing daily.”

While Tuff Shed’s showrooms are temporarily closed, Saurey says its sales teams remain available to all customers, using virtual appointments and an online building configurator.

“It’s simple and can be completed in the comfort and safety of the customer’s home,” he points out. “Our sales teams remain at the ready to help customers over the phone or via email.”

Saurey goes on to say that Tuff Shed installers are being trained on social distancing rules—they will never enter homes during installation, and the company is instructing them to carry hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. All paperwork, approvals, plans, transactions, payments, and signatures can all be done remotely/virtually via email links.

As far as Mayhan can tell, not much has actually changed in Better Barns’ day-to-day operation.

“We already maintained clean work environments, although we may be sanitizing a little more,” he says. “All our employees have the option to stay home if they fear for their safety.”

Taylor-Weber says Outdoor Office has taken the opportunity to focus its attention back into what made the business strong in the first place: creating and inspiring clients to work or dream from home.

“It’s what started our business, even when there wasn’t a lot of money to get it going,” he says. “We are treating this as if the business is just starting out again. Refocusing our spending on vital needs only, and worrying about other items last.

“When you have a young business, it’s amazing how you can ‘make things work’ with often little resources available, so with that same attitude we believe that keeping your attention on the details will allow you to save in area and ride out this storm.”

Taylor-Weber points out that clients have the luxury of staying in their homes while builders complete most offices/studios in its manufacturing facility, which means there is almost zero contact between the builders and the clients.

“Even when we show up on site, there is very minimal impact on the daily life of our clients, so in times like these when most people are quarantined to their homes, it doesn’t impact our ability to complete the job at hand,” he shares.

Hanrahan says that Ziggy’s has asked that any employee who feels the slightest beginnings of a cold, flu, or other symptom remotely related to COVID-19 to remain home, self-quarantined.

“If any previously ill employees feel well enough to return to work, we do ask that they receive clearance from their doctor via note allowing them to return,” he says. “The idea is we are just trying to reduce the pandemic and spread.”

In the stores, Hanrahan says they are wiping down every used shopping cart or basket before it is made available for use again. Also, Ziggy’s has installed barrier markers to indicate the safe distance at customer service desks, and all team members are washing their hands constantly.

“From what we have heard, others are trying to implement similar measures to get this thing under control,” he shares. “Hopefully soon, we can beat this thing.”

The Future

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to say, with certainty, how the shed-building industry will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many builders hope lessons will be learned and applied to grow business again in the future.

“I fear many small businesses will be unable to sustain the economic losses of this time and be forced to shut down,” says Mayhan. “I do hope some of the long-term impact of this issue causes our generation to be more mindful of having ‘rainy day’ funds to prepare for these kinds of occasions.

“If every business and individual had three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund, this crisis would be somewhat different. Instead, many of us are being forced into desperate situations which cause us to make poor decisions. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call.”

Taylor-Weber says the industry will likely go through some changes, but points out that often during times of recession, companies that survive come out stronger and more prepared for the future.

“They find more creative ways to do business, and buyers find more uses for things that are important to them,” he says. “For the storage shed builders, many homeowners will still need more space to store items and likely more people will be willing to spend again when they know the health of the country is returning.”

Taylor-Weber feels very positive about the future because the economy was strong before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I try to let people know that we are on a ‘pause,’ all of us,” he shares. “This recession isn’t because there was an issue with consumer spending; it’s happening because we are all being forced to stop and hold in place for the safety of everyone. I do believe that when the day comes, hopefully soon, we can all resume business and remain a strong industry as a whole.

“Speaking for Outdoor Office LLC, I feel extremely proud of what we’ve done and how we’ve positioned ourselves in the market, and once we can resume business, I think more eyes will be opened to the reality of being able to work from home, which is ultimately what we hope.”

“We hope that this is just a small hiccup and the year is still going to be great—we hope,” adds Hanrahan. “Sales have indeed taken a slight dip, but it has been small so far.

“But, on the same note, people are working around their houses and yards trying to fill time, and a big part of this is organizing sheds and, ideally, realizing they need more room and purchasing new, larger versions. Long term is hard to predict; we shall see how much further this goes. To all though, be safe, stay well, and hang in there … we will get through this together.”

Finally, Bradley Kimberlin, general manager at Colorado Shed Company offers this strategy to get through the pandemic and stay in business: “Sell like crazy and conserve cash.”

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