Top Metal Contractors 2011:
A dollar and a dream
Many of the contractors featured in our third annual Top Metal
Contractors started from the ground up. They learned the business
with their hands-working in the field and eventually starting their
own business. One contractor started his training as a high school
student, another began his business with not much more than a
pickup truck and a tool box. One company is the realization of the
dreams of two best friends, who punched the clock for 14 years
together before making it a reality. Some of our featured
contractors have been in business for decades, while others are
just getting started.
Whether beginning or carrying on a tradition, it's a testament
to these companies that they have come out ahead of the competition
despite tough times. The reason is usually tied to a core set of
values-how they treat clients and employees, and how they approach
doing business in general.
One thing they all have in common is strong relationships with
quality manufacturers, making sure they're providing not only the
best service, but the best possible materials for a job.
We at Metal Construction News emphasize that this is not a
ranking or comprehensive list, but rather a snapshot look inside
six top metal contractors that are doing things the right way. We
encourage you to read on to find out more about what makes them
A.R. Chesson Construction Co.
Manufacturer affiliation: Metallic Building Co.,
Throughout his high school and college years, Al Chesson worked
with his uncle, who was a general contractor in eastern North
Carolina. After graduating college, his uncle became sick with
cancer, and Chesson helped him with the business. When his uncle
passed away, Chesson started his own company in 1981. It was a
tough economic time for the country and some thought it wasn't the
best time to start a business, but 30 years later A.R. Chesson
Construction Co. Inc. is still going strong.
"The things you learn in hard times tend to stick with you
throughout," Chesson said, remarking on how his early experience
with the business was good preparation for the last couple of
Chesson said the company has grown with eastern North Carolina
over the last 30 years and in the last seven to eight years the
demand for pre-engineered structures in the area has gone up. A.R.
Chesson Construction is a dealer for Metallic Building Co., and
Chesson said the efficiency, cost and ease of construction have
made metal buildings more attractive. Additionally, metal buildings
offer more accessories, such as skylights, insulation and
"Metal buildings have been able to adapt for uses such as fire
stations, [municipal buildings], waste water treatment
plants-architects and engineers have seen the utility of
pre-engineered buildings," Chesson said.
A.R. Chesson Construction attempts to construct every building
as if they were the owner of the facility.
"Each owner demands quality, cost and time efficiency. Assuming
the mindset of the owner allows us to anticipate the operating
efficiency of all systems, lower maintenance costs and create
long-term value," said Executive Vice President Ed Powell.
Using time tested methods of creating value and efficiency, and
incorporating new sustainable technologies combined with integrity
is the company's innovative approach. Chesson and Powell have
experienced many firms operating with a bottom line mentality while
dismissing integrity as they react to subcontractors, suppliers and
"Remembering the Golden Rule is our innovative approach,"
Chesson said. "That approach has and will work for
Applications the company works on include additions and
renovations of all sizes and types. Its specialty is to use basic
pre-engineered methods, add energy-saving features and install
aesthetic finishes to remove any negative connotation attached to
the use of "a metal building."
A recent challenge was the design, permitting and construction
of a 220,000-square-foot facility that needed to be done within a
six month time frame while not disrupting on-site manufacturing
processes. Coordination of civil and structural engineering with
the various trades, and introducing the entire team to the demands
of the project in the beginning was the key to success.
Chesson said much of his philosophy is carried over from the
lessons of his father and grandfather, which they learned during
the Great Depression, particularly saving and retaining earnings.
This allowed the company to not only survive the recent recession,
but do it without layoffs.
Chesson said treating its employees fairly, as well as its
subcontractors, has allowed them to be in good position for when
the economy turns around. In turn, the people working at A.R.
Chesson Construction work well with the customers, so that they
keep coming back.
AARA Architectural Metals
Manufacturer affiliation: Ultra Seam Inc.,
www.ultraseam.com; AARA also works non-exclusively with Sheffield
Metals International, www.coolrmetal.com
AARA started in Phoenix in 1976 as a home improvement
contractor specializing in metal siding and fascia systems. Shortly
after, AARA evolved into a full-service metal roofing contractor
and manufacturer. For 35 years, they have served the Arizona market
and developed an excellent reputation, becoming known for their
integrity, quality and expertise in the standing-seam metal roofing
Over those years, AARA has grown steadily and now employs 28
people. General Manager Jerry Spores said, "We are one of the few
standing-seam metal roof manufacturers who designs, manufactures
and installs our products. We are committed to total success on
AARA's success has been built on quality and customer service.
Management directly oversees each project from preconstruction to
manufacturing and production to material installation. That
attention has led AARA to attract Arizona's top architects and
If anything, AARA is known for its flexible attitude. Each
project is unique and may require on-the-job innovation and
resources. The team is highly adaptable and can make adjustments
based on job-site circumstances or design needs. The core crews
have been employed by AARA for more than 15 years and set the bar
high for quality workmanship.
Metal roofing is the foundation for AARA, and in recent years it
has seen a tremendous growth in the use of metal as more designers
call for sustainable building products. The company doesn't limit
itself on the application and supports customers to meet their
needs whether they're big or small.
Recently, designers that AARA work with have been using metal in
innovative ways, including exterior wall cladding and interior
applications. The company has been working with Sheffield Metal's
SOLR thin-film solar laminate, and is integrating solar into
the metal roof system and upgrading the aesthetics of the
buildings. Sheffield Metals also produces coil material for
New products and innovations have helped the company meet the
challenges of the marketplace and it seems that most recent
challenges have been in retrofitting. The change in the economy
shifted many building owners into renovations of existing buildings
rather than constructing a new building. A retrofit roof system can
completely update and change the exterior appearance of a building
while providing an efficient roof system for years to come.
Ultra Seam Inc.'s standing-seam metal roof systems are designed,
manufactured and tested to meet the highest quality standards in
the industry. AARA's innovative methods are always job specific,
and each project is individually designed and engineered.
"Our involvement begins at the earliest stages of design. We
work directly with architects creating large projects while
focusing on the smallest of details," Spores said. "We are always
available to meet with our clients to develop a system that meets
their needs with the most cost-effective approach."
AARA has successfully completed numerous projects, including
through traditional hard bid and design-build, as well as
alternative delivery method projects in Arizona.
AARA's business plan has been the same for 35 years: manufacture
the highest quality standing-seam metal roof systems, employ
experienced and proficient craftsman and stand behind their
products and quality workmanship. This approach has kept them on
"Our reputation speaks volumes. It's one of our most valued
assets, earned through the hard work, quality and through the
successful relationships we've built over 35 years in business,"
AARA prides itself by serving clients who know they can call and
get immediate attention-even for the most complex designs. The
company strives to review each project detail for new and
innovative updates and revisions.
Cary & Associates Builders Inc.
Manufacturer affiliation: Metallic Building Co.,
In 1984, Bob Cary launched a sole proprietor construction
company with only a pickup truck, checkbook, toolbox and a small
crew of iron workers. He set out to sell and build commercial metal
buildings using the skills he learned as a Navy Seabee in Vietnam
combined with five years as a metal building project manager
working for other general contractors. Twenty-six years later, Cary
& Associates Builders Inc. is a licensed California corporation
having successfully built hundreds of new projects and delighting
in a very long list of loyal and satisfied customers. The small
pickup truck and toolbox turned into heavy duty trucks, trailers,
tractors, mobile offices and sophisticated computer systems.
The company currently employs four full-time office staff and
two to 12 field employees (depending on the specific needs of a
given project or multiple projects). Cary & Associates Builders
is a Metallic Building Co. product representative, and has been
ranked among the top 10 builders for Metallic sales volume in the
U.S. in recent years.
"We are proud of the many awards and honors through the years,"
said Cary, who is also on the President's Advisory Committee for
Metallic. One Cary & Associates Builders project, Copain Wine
Cellars, Healdsburg, Calif., was on the cover of Metal Construction
News in July 2008.
Cary & Associates Builders follows the concept of quality
workmanship. Cary believes in teamwork and encourages owner
participation in establishing budget, design and construction
"Our policy is to conduct our business with integrity and
loyalty to our clients," he said. "We are very loyal to our clients
and they have been loyal to us."
To that end, Cary & Associates has worked diligently to
promote design-build projects and to provide customers with the
finest building their dreams and budgets permit.
Cary & Associates' innovative methods and flexibility create
the unique ability to integrate pre-engineered metal building
systems with complex conventional designs.
"The design-build approach we use is the best avenue for the
client and the contractor. It allows the planning, specifying,
designing, estimating and construction to be combined under a
single source of responsibility to provide improved handling of
solutions with significantly better value than other construction
methods," Cary said. "We believe that pairing specific design
professionals and funding sources with each customer provides a
more stable platform and assurance of a professionally completed
The Cary & Associates office is truly a close knit team.
"We function more like a family unit and are there for each
other through the good times and the bad," Cary said. "It has often
been stated that rather than hire, we adopt. Every member of our
staff believes that the customer comes first. We often develop
lifetime friendships with our clients. These methods and attitudes
are what contribute to Cary's success. The majority of our business
comes from referrals, word of mouth and repeat customers."
Through 26 years of experience with metal buildings, Cary &
Associates has learned the intricacies and flexibility needed to
adapt a metal structure to traditional designs.
"Many owners want the strength of metal but the look of a
conventional structure. We cover a wide variety of ground when it
comes to innovative buildings," Cary said.
Some recent projects with Metallic buildings include an
85,000-square-foot building for Kelseyville Lumber; a
42,000-square-foot warehouse and loading dock for Manzana Apple
Products; a 20,000-square-foot fermentation facility for Copain
Winery; a 40,597-square-foot building for Freeman Lexus; and, a
two-story 33,800-square-foot auditorium, along with a new
64,125-square-foot two-story classroom and library for Capital
There are many challenges in the design-build metal building
business, according to Cary. One recent example was Sonoma Wine Co.
The challenge was to design a 26,000-square-foot canopy that could
be lifted into place over an operational wine processing plant. The
structure had to be designed so that the columns and roof structure
would not interfere with existing wine storage tanks. All work had
to be performed without inhibiting their daily operations. The
project was designed, engineered and completed as planned.
"Whether in good times or difficult ones, Cary & Associates
Builders conducts business with integrity and loyalty to our
clients," Cary said. "Design-build projects are diligently promoted
since we believe that in all economic climates our customers should
receive a quality building. This can be achieved through the use of
design-build and value engineering concepts. In other words, our
clients should always expect far more building for their
Cary also keeps in mind the person behind the building.
"We are here for them and will work for their best interests.
During bad economic times, our staff pulls together with whatever
measures it takes to ensure that both our customers and staff are
getting through any difficulties, whether personal or professional.
That's who we are."
Design Systems Builders Inc.
Manufacturer affiliation: Butler Manufacturing,
Design Systems Builders Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of T.W.
Frierson Contractor Inc., was created in 1976 to erect the products
and systems of Butler Manufacturing Inc. Today, DSB's crews safely
erect 1.5 to 3 million square feet of Butler products each year,
placing the company among the highest producers of Butler products
in North America. As TWF's business has grown, so has DSB's. Since
2000, DSB has annually purchased an average of $5 million of Butler
"We've quickly realized that if you're going to be successful in
the pre-engineered market you need to be your own erector," said
Del Hickman, who co-owns DSB along with Dean Taylor. "In the late
1970s, we began doing that. We think between our relationship with
Butler, erecting the materials ourselves and being confident in the
installation, we're doing some really good things."
DSB has 120 employees and works exclusively with Butler.
"We don't erect or purchase any other pre-engineered products,"
Hickman said. "We never have and we never will."
More than 90 percent of DSB's work is repeat and referral
business, and those numbers have actually increased over the tough
last couple of years.
"We wish we were the only contractors in middle Tennessee, but
there's a bunch of good people here doing construction," Hickman
said. "Building the building is not the magic formula. It's the
experience you give the owner. Our employees understand that the
project they're working on today is actually a project for the
Hickman said the trust DBS has established with its clients
allows them to sell a premium product in Butler buildings. In fact,
DBS is so confident in its ability to get the job done right that
it doesn't sell Butler's warranty. Hickman said because DBS does
the erection itself, it should be done right, and if it isn't, DBS
will fix the problem itself.
DBS is an industrial and commercial general contractor, pursuing
work in industrial, heavy industrial and manufacturing;
distribution and logistics; commercial-anything from a small office
to a bank; and faith-based construction, completing three churches
Recent projects include a FedEx sorting facility and a battery
plant for Nissan's new Leaf, an electric car.
Hickman said while Butler accounts for slightly more than half
of its volume, it doesn't try to force a pre-engineered solution on
a project where it's not a good fit. DBS does try to use Butler
products on conventional construction when applicable, as working
with metal and pre-engineered buildings is an essential part of its
business, giving it a broader footprint in the market.
When describing the company philosophy, Hickman went back to the
idea that the building his employees are working on today means a
great deal to the company's future success. The concept came to
fruition when, in 2009 and 2010, DBS' referral rate went from 80
percent to nearly 100 percent. During the toughest times, customers
went back to who they knew they could trust.
DBS also does not do public or hard-bid work.
"We're a negotiating contractor. We'll bid projects with limited
qualified competitors. If we can't find out who our competition is,
we won't provide a price," Hickman said. "We have to know what our
chances of a job are. We're about the relationship, not the low
bid. It's not just about making money, because that will happen
10-fold if you do the right thing."
Southern Rib Roof Inc.
Manufacturer affiliation: Chief Buildings,
www.chiefbuildings.com; McElroy Metal, www.mcelroymetal.com
Southern Rib Roof Inc. started in June 2009 with a goal to
create a long-standing heritage in the metal building and metal
roofing industry. The company was inspired by another company
founded in the early 1980s, which had a major impact on the
self-storage and standing-seam roof industry.
Southern Rib Roof recognized that there was still a growing
demand for these products and other similar building systems. The
growth of the company has come from continuing to expand its
Adding to that is a combination of highly skilled individuals
and a rigorous standard for quality and customer service. "We have
so much talent within our staff that we are able to take on new
challenges daily," said Nick Robbins, president.
Recently, Southern Rib partnered with Chief Buildings, becoming
an authorized distributor of their metal building systems. Robbins
attributes that success to the quality of the employees. Now, the
opportunity arrives to seek numerous contracts in the Memphis,
Tenn., area as well as other parts of the United States and Canada
for both public and private use.
Southern Rib Roof has a commitment to unrivaled customer
service. It uses this philosophy to set itself apart from other
similar businesses. Although it is a relatively small business, it
has the knowledge and ability of a company many times its size. One
key benefit Southern Rib Roof provides is the ability to get
personal attention from each member of its team.
"To facilitate that, each team member is cross-trained in all
aspects of our business," Robbins said.
The company created an exclusive department for a retrofit
roofing division based on the potential of two members of its
project management team, who have between 20 and 30 years of
experience in the field installation of metal roofing systems and
showed a natural ability with customer service. After extensive
training in estimating and sales, they started selling, and in just
over a year, and with the help of the entire staff, they have
estimated, sold and project-managed well over a million square feet
of retrofit roofing projects.
The above-mentioned example translates to each level of the
The primary focus recently has been the self-storage industry
and retrofit roofing of various types of commercial and industrial
facilities. Southern Rib Roof has always diversified the types of
construction services offered, but has recently aggressively sought
out a wider variety of opportunities in select markets. The goal in
2011 is to continue to enhance the recognition of its brand in
these markets while continuing to serve the self-storage industry
on a national and international level.
In 2010, Southern Rib Roof landed the design and supply of a
retrofit roofing system for an armory in Idaho. This job was very
challenging from a design perspective since it utilized a very
complex framing system that had to be specifically designed. The
staff spent many days on-site before the design began to become
familiar with the needs of this system.
"This is a typical example of our preplanning," Robbins
The company also recently completed the Storage Depot in
Bordentown, N.J. The client knew from day one that he wanted to
have an option to add solar panels to this roofing system at a
future date. Southern Roof Rib worked closely with the owner, Paul
Szkotak, and provided engineering that would allow for the
addition. Because this project was an expansion of an existing
two-story building, it had the challenge of matching many of the
colors and profiles of the previous phase down to the particular
shine of the Galvalume partition panels.
Germantown Storage in Memphis is a project that stands out among
the rest due to the ability of the owner, Jack Johnson, to make
great use of land that many would find too challenging because of
the complications from TVA electric easements. McElroy Metals
manufactured all steel materials for these three projects.
The underlying philosophy of Southern Rib Roof is that everyone
comes to work every day with a positive attitude. The clients want
to do business with people who bring a positive approach into each
day of construction. The goal is to reduce the amount of stress
that is often associated with this line of work. This philosophy
has given the company an excellent retention rate with its client
Striplin Walker Construction Inc.
El Dorado Hills, Calif.
Manufacturer affiliations: Metallic Building Co.,
www.metallic.com; All Weather Insulated Panels, www.awipanels.com;
Kingspan Insulated Panels, www.kingspanpanels.us; DBCI
Coil Door Systems, www.dbci.com; Bay Insulation Co.,
www.bayinsulation.com; Schweiss Doors, www.bifold.com
Randy Striplin and Brian Walker are best friends, their families
are close and working together from the ground up in the
construction industry for 14 years prior to 2001, they had always
dreamed of starting their own business. They had been talking about
it seemingly forever and 10 years ago they finally pulled the
Striplin Walker Construction Inc. now employs an average of 12
people. The company started off as a steel erector and became a
full-service design-build firm that is a distributor for Metallic
Striplin said business improved throughout the first seven
years, only hitting a bump in the road the last couple of years
because of the economy.
"Unfortunately, we're dealing with steel increases, and China is
driving the market. It's tough to sell steel buildings to people
when you tell them the prices are going up," Striplin added.
One of the things Striplin Walker prides itself on is an open
"I have no problem opening my contract figures for clients so
they feel warm and fuzzy about where all that money's going. So
they don't feel they're being overcharged," Striplin said.
Striplin Walker believes in honesty, integrity, quality and
qualified workmanship to create aesthetically pleasing
architectural design-build projects.
Along with its efficient erecting practices, the company takes
safety very seriously. In a dangerous trade, Striplin Walker makes
sure to meet and exceed OSHA standards, along with equipment
certifications, CPR and drug testing requirements.
"Our employees are working directly with customers and business
owners to continue the wonderful working relationship we have,"
Striplin Walker works primarily with pre-engineered metal
building systems, architectural panels, custom insulated panels and
innovative roofing products. The company specializes in
marketplaces, winery facilities, hangar buildings, warehouse and
manufacturing structures, agricultural facilities and small shop
Recent projects include Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Calif., and
the Opus One Vineyard Maintenance Facility in Oakville, Calif. Both
projects were Metallic buildings. The Oxbow Market also features
materials from IPS (Insulated Panel Systems); Bay Insulation Co.;
and R&S Manufacturing and Sales Co. Inc. Opus One features
additional materials from Kingspan and Schweiss Doors.
"We don't take on any more work than we can handle," Striplin
said. "We stay true to our word on all commitments and this allows
us to maintain a good customer portfolio. We primarily work off of
referrals from word of mouth. I don't do public works. It's so
competitive and cutthroat.
"We take pride in making sure all of our T's are crossed and i's
are dotted, making sure the customer gets exactly what he's looking
for and the bang for his buck."