If you told me more than 35 years ago that I would go from simply owning a truck and a desire to make a living to support my family to eventually owning a huge supply yard with a large showroom and a great team that sells and builds some of the best fences I’ve ever seen, I think I would have laughed in your face. I never thought about the money, I never thought about running a large shop, and I certainly never thought I would be in a place to transition my company to new leadership. On the day I made a decision to start my own company, I just knew in my heart that I didn’t want to work for other people anymore and I also thought that I could do it better when it came to installing fence. That’s it!
I’ve thought a lot about Frederick Fence of late—maybe more so now than in the last fifteen years when things were really cooking and it was obvious to me that I needed to move from our own place on Grove Lane to where we are now on Tilco Drive. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Some might call it wisdom, some might call it drive—I just sometimes think I got blessed with “dumb luck” as a lot of what’s transpired with my business has been about being there for people who needed a product and I was fortunate enough to have the best people to make it happen for them!
My DIY materials for a Durable (Fence) Company
The main thing that has allowed me and Frederick Fence to remain in business is good people. I started on day one with just JC (Wisner) and that was enough to get going. I once told JC in the early days that one day he’d be sitting behind a desk and that he wouldn’t be outside working like crazy to build fences. He would just laugh at me and keep on digging post holes, but the joke is on him as that’s what he does now as our Operations Manager!
Shortly after we started, I got Western Fence to let me have their phone number for use in the Frederick area and once the phone started ringing, I started looking for people to work with me. My wife, Diane, helped out a great deal in those early days. She had another job, but she’d answer the phones and help with the paperwork so I could focus on sales.
Over time, I brought in more folks to help with the installs and that soon lead to having more people in an office to get potential customers’ names so I could do the sales. I always thought I’d be doing sales. For one, I loved it! I loved talking to people to find out what they wanted and I would offer them a fence at a great price so they could afford it. I love that kind of challenge and negotiation’s always been something I enjoy. However, over time, I knew I couldn’t be the only sales person so I needed more people. To jump start my sales team, I bought Seneca Fence as I knew they had some great people working for them.
A lot of fence companies hire contractors to do their work—that’s a very popular model for business. However, I never wanted to do things that way. From the beginning, I wanted my own team working with me and I wanted to be the one to lead them. I wanted to ensure that people got a quality fence and to do that, I needed to have folks under my care so I could show them what needed to be done to build fences that would last a long time. I also wanted to create a place where people could earn a living for themselves and their families like I was doing. I wanted to do a good job for others; I wanted people who told me they wanted to do the same thing.
A Strong Resolve
Tenacity is another thing I came to this business with and it’s still what makes Frederick Fence such a great company. Some will tell you that I’ve always been stubborn. And in the early years, I suppose I was. In fact, you can ask my kids and they’ll tell you that their daddy was always working. For years, I didn’t eat dinner at home. I worked and worked to get those fences sold and installed and I wasn’t stopping until I got the job done. Underneath all that resolve; however, was a huge fear of failure. Not that a fence would go in wrong or that I had undersold a job. I’m talking about personal failure. If I didn’t make things work that I would go under and I had people counting on me—my family, my team and my creditors—and I could not afford to lose. Fear’s a great motivator sometimes! But it can also work in your favor when you hunker down and focus on the job at hand.
Stamina and Grit
Another material that I’d say goes into making Frederick Fence such a sturdy company is fortitude. When combined with fear, I’m amazed at what a little courage and stamina can do. My favorite memories from those early days were when we were just selling and installing. I loved a good challenge! In fact, the harder the job, the greater the joy at the end. I sought out bids that would force me to learn more about fence installation. Those large jobs enabled me to grow my install team and allowed me to take on more staff to divide up the work as I knew at some point, I wanted to step back from what was happening and manage the whole show from one spot! But one thing I did early on was tell everyone who worked for me that we quit when we are all done our work. That meant if you ended your job at one site, you went to another one to help another crew finish up. We didn’t look at the clock back then; we looked at what was on the docket for each day and everyone started and ended their day together.
Was I sometimes a difficult person to work with those first few years? I’m not gonna even try to say I was perfect back then. Nope, I can’t go there—too many people would read this and laugh out loud if I tried to paint myself as the saint of the fencing industry! But what I will tell you is that at the end of each day, no matter how much pressure I put on my people, I reserved the brunt of that pressure for myself. When I sent a truck down the road, I knew there was always a risk in the reward. But I was driven to succeed and I liked things done a certain way that I knew would make customers happy.
Know Your Niche
The name of our company is Frederick Fence and fences are our only game. One of the greatest course corrections I made about a decade ago was to no longer install decks. We did them for a while, but I will readily admit that decks were not our strong suit. Installing decks was a challenge for some of our crews and I personally felt that some of the decks we built were just not our best work. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to expand our products, but we found ourselves sacrificing quality over quantity and so about ten years ago, I made the decision that we’d stick to what we do best and build people the best possible fence money could buy. Thankfully, that decision to remove decks was one of the happiest decisions I made as everyone in the company was glad to see them go!
Advocates for Success
In addition to having great employees, I was also blessed by building my own support team of experts who helped me shape Frederick Fence with their sage advice and candor. Early on, I hired a great accountant, a smart attorney, and established a great relationship with my banker. Each of them helped me make wise decisions as Frederick Fence started to take shape. Through the years, I learned from fence installation experts, web strategists and an executive coach and sales trainer who helped me re-energize my sales team at point when I felt I couldn’t do anything further to grow the business. To my surprise and delight, we started having some of our best years once I put in place a formal training program for my sales team.
My Most Sacred Lesson Learned
When I first started this company, I was a deeply driven man. I was bound and determined to succeed and do the right thing and make a lot of people happy by giving them a great fence for a great price. I created this company out of a desire to do everyone else in the business one better—I knew that if I had my own company and did things my way that I’d probably be a heck of a lot more successful. I pretty much controlled every aspect of the company and did everything I could to keep the lights on each year. Remember, I told you I was stubborn! I liked things done a certain way and during those early years, we got things done because I drove my team to its limits. For the first fifteen years, I was so committed to the company that I’m somewhat amazed that some of the original staff are still here!
When things really started to take off and the residential market in Frederick exploded, so did my perfectionist streak! Imagine trying to foolishly think you could control every aspect of running your business while more and more customers wanted a fence. Did I become my own worst enemy? Oh yes! Thankfully, I never had the major meltdown that some businesses owners experience. But as the company was steadily growing, I realized I was not happy with who I was.
When I recognized I was missing out on my family and my faith, that’s when things started to shift for me. I started studying the Bible again and reconnected to its many wondrous teachings. The more I studied, the more trusting I became and I took to heart the lessons about letting go and opening my heart to others. I also learned what it means to be of service. My staff will readily tell you that in the past twenty years that I’ve mellowed quite a bit and am now a lot kinder, easier to work with, and a lot more fun.
One of things I’m most proud of is that I now serve on the board of the Frederick Rescue Mission and mentor folks whose lives need support. I love helping others see the bountiful gifts that life offers them through Christ’s teachings as His words have made my life infinitely better since devoting my life to them twenty years ago.
Preparing for What’s Next
This year Frederick Fence celebrates its 35th year in business and I am deeply humbled and proud that we’re still here. I cannot thank all our customers enough for their business and for making our company part of their homes. I am often humbled by the sight of our signs on people’s fences when I make my way around the area. It means that a lot of people placed their trust in our company and asked us to make their homes complete.
I also cannot thank my staff and advisors enough for their support these many years. Some of you have been with me since the beginning, some of you have made your careers here and I am so proud to know you wanted to work with me for so long. Of course, I also need to thank my wife, Diane, for her love and support. She’s my best friend in the world and she’s believed in me even on my worst day. I honestly would not be here if it weren’t for her.
Finally, I need to express my extreme thanks to my three children—Erin, Kelly and Todd—who are now make up the next generation of Frederick Fence leadership. I’m humbled that they chose to be a part of this business when they could have freely chosen something else to pursue. I can think of no greater honor than to see your own children wanting to follow in your footsteps. I hope I’ve taught you three well as this begins your time in making Frederick Fence a wonderful place to work and the best place for our customers when it comes to buying a fence!