Focused on growth

Prefabricated buildings meet a wide range of customer needs

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

SteelMaster Buildings is poised for growth as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. More than 40,000 of SteelMaster’s steel and metal prefabricated buildings have been constructed worldwide — on six continents and in more than 50 countries. “We do everything from a 10-foot-by-10-foot shed for a customer to a custom multimillion-dollar home in the Hamptons,” says marketing director Michelle Wickum.

Rhae Adams Jr. and his wife, Patty, founded the Virginia Beach-based company in 1982.

For many years, Adams sold garages and farm storage buildings to individuals and businesses in Virginia and North Carolina.

Adams retained the title CEO, but for health reasons in 2004 he turned management of SteelMasters over to retired Landmark Communications executive Donald “Pat” Patterson. After Patterson’s death in 2008, Anthony Bueno, Rob Poellnitz and Karen Willis were promoted to vice president, and they now run the company.

“We became more custom solution oriented in 2004,” says Wickum. “That launched us into growth.” The company began selling to the military, the federal government and commercial customers. Its buildings have been used for a variety of purposes, from government facilities to airplane hangars.

In 2006, a full-time manager was hired to develop international sales. Today, that segment represents about 25 percent of the company’s total revenues. “Our biggest growth in the past six years is our international growth,” says Wickum. “Now we have 40 distributors that represent our product in 50 countries.” Major markets include Cyprus, Iceland, Angola, Afghanistan, Taiwan and Korea.

The company gained recognition for its international growth in 2011, when it was named one of “12 to Watch” by the United States Senate Productivity and Quality Award program for Virginia and received the commonwealth’s Compass Award for Excellence in International Trade. The company also was the winner of an export video promotion contest co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Visa. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration recently named SteelMaster as Virginia Exporter of the Year for 2012.

One of the company’s areas of growth is Latin America where it has a Spanish-speaking sales team. “We have social media and marketing support to reach out to Latin American companies,” Wickum says, noting the company’s Spanish website. “We serve them in their language. We want to serve that market the best way possible.”

Haiti presents the company with another opportunity for growth. “It’s becoming an interesting marketplace for us,” Wickum says. “We now have 10-plus buildings in Haiti, from warehouse storage to churches to small sheds that help with their relief efforts” after a devastating 2010 earthquake.

During the past three years, the company’s revenue growth has averaged 19 percent. SteelMaster is currently having conversations about sales to “Turkey, Africa and some European countries,” Wickum says.

In addition to international sales, SteelMaster sees growth opportunity in selling green buildings. Two SteelMaster buildings — one in Taiwan and another in Austin, Texas — have been certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. “We are working with architects, looking for nontraditional ways to serve our customer base. This is a good growth market for us,” Wickum says. “There is a lot of focus on going green and a lot of opportunity. ” 

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