Profiles, V8I2

From Distributor to Shed Business Owner

Seven years ago, Alan Fluharty didn’t have the slightest inkling he’d soon own a thriving storage shed business. (Photo courtesy of Sturdi-Bilt Storage Buildings)

Had you told Alan Fluharty seven years ago that he would own a storage building manufacturing business, he would have called you crazy.  

Crazy would also describe his first two years of ownership. 

It all started in 2015 when Alan purchased a storage building from a local dealer. He had wanted two, but the dealer could only supply one, and even the process from ordering to delivery of that one shed was tumultuous. The building arrived late, the quality was less than expected, and the dealer seemingly disappeared after the sale. 

Through word of mouth, news traveled that another building was needed. At the time, Fluharty owned a small furniture business, and a well-built storage building was needed to house overflow furniture. A delivery driver heard of his plight and within a few days pulled his rig into the parking lot with a solution to the problem. 

Milo Byler, an Amish man from Ohio, then owner of Sturdi-Bilt Storage Buildings, visited Fluharty at his furniture store and assured him that he could manufacture and deliver the two buildings he needed in a timely fashion. 

Byler, whose shop was located in Gallipolis, Ohio, also noticed a vacant lot across the street from Flu’s Furniture. He asked if Fluharty wanted to become a distributor for Sturdi-Bilt Storage Buildings. Always up for a challenge, Fluharty agreed. 

Byler brought four buildings to put on the vacant lot, and it was just days before they were all sold. Another round of buildings arrived and again sold quickly. 

Fluharty quickly became a successful dealer for Sturdi-Bilt Storage Buildings.

Five years and hundreds of buildings later, Fluharty arrived at the shop where Byler had some unexpected news. He had purchased a large acreage of land in Wisconsin and was moving his family there to farm. He would be selling the shop to a local lumber yard. 

While Fluharty knew he could sell buildings regardless of who owned and operated the shop, he enjoyed working with Byler. Sturdi-Bilt Storage Buildings was known for the quality of its work and its hard-working employees. Fluharty wanted to be sure that those aspects of the business remained as ownership shifted to an “English” man. 

“I hadn’t thought much about it when Milo told me he would be selling the shop,” says Fluharty. “It was February and I was getting ready to drive to Florida on a week vacation with my family. Sometime after I crossed the Georgia state line, I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’m going to buy Sturdi-Bilt.’”  

Fluharty admits that he knew very little about the Amish, or the shed manufacturing process, but upon returning from his trip, he reached out to Byler with an offer on the manufacturing facility in Ohio. The employees had met Fluharty as a dealer of buildings, and despite living very different lives, felt that he would be a great replacement for Byler. 

On June 1, 2020, Byler and Fluharty signed the paperwork that would make him the new owner of Sturdi-Bilt Ohio LLC. As his family prepared to move, Byler remained in the shop in Ohio for two months, teaching Fluharty how orders were placed, who to contact for specific lumber and metal needs, as well as who provided services such as waste disposal and sanitation services. 

In the meantime, back in West Virginia, Fluharty located several other vacant lots, reached out to owners, and found eager salespeople to manage each lot. He now found himself the owner of a business nearly 200 miles from his home, run by people who lived quite differently than himself. 

There was no electricity in the shop, and it was heated with a wood stove. Employees used air compressors to operate tools and worked at a continuous pace that would be difficult for many “English” men to keep up with.

As Fluharty drove to the shop for the first time as the new owner, his radio was likely playing classic rock music. He is often seen wearing basketball shorts with visible tattoos as reminders of a tumultuous past. While always kind, fair, and respectful, he usually speaks loudly and says what is on his mind. 

The Amish that he now employed were quite different.  

With broadfall pants, collared shirts, and suspenders, their speech is quiet, almost reverent in nature. Yet, the connection was instant. 

According to Eli, one of the contracted Amish employees, “I didn’t have any doubts about Alan becoming the new owner. He was always easy to get along with. He pays us a fair wage and he keeps the standards of Sturdi-Bilt.” 

By December 2020, after just seven months of ownership, Sturdi-Bilt Storage Buildings had sold over 540 buildings. 

Fluharty attributes most of that success to the strong team he has along all stages of the building process. From the hard-working Amish who are always up for a challenge, the salespeople at each location who are passionate about what they do, NewFound Rentals for their assistance with financing, and Shed Shuttle delivery drivers who put buildings in places others may think impossible. 

“I think of my business as a wheel,” shares Fluharty. “Each spoke is a vital part of the wheel turning properly. As the business owner and hub of the wheel, I try to make sure each person has what they need to be successful, which in turn makes our business successful.” 

As 2021 began, Fluharty and his team saw nothing but success in their future. As a new business owner, he felt he finally had a strong grasp on the operations of the business. 

COVID-19, however, presented a new set of challenges. 

As lumber prices rose and shortages of materials such as windows became an issue, Sturdi-Bilt faced unprecedented challenges. Each challenge, however, was tackled and solved, and while some small businesses folded, Sturdi-Bilt proceeded to grow. 

In late August, after the original owner, Byler, had settled in Wisconsin, Fluharty received yet another unexpected call from him. Byler’s oldest son, who had previously helped build storage buildings, missed the work.

“How would you feel about opening a shop here in Wisconsin?”

Byler sold Fluharty 5 acres of property next to his farm, and from 807 miles away, Fluharty coordinated with Byler to open Sturdi-Bilt Midwest. Byler currently has five employees and to date has distributed 30 buildings after the shop became fully functional in September 2021.

Meanwhile, Sturdi-Bilt Ohio continued to grow—2021 saw 975 buildings from design to delivery. While many stock buildings are sold, custom orders are becoming more popular. Mini barns and high barns are often purchased for storage. 

Made with LP Smart Siding and Flooring and Grade A metal roofing, as well as top-grade lumber, Sturdi-Bilt mini barns and high barns are great storage options. Garages have also become very popular, customizable with additional man doors, windows, skylights, and windows. Garage floors are built 12 inches on center for extra durability.

Sturdi-Bilt has seen the most growth in cabins. Each cabin is custom designed by a member of the sales team. Fairmont, West Virginia’s lead cabin designer, Kevin Uebel, enjoys the challenge.

“There is an immense challenge in design and layout but also a huge feeling of satisfaction when a design is revealed to the customer and it is exactly what they wanted,” shares Uebel.

With a 6-foot porch included, and all the looks of home, the company has delivered nearly 100 cabins to older folks looking to downsize, young couples buying their first home, and outdoor lovers creating their perfect weekend getaway. 

In addition to traditional style mini barns, high barns, garages, and cabins, Fluharty also challenged his Amish crew to a new task. After multiple requests for chicken coops, run-in sheds, and greenhouses, the three were added to the list of available products from Sturdi-Bilt Ohio. 

In addition, Fluharty also has a crew working on creating “shippable buildings.” 

“I have always been a businessman,” he shares. “Businesses grow when they see a need locally and they meet that need. We had several people who were looking for housing for their farm animals, so we made it happen. Gardening is huge here, so greenhouses made sense. 

“We also had calls from neighboring states who liked the quality of Sturdi-Bilt buildings but were outside our current delivery capabilities. We are working on assembling ‘ship-to’ buildings. All the materials would come in a crate to build your own 8 by 8 mini barn, and upon purchase, you will receive access to step-by-step videos to complete your own build. 

“I have an amazing crew of Amish men. There is not a challenge I have presented them with that they haven’t embraced and overcome.” 

As to what the future holds for Sturdi-Bilt Ohio, as well as Sturdi-Bilt Midwest, Fluharty has big dreams. He is currently building two additional shops in Ohio and hopes in the next several years to bridge the distance gap between Sturdi-Bilt Ohio and Sturdi-Bilt Midwest in Wisconsin with shops between the two locations. 

After the initial rollout, he also would like to expand the size and model of buildings that can be custom ordered and shipped.

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