Building and Construction, Feature, Operations, V5I6

Go Big with Barns

Bigfoot Barns builds horse barns and run-in sheds.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says 30,000 new consumer products hit the market each year and over 90 percent of them fail. That’s staggering odds when launching a new product that costs tens of thousands of dollars. 

Scaling your backyard shed business to offer large buildings like two-story garages and horse barns falls into that sobering category. So, you find yourself wondering if anyone will buy them and if it’s worth the risk.

The decision to go big could take months of research and product development before coming to a conclusion. Let’s go over the steps to make it happen. 


When scaling your business, first consider what the customer wants. 

“Are your customers asking for larger buildings?” says Dave Zook, co-owner with his dad and brothers of Stoltzfus Structures in Pennsylvania. “Let your customer guide the process and take you where you need to go because, at the end of the day, that’s who you’re building for in the first place.”

Spencer Powell, president of Builder Funnel, a marketing agency for homebuilders, remodelers, and contractors, has a few ideas to help you find out what your customers want.

“Start with your existing assets,” Powell says, referring to your email list and social media followers. He recommends using platforms like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to create a survey to send to those already in your database and to post on social media.

“To incentivize them to respond,” he says, “offer a drawing from the responses for a gift card.”

If your survey results are positive, the next step is research.


Depending on your geographical location, building codes and ordinances vary. 

In California, the building codes are so stringent, erecting one horse barn cost an Ulrich Barn Builders’ customer $65,000 in permits alone, according to their California Market President Willard Martin. 

In their area, laws exist to require engineering for any building over 120 square feet, concrete floors in garages, and site plans that include plants and wildlife. Laws even change from one county to the next within a state.

“Know your jurisdiction and the laws of the land,” says Martin. If you lack the skill or resources to comply, scaling your business may not be a wise move.


Manufacturing larger buildings requires, among other things, larger or different tools, new blueprints, increased permitting, updating the website and sales materials, new contracts, and possibly additional employees. Before committing, calculate both the upfront costs to launch your new products and the ongoing costs to keep the ball rolling.


Any building too large to transport on the highway requires one of two methods of construction—modular built or on-site. Consider each method on its own merits.

Building modularly:

The building that houses your manufacturing plant must be the right size, with high enough walls, to accommodate the larger product. If your plant isn’t big enough, can you afford to move? And, are you ready to deliver modules which may be larger than your existing sheds?

“When going bigger,” says Zook, “you not only need to deliver the building but get it off the rig. You need Mules to put the building in place.”

Building on-site:

Moving crews on-site creates another set of issues.

“You lose efficiency,” Zook says, “because nothing is at your fingertips like in the shop.” 

Martin agrees. “Building on-site is slower,” he says, “And depending on how large your service area reaches, you can incur the cost of overnight stays and overtime.”

Because of the stringent building codes, Ulrich constructs its large buildings on-site. According to Martin, they have separate, dedicated crews for both the plant and the field. 

“If you have to pull from each other,” he says, “it interrupts the workflow.”

To minimize field crews, Zook prefers building in modules and having the delivery team assemble. Again, it comes down to location.


There’s a delicate balance between overworking an existing crew to perform the added workload and hiring new employees who may not stay busy until the new products take off. The last thing you want is to hire a full crew for the field and they sit around waiting for larger building orders to start rolling in.

According to Martin, Ulrich initially pulled employees from the shop to send into the field for the larger orders because they already knew the methods the company used. Then, as they reached full production, they hired new shop employees.


“Workers’ compensation in California,” says Martin, “is lower for factory workers than those working in the field.”

Workers’ comp isn’t the only insurance coverage to consider before going big. If you’re adding additional rigs to your delivery fleet, tools like a scissor lift, or extra employees, the cost of auto, liability, and health coverage all would all be affected. Schedule a meeting with your insurance representative to discuss possible policy changes and expenses.


A customer comes onto your sales lot, signs a check for $2,500 for a small backyard shed, and you deliver it. Easy peasy. But when you’re building something that costs tens of thousands or more, customers won’t have the means to pay upfront. 

“You don’t want to collect $60,000 on the last day of the job, either,” says Zook. That leads to financing, payment plans, and contracts.

“We offer financing,” says Martin, “but a lot of customers secure their own financing through their home equity.”

If you don’t already offer financing, schedule a meeting with your accountant to determine if that’s the path to take to better service your barn or garage buyers. Whether it is or not, before adding larger buildings to your catalog, draft a purchasing contract to use. The contract spells out the payment terms and points in the construction process when payments are due.

According to Martin, California regulates this process. So, check the laws in your area and secure the help of a qualified attorney.


Your surveys come back positive, you’ve done your research, and you have the financial backing to proceed. Now’s the time to test the market. After all, just because customers say it’s a good idea to go big, doesn’t mean they’re ready to pay for bigger buildings. That’s why Powell suggests a test run.

“Advertise that you’re only doing five buildings as a test run and if they order now, they can get one for a certain price,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a discounted price, necessarily. But because you’re only going to do five, they need to order one now.” 

If you get five orders, and the process goes well, then take the next step.


The biggest mistake Powell sees builders make with new product launches is not putting enough thought into each component of the campaign.

“Ask yourself, ‘This is a campaign. What are all the pieces we want in this?’” he says. 

By pieces, he means email sequences, social media posts, and blog posts. Building a successful launch campaign requires strategizing and mapping out all the content.

The second biggest mistake builders make in their marketing campaigns, according to Powell, is consistency. 

“You’re playing a marketing game and marketing needs consistency,” he says. “Don’t give up too early in the game. Sometimes your customer isn’t ready. But if you stay top of mind with consistent content, they won’t forget you when they are.”

For best results in your launch, partner with a professional copywriter or marketing agency to strategize your campaign. Don’t forget the magic of video, either. Posting a walkthrough of a new building via Facebook Live will let your market experience your new product.

If those almost 30,000 product failures have you shaking in your work boots, network with other shed builders. Ask about the hurdles they leapt through when they scaled their businesses. Their advice will help you prepare for your go big journey.



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