Feature, V1I5

It’s All About Location

Vermont Custom Sheds prefers onsite builds because they’re “carpenters, not haulers.”
Vermont Custom Sheds prefers onsite builds because they’re
“carpenters, not haulers.”

Many shed builders offer both stock buildings and onsite custom builds in order to meet the needs of all potential customers—those customers cruising by your lot looking for an instant purchase, as well as those with specific needs and site constraints.
However similar the end result might be, there certainly is a difference in the process used to construct each of these options, as well as in the expectations of the customer. While onsite builds pose challenges some shed sellers want no part of, others find this option to be a strong break-in niche for their local customer base.

What the Customer Wants
Onsite-built sheds come in a range of options, from the do-it yourself kit to the onsite panel assembly to a full stick-build. However, none of these options necessarily make life easier for the builder.
“We do it out of necessity, because everybody has fences and neighbors, etc.,” says Johnathon Champer, owner of Alum Creek Sheds in Columbus, Ohio. More than half of this builder’s business is now onsite builds as a way to accommodate site constraints. “It isn’t normal for most companies, so that’s one of our niches,” he adds.
Adam Kontis, president of Fox Country Sheds in Lititz, Pennsylvania, finds that site constraints are the biggest reason that customers call about him getting a site-built shed.
“Customers look for the onsite build mostly because they have no access,” he says.
Other shed builders echo this, adding that the transportation challenges of getting a prebuilt unit to the site, depending on the size, can increase the overall cost to the customer.
“Our larger structures are typically built onsite due to hauling restrictions,” says Javan Miller, owner of Alpine Structures LLC in Dundee, Ohio.
However for Mike Lucie, owner of Vermont Custom Sheds in Mt. Tabo, Vermont, the transportation issues with prebuilt sheds pose bigger challenges than building onsite. “In offering only site-built sheds, I can concentrate on building a quality product instead of having to think about trucking and hauling. I’m a carpenter, not a hauler, so I can be the best carpenter I can be with no distractions,” he says.
And Kontis has found that site access is less of a problem today than in years past. “Through the years with the introduction of the Mule system, for example, we are doing fewer and fewer onsite builds—and that’s okay with us.”
When customers call with this request, Kontis explains, his sales team emphasizes that a prebuilt unit is a significantly cheaper option.
“We tell them it’s cheaper for you to remove a fencepost than hire us to come out and do a buildup. Once you give them that option a bulb goes off for them and they decide to look at that because if they can save money they’re willing to do that, and we’re willing to help them do that. We’re not encouraging them to do a build-up—we’re discouraging them,” Kontis says.
But there are other reasons for customers to prefer an onsite build over a prebuilt shed.
As Alice Bradshaw, co-owner of Idaho Wood Sheds in Meridian, Idaho, points out, “With the onsite shed, customization is definitely easier.” While many prebuilt sheds allow for extensive customization, nothing comes close to the options allowed by a stick-built unit.
And for some customers, that sense of control provided by a custom, onsite build is a major selling point.
“When we’re building onsite, the customer feels like they’re a part of it,” Bradshaw says.
Lucie agrees. “The customer…can ask questions about the process and know exactly what they’re getting and I can explain exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”
Lucie also notes that site-built sheds may be more likely to use local materials.
“A lot of my customers aren’t going by quality and price alone. They want a local guy to come and build the shed instead of buying from another huge corporation,” he says. “The materials come from my local supplier and everything stays pretty local. My customers know the factory sheds are mostly brought in from hundreds of miles away, and most prefer to keep it as local as they can in order to feed into our local economy.”

Production Changeover
While some shed builders tackle onsite builds as a moneymaking niche, others see it as a profit pit.
“For us, it’s a lot easier to do a prebuilt shed because we don’t have to stop production in the shop to send a crew out to some customer’s house to get this built,” Kontis says. He adds that the revenue loss his shop sees from an onsite build is difficult to recover.
“No matter how much you charge the customer, you can never make up how much you lost that day because you sent three guys out to get the job done,” Kontis says.

But in addition to loss of money, the bigger challenge shops face with onsite builds is the loss in time.
“It’s very time-consuming when you do a job onsite because you have to get prepared ahead of time in the shop. If you’re doing a little 8- by 12-foot shed, you could spend two hours just loading that thing up with two guys very easily. Then you’ve got another two hours unloading the thing,” Kontis says.
When Idaho Wood Sheds does an onsite build, most of the shed assembly work is done in the shop before the pieces are trucked to the location. But Bradshaw agrees that pulling pieces and equipment together adds valuable time to an onsite build.
“One of the challenges [we face] is making sure all of your measurements are right ahead of time and that all of the parts are in order, especially if the site is across town a little ways,” she says.
Kontis points to one final drawback of onsite builds for both customer and builder: waste. “The trash, and all the extra pieces that you might have brought, often that stuff never makes it back into your stockpile,” he says. “It just ends up getting thrown out.”
Quality Concerns
In many manufacturing industries, factory work provides quality control that simply isn’t available when building in the field. For example, Sheds USA notes in a news release that by crafting sheds in a factory, where walls are assembled and squared in steel jigs and other components are cut to close tolerances on machinery set up to promote consistency, the manufacturer is better able to control for quality.
However, most shed builders will tell you that there’s no difference in the quality of a building whether it’s built in their shop or in the customer’s yard.
“Our goal is to maintain the same level of quality in our structures whether they’re built onsite or as a prebuilt unit,” Miller says.
As Champer puts it, “Basically the walls get put on the trailer instead of put on the floor.” He adds that for his operation, there’s truly no difference in quality between the two end products “because we have the same crew of guys putting them together onsite or in the shop.”
On the other hand, Lucie is one of several builders arguing that factory-built sheds use shortcuts that might cause the end product to degrade earlier than an onsite built shed.
The number-one shortcut Lucie sees in factory-built sheds are roofs with rafters but no ridgeboard or horizontal collar ties to keep the roof from sagging.
“The roof sheathing will hold things together for a while and then any snow load or the weight of the roof itself will cause the peak to drop in towards the center,” he says. Lucie says he also often sees shingles without a felt paper moisture barrier underneath.
In addition to roof problems, Lucie says factory-built sheds also can show signs of floor issues over time. This often happens when a builder drops a prebuilt shed onto an unleveled gravel pad.
“Most of the time the gravel isn’t dead level so they have to level up the corners of the shed with blocks. That creates a big part of the center of the floor structure with no load-bearing points,which eventually leads to floor sagging,” he says.
Making It Work
Builders committed to quality will find a way to make their niche work for them no matter the challenges. Preparation and communication go a long way toward success.
For example, Bradshaw sees the key to making onsite builds work smoothly is communicating closely with the customer.
“Take time to sit and talk with the customers and really make sure you’ve covered everything ahead of time,” she advises. This should include factors such as whether you will need a generator onsite, how far the plot is from the road and other potential site constraints.
“Probably one of the biggest things that we have to emphasize to our customers is to make sure that their ground is level and that there’s enough space around for the guys to work. That’s really important, but it doesn’t always happen.”
She adds, “Communication is what you need the most of when you’re building onsite.”


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