Best Practices, Feature, Operations, V4I6

Start-up Success

Stephen Lapp, founder and owner of Bigfoot Barns, believes he needs to spend more time promoting the new business.

There’s a lot more to shed building than building and selling sheds.

It’s that “lot more” that can cause a new builder to not succeed in an industry they love.

So, how can a start-up shed builder have a better chance of success? Learning from others.

Shed Builder Magazinegathered new builder stories and advice from veterans to offer insights and advice on how a new shed business can try to create a successful enterprise.



I started dreaming of building horse barns when I was still working on a neighbor’s farm. 

When I was 19, in 1999, I got a job offer to work at a new company that had just started building barns, and I took the offer. I worked there for 11 years, and then it was getting time to move on so I started a road crew, setting up the modular barns and garages. It is a lot of fun, but my home life was not much because I was not home much. We were running from Maine to Florida. 

In the meantime, my family moved to Central Pennsylvania, and I started thinking about moving with them and starting my own barn company. 

In 2015, I got an offer to go into a partnership close to my parent’s house, and we decided to move. I did not go into the partnership right away and just started work for the shed company, but after a year I knew it was not for me. I went from building custom buildings to seeing how many sheds we could put out this week, and it just was not my style.

Bigfoot Barns builds horse barns and run-in sheds.

So, I started looking for a place to build horse barns. During the fall of 2016, I found a small farm, and that is where we put up a small shop and are building horse barns and run-in sheds.

Plus, the company I first worked for asked me if I would like to build modular garages because they were too busy to keep up. At this point, Double S Builders is my on-site company, and that part is real busy setting up buildings. 

Bigfoot Barns is the company I just started, and it is a slow process. Most of it is my fault probably because I don’t spend enough time promoting it.


My biggest challenge has been keeping after my paperwork and quotes, which seem to never end. Since over 50 percent is custom building, it’s not like just anyone can walk in and do it. 

My new company is starting out slower than I hoped, but the orders have been starting to come in and we have gotten positive feedback on the sheds we have sold.

The shop we put up is 32 by 60 by 18, which is big enough, but my future plans are to put up a bigger shop so we can build the modular units in the shop and then break them down for shipment. But at this point, that’s probably five years off at least. 

The unique thing about our company is Bigfoot Barns and Double S Builders work hand in hand with buildings that need on-site work done. 



The relatively low cost of entry together with the strong customer funded cash flow model makes it attractive to many. It’s relative simple and straight forward, or so it seems.

The No. 1 biggest mistake of most companies, some that really are bankrupt but still have cash flowing, comes from not having proper GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) in place. 

Most folks in the industry are strong in operations and sales but do not have the training and resources to really measure what is taking place on the finance side accurately from COGS (cost of goods sold), gross margin, net operating income, etc. 

Cash flow is strong so the incorrect and potentially fatal assumption is often made that we sell more, we build more, and there’s money in the bank, so that must mean we’re profitable. And let’s face it, most of us as small businesses always overestimate profits on our forecasts or back-of-the-envelope business plans. Ulrich in the beginning made all the mistakes above and many more. The financial one will bite —it’s not a question of if, but when. 

I wish we had the financial controls and people resources early on that we do now, and we could have save millions of dollars of mistakes with accurate data. That obviously has to be paid for by profitable business going forward, and it makes life so much harder than doing it right the first time up front.

Stay in compliance with IRS, Department of Labor, Workers Compensation laws, as well as run your business on GAAP. Hire a CPA and finance team that do the right thing not what you tell them to. Shortcuts aren’t as they appear.

In purchasing owner operator companies in other markets, I have seen the above all too often in many situations and it pains me to see phenomenal well-meaning people believing all is well, due to the lack of good data. It’s harder to run it right with good data, but at the end of the day you don’t need to generate cash from customer deposits and vendor credit lines, you need to generate the only true source of financial wealth in this business by serving clients so well you can earn a profit margin above all costs on a consistent basis. 

The sad unfortunate truth is that most of us as business owners would rather keeping on seeing things the way we wish they were vs. as they really are.


Tips for new shed manufacturers:

  • Be willing to adapt to market changes. 
  • Don’t try to be the cheapest, try to be the best at something.
  • Find something to distinguish yourself from the crowd, whether it be a certain style of building, or some kind of mark that is easily noticeable. 
  • Put customer service first.
  • Build a good product.
  • Learn from others who are already successful.
  • If you are going to use dealers, find the right people. The person matters way more than the location.

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