By Word of Mouth
Company’s Reputation Helps
Grow its Decking and Fencing Business
by Alan B. Goldberg
The entrepreneurial spirit of the Jaacks family goes back more than eight decades to a roadside stand it had selling produce from the family farm nearby in Niles, Ill. Less than a mile from there, Bob Jaacks first established his business making high quality Western red cedar fences nearly 40 years ago. There were four employees who built and installed the fences. The small business grew steadily through word-of-mouth. Today, Bob Jaacks Rustic Wood Fencing still operates out of the same small but cozy office and showroom. Business still comes through word of mouth, and the company enjoys a reputation for the quality of its products and the personal service that goes with it.
There is more to the business than the many attractive wood fences that are built on the two-acre site. From a deck for the family house that was built by Bob’s son Randy more than 23 years ago, another business began.
“Working with wood was nothing new to me. I had been doing that at my dad’s place since I was in the sixth grade. I built playhouses, doghouses and various odds and ends. When I built the deck for the house, I thought nothing of it. But as people came to the house, they would ask about it, and I found myself building one deck after another. Through this natural evolution, we started Rustic Woodmen in 1981.”
About seven years after the decking business was established, the 600-square-foot office/showroom was expanded another 200 square feet to provide additional office space.
“We built the addition ourselves,” Randy added. “In retrospect, we should have made it larger. We could certainly use more space.”
Randy’s wife Gina assists in the office with the decking business. Bob is still very active with the fencing business. In fact, he runs the office and is assisted by his daughter, Jerri Thomson, and her husband John, both of whom work in the office. John also manages the yard where the fences and decks are built on site and the lumber is stored.
“We all work together. Everyone does a little of everything and we help each other,” said Gina.
There are three other sales people—longtime friends—who are so close to the Jaacks, they are considered extended family. And there is another part of the family that gets involved.
“All the grandchildren work here. Our son Randy, who is now 21, has been helping out since he was in the sixth grade just like his father,” added Gina.
The efforts of friends and family, combined with the highly experienced building and installation crews, have largely contributed to the success of the business.
As far as training, “they come to us with some skills and we train them,” said Randy.
One of the downsides of a family business is the impact it can have on the family. According to Randy, family issues and business issues are things they live with all the time because they are interwoven.
High Quality, All Custom
Every product is of the highest quality.
“Our niche is providing the best grades of Western red cedar that are available. And that, with workmanship, is what separates us from everybody else,” Randy said.
Randy points out that customers like to come to the office and showroom.
“It may be small but it’s homey, and I think there is something to be said for the way we do business as a family-run operation,” he added.
Fencing, Arbors and Sheds
When Bob Jaacks started his business in 1964, he offered mostly stockade-type fences. Today, customers can select from many styles. In addition to the rustic stockade, these include: the traditional fence with a two-inch space or with the diamond lattice top, the board on batten solid top, solid spaced scallop, pointed picket and dog ear picket.
“There is no one popular type of fencing. Village ordinances will often determine what is acceptable. A family’s needs generally dictate the style. A fence to keep kids or the dog in the yard is very different from a privacy fence.”
In addition to fencing, the company offers arbors and sheds. Three styles of arbors are offered to enhance gardens and gates which vary in width from 42 inches to 48 inches and in height from 85 inches to 98 inches. Two styles of storage sheds are available in 8 by 8, 8 by 10, 8 by 12 or in a custom size.
Decks, Gazebos and Lawn Furniture
The company takes pride in pointing out what makes its cedar decks different from others.
“We use full 2 x 6 boards for durability unlike most contractors who use one-inch board. Our custom-designed decks are made of the finest Western red cedar and low-maintenance composite lumber,” Randy said.
The attractiveness and practicality of a deck are described this way in the company brochure: “Cedar decks give you new living space. They add a garden room to your house. Your deck can be everything from a private suntan corner to a barbeque/dining entertainment center. Your outdoor living enjoyment will be three seasons, not one.”
Custom-made cedar gazebos are also available as six-, eight-, ten- and 12-sided structures, from 60 square feet to 160 square feet—with options that include screens, plexiglass windows, solid bottoms and detailed roof wood corners and varying pitches.
There is also a line of cedar lawn furniture that includes many styles of tables, chairs and lawn swings.
The Benefits of the Personal Touch
Randy explains that while fencing is about style, decking is 100 percent custom and is based on many factors.
“I try to get a pretty good idea of the type of deck that is going to work when I visit a potential customer. My suggestions will be based on what works best, given the size of the yard, elevation and how the family is going to use the deck. It is this personal touch that consumers want,” he said.
He added that some people know what kind of deck they want; but most do not and “we custom design a deck from scratch which requires a great deal of personal service.”
Whether it’s fencing or decking, the company relies heavily on the skills of their crews to build and install according to their specifications.
“The more custom the job, the closer the supervision to be sure we are giving the customer what is expected,” said Randy who pointed out that there is a large repeat business. “People move and if they have been happy with their fence or deck, they are going to call us again.”
“We have a base of very loyal customers,” said Gina .
“Bob Jaacks provides the knowledge, honesty and friendliness that bring customers back to us,” she added.
While much of the business is word of mouth, a fair amount comes from the small sign on every fence with the company’s name and phone number. The company also receives business from the Yellow Pages and its newly created website.
In spite of competition, Randy sees the greatest challenge, now and in the future, as keeping his customers happy. Installing about 40 fences a week and 120 decks a year, “there’s bound to be a problem, and we have to be ready to service anyone at any time, in any way,” he said.
As far as payment, “we don’t take a deposit and, for the most part, we don’t have a problem. Somehow, things just work out,” Randy said.
The same is true with suppliers. The company has been using the same suppliers because “we have had good service and there has been no reason to change.”
Business has been very good (profit margins for the two businesses are comparable) but, like most, has its off-season. According to Randy, everyone accepts the fact that there are two months out of the year—January and February—when it is very quiet.
Serving Chicago and the northern suburbs for forty years, the Jaacks are living proof that consumers are drawn to the uniqueness of doing business when it’s all in the family.
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