Dan Betts's long-term strategy for Deck America Inc. can be summed up in one word: Grow.
Betts, the company's chief executive, has changed its sales strategy and its location since he founded the company nearly 25 years ago. But no move Betts made helped the company mushroom as much as its April relocation into a new headquarters in Woodbridge. "We basically grew out of our space at Lorton," said Betts, whose company had been in Fairfax County for about 16 years.
Since moving into the 400,000-square-foot Woodbridge facility--spending $1.7 million, including $500,000 on build out--Deck America has added 50 employees, for a total of 230. Sales have grown by a third from 1998, to an expected $12 million in 1999.
With the new Woodbridge space, the company had more room to bring in updated equipment, which in turn helped improve the quality of Deck America's product, said Steve Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing.
"This is the best the company has done since we started," Betts said.
Betts founded Deck America-- which specializes in residential deck and enclosure manufacturing and installation--in 1975 in Pittsburgh and moved to Lorton in 1983. The company's customers--located in the Washington region only--number more than 2,000, Betts said. The company has no plans to target markets outside the area from Richmond to Baltimore.
Everything is done at the new headquarters, which Deck America bought with the help of an industrial revenue bond issued by Prince William County. The sales force, marketing department, preassembly, precutting and wood shop are all based at the site, as are the installation crews and a fleet of trucks. Deck America only constructs new decks; it does not do repairs.
Almost all customers are residential, except for a small number of contracts with companies such as Sears.
After Deck America was founded in Pittsburgh about 25 years ago, the city ran into a rough time as the steel industry collapsed, and Betts knew he had to think about moving his company elsewhere. Betts found an investor, who "wrote me a check the same day even without an agreement." When the investor suggested he move to Northern Virginia, he did.
Sixteen years in Lorton made Deck America a strong contender in the region's deck business, with the company growing in both size and customer base. Wilson said the company's biggest change came in 1996, when Deck America made the move from being a wholesale company selling to dealers, to a factory-direct retailer selling directly to homeowners. Deck America used to mainly built decks for companies. But now customers can buy directly from the company, making it less expensive for them. "That has been the big overall change," said Wilson. "It was a great move [because] sales increased."
An average deck costs about $6,000 to construct, Wilson said.
Competition in the area is not very problematic, Wilson said. "I think the biggest competitor to anyone who runs the deck business is the guy with the pickup truck who does it on the weekend," he said.
Virginia Decking and Remodeling, a 16-year-old company based in Fredericksburg and with an office in Woodbridge, poses a different sort of competition. Eighty-five to 90 percent of its clients are Internet buyers, said Mike French, the owner. The company's sales and design are done through the Internet with the customer.
"We wind up selling a $10,000 deck, sight unseen," said French. With that in mind, he said, not only does the company sell decks to customers in the Northern Virginia area but in California as well, where local deck suppliers such as Deck America don't compete.
Deck America focuses just on the Washington region, using a two-tiered marketing strategy, Wilson said. The strategy consists mainly of brochure distribution to homes designated to be without decks--which the company zeros in on by using aerial photography.
"We can really target the market that way," he said. After the initial brochures are left at the homes, a "canvassing crew" follows about one week after the brochure to knock on the door and try to make a sale.
Deck America makes few cold calls, said Wilson, but does take part in what is called "radiation calls," in which the company calls the houses around an area where jobs are booming.
Although Deck America is still private, Betts aims to make it employee-owned in 2000.
CAPTION: Carlos Infante, one of Deck America's 230 employees, assembles railings at the warehouse. The company has added 50 workers since moving to Woodbridge.
CAPTION: "This is the best the company has done since we started," Chief Executive Dan Betts said of the company's move from Lorton to Prince William.