In this month’s installment of the GEN NXT series, we were afforded the opportunity to talk with Chase Smith, the Director of Marketing at Scaffoldmart. Discover how his family started an innovative business in the construction equipment industry. We’d like to thank Chase for taking the time to do this interview. We’d also like to thank JAG Clamp for continuing to sponsor this important series.
Masonry Magazine: Let’s start with your background and how you got into the industry.
Chase Smith: My old man was in the industrial equipment rental business and one of the products we carried was BilJax Scaffolding, which everybody is familiar with. They’re like the Coca-Cola of steel frame scaffolding. He would also sell some of the scaffolding and he had a method he called culling (a fishing term). This is where he’d take old used scaffolding before they got too old to sell and he’d sell them locally. Then he’d turn around and buy new scaffolding for his rental inventory.
So he constantly had new scaffolding. With his scaffold sales doing really well he transitioned into internet sales from local tool rental. But he and the company had a falling out so he went and developed his own line of scaffolding almost identical to the BilJax scaffolding and started selling them head-to-head.
It went quickly from something he was doing on Craigslist and eBay to in addition to running the rental company. All of a sudden it was making more than the rental company and we were getting whole containers and operating the four location rental operation was taking up time that we needed to be selling scaffolding. So that’s what he did.
In the beginning, we were loading and unloading trucks, palletizing the scaffolding and doing the selling, that was when I was very young. I was around 10 or 12. Now, we’re a 40-50-person operation, with about 12 million in sales last year. We have a quarter of a million sq. ft. warehouse packed full.
M.M.: Wow! Is it a family business that just grew into something larger?
C.S.: It’s still a family business, I’d say it went from a local rental company to an international sales and marketing company. We also do a little manufacturing, but what we really do is develop products and sell them on the Internet and over the phone. It’s still family owned.
We still operate like a family business, there’s no boards or panels. We’re simply my father, my uncle, who’s the head of sales, and myself. We’re just doing what we know is right, without the red tape that comes with larger companies. We’re able to make decisions fast for our customers as needed. In fact, my little sister graduated this year from East Carolina and just stepped in, she’ll be handling HR. It’s very much a family affair.
M.M.: Have you faced any challenges being younger in the industry?
C.S.: Absolutely. Young people are influenced by pop culture and right now the dominating subculture is hip-hop. I’ve always been a fan of this genre, now it has become so mainstream that it influences the way my identity. In this industry, we deal with a lot of older blue-collar professionals.
The way my hair is styled, the clothes I wear, that sort of thing has gotten me some funny looks. It’s typical for the older guys to stereotype younger people.
The older women in the industry are usually more open-minded. It’s usually the older guys who know what they know and might not be as easy to work with. Being younger in the industry you just don’t get the same credence as a 50-year-old would.
M.M.: Did you always want to work in this industry?
C.S.: I always wanted to work with my father. This company is really an Internet-based company and my position now is in web development and I enjoy that. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and take what he built and run with it. It’s very important to me to make sure what my dad has built is being taken care of properly.
M.M: How is it working with your family?
C.S.: Sometimes it can be challenging, but for the most part I count it as a blessing because most times parents who own businesses need their kids to help. In my instance, my dad doesn’t need any help but I was blessed with the opportunity to work with him. He knows what I’m capable of and it’s a privilege to have my current position in the company. I count it as a blessing and an opportunity.
M.M.: What does a normal workday look like for you?
C.S.: I come in at about 8 am and I greet everyone. I’ve lately been working on web development but usually it’s a mixed bag of things I do. I work on the website for a while, check my emails, typically we handle the customer support issues in the morning. The first half of the day we really spend catering to our customers and putting out any “fires”, and the second half of the day I spend on development.
M.M.: Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
C.S.: We have another project underway for a different industry we’re working on, and we also work in the marine industry. We also operate a boat stand business. They’re built very similarly to the way scaffolding is built. But we’re developing a whole new product that is completely different from what we’ve done before. In 5-10 years I see myself moving to a larger city where I can be more impactful, where I can look people in the eye and shake their hands. I see myself traveling to do a lot of person-to-person marketing.
M.M.: What do you like about the industry?
C.S.: The honest hardworking men and women I work with, these guys really work hard. I like that this industry is very hands-on, blue collar, and very open and honest.
M.M.: Tell me about your experiences thus far being a member of the MCAA?
C.S.: I enjoy working with everyone over at the MCAA, they’re super polite and accommodating. Todd Frederick is great to us, always helps in any way he can and is very personable.
M.M.: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into the industry?
C.S.: The most valuable thing I learned is to listen to the more experienced people in the industry. You have to stop talking, humble yourself, and listen. You may think you’re better than the person trying to help you, but you can always extract some knowledge. Swallow your pride, bite your tongue, and really listen.