Celebrating almost six decades in business is a momentous achievement that H.S. Williams is truly proud to have reached. Specializing in the construction of pre-engineered metal commercial and industrial buildings, H.S. Williams prides itself on providing durability and quality while focusing on its loyal customer base, a longstanding tradition of value, award-winning designs and quality of construction.
Founded in 1962 and incorporated in 1964, the H.S. Williams Company was considered one of the largest metal contractors in the nation by the early 1980s. Based in Marion, Virginia, the team has performed work throughout the eastern half of the United States, but has since concentrated its workload in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Embracing the company motto of, “We get our job done right and on time, so you can get back to doing yours,” H.S. Williams’ employees work diligently to instill economy and durability into every project they undertake.
“Over the life of the company we’ve built over 150 million square feet of buildings, and probably 95 percent of those are metal buildings,” says President Marty Britt. “We kind of like to stay with what we understand.”
And what they understand ranges from the construction of small storage buildings, to 540,000-square-foot manufacturing plants, and up to 1,034,000 square foot warehouse facilities, all while being honored with a number of awards in the areas of building practices, Building of the Year awards, construction excellence awards from the System Builders Association and being featured on the cover of Metal Construction News’ Annual Green Building Issue.
The company has also now moved into other related areas of business, including industrial crane systems, roofing, roof coating systems, and general contracting to complement its expertise in pre-engineered buildings, where it has made its biggest mark.
“The company’s founder was Harry Williams, and he became one of the main proponents of pre-engineered building systems in the country,” says Vice President Christian Alexander. “He was inducted into the System Builders Association Hall of Fame, won numerous pioneer awards for his leadership in the industry and was even referred to as ‘Mr. Metal Buildings’ in a trade publication.”
Breadth of expertise
Aside from the pre-engineered building systems (PEB) — described as the foundation on which H.S. Williams was established — the company also offers expertise in installing bridge cranes, applying roof coatings, installing retrofit roofing systems to existing metal roofs, replacing metal roofs and single-ply roofing systems and installing retrofit insulation systems as a cost-effective alternative for a variety of projects.
“We do design-build general contracting, but our main focus is pre-engineered metal buildings,” says Britt. “Along that line with the type of industry we’re in, we also help service our clients with crane systems, and do retrofit roof, wall and insulation systems, insulated metal panel systems, and roof coatings. In 2018 our numbers were in the top 40 for the country for square footage of pre-engineered metal building erection based on published numbers from other contractors.”
H.S. Williams’ quality of service stems from it being one of the first companies in the pre-engineered system market and learning from the people who were with the company when it started, says Britt. That expertise has helped the team provide ongoing quality as they demonstrate their knowledge of pre-engineered buildings inside and out.
The benefits of PEB
“The numerous benefits of PEB include a shorter construction time,” says Britt, “as you can have a building completed in under half the time of any conventional construction,” he explains.
“That goes back to Harry Williams’ philosophy that it’s to the owner’s advantage to get the building done quickly, and that an empty building is a dead asset,” he says. “It’s what you do in the building that makes money for a company. So if we can go in and cut the time down on what it takes to do the building, it benefits the both of us and provides them with a greater value.”
For example, H.S. Williams completed a 60,000-square-foot project in Tennessee recently with a total time to completion – with the client up and producing product out of their manufacturing facility – of four months.
“It’s unheard of in other building industries,” says Alexander. “It also lowers construction costs on pre-engineered buildings.”
PEB also enhances the adaptability of existing 30- to 40-year-old buildings, as they can be retrofitted to resemble a modern facility, he explains. Remove wall panels and reskin the building, re-roof it and produce a finished product that looks like something that was designed and built last year.
Currently, H.S. Williams is working on a support building for an Amazon facility in NC that deals with logistics for the company. “We’ve got some upcoming projects that total about 75,000 square feet that are starting or will start in upcoming weeks,” says Alexander. One is a manufacturing facility, and the other is an arena, and the firm is also working with a government defense contractor on quite a few projects. “We’re helping them adapt current facilities, which we originally built in approximately 1970, helping modify them to fit their new manufacturing processes.”
Alexander offers further testament to the durability and functionality of PEB construction. “I go on a lot of these buildings’ roofs to look at issues the owners have, and some are 40 years old, and they are still a very functional system and in good shape. There’s a 40- to 50-year design life on these metal buildings and we see that in our daily inspections.”
Built on relationships
Aside from the years of experience in the industry and the quality of their product, Britt and Alexander attest that the team’s true success lies in their ongoing dedication to exemplary customer service and the personal relationships they forge and maintain.
“The biggest thing we see is our repeat business,” says Alexander. “We don’t spend money on marketing and we really haven’t since we’ve been here. Most of our work is repeat business. Probably 60 percent or more are customers who call us up and say they need us to come do something for them, which is a very high compliment.”
They both agree that competition is intense in the industry, with plenty of conflict that can make it difficult to forge close relationships, but H.S. Williams seems to have avoided much of that over the years with its work ethics and dedication to transparency. “We try to be upfront and provide everything the customer is going to need,” says Alexander. “We don’t go back and try to change order a job. We also work with that customer and are flexible in the processes of construction. If the customer has a need or a change, then we address that. Our experience of course is one of the main reasons that we do get the repeat business that we do, because we’re very proficient and know what the customer needs. If you’re not doing everything right, you’re not getting that customer back again.”
Word of mouth has been extremely important, they both say, as the company’s marketing budget over the years has basically amounted to the company’s 1-800 number in the Yellow Pages. Due to their attention to customer service, they haven’t needed anything more elaborate. However, to keep up with a new generation of decision makers they are currently focusing on updating their internet presence.
And they pay that same close, personal attention to their employees, as well. “The best statement I can make is we have two employees that have been with us for 50 years or more, we have at least three who have been here for 30 years or more, and we have some people who have retired and still come in part time,” says Britt. “They just can’t get enough of H.S. Williams. I think that’s probably the best thing I can say to describe our relationship with our employees. People aren’t going to stay with you for that length of time if you’re not a good company to work for.”
While other companies look only at the bottom line, H.S. Williams tries to go beyond that, says Alexander. “We get business from our competitors because they’ve looked at the bottom dollar and went with that competitor, and then they didn’t like what they got, so they came back to us.”
H.S. Williams faces its own set of trials surviving in a competitive market, with one challenge being the numerous startups and small companies that offer lower prices – along with lower quality service.
“The biggest challenge we have is overcoming the bottom dollar and convincing our customers that we have the service and the knowledge to command the cost that we have to have to do the work,” says Alexander. “It’s a selling point for new businesses, to bring customers in, but you don’t always get the opportunities to get in front of your customer, and that can be a challenge as well. You’re dealing with a local facility that’s headquartered somewhere else and you’re never going to get in front of that person that makes that decision.”
Another challenge the company faces is its location in a very rural area, leading to subcontracting and occasional long travel times to compete in the market. Then there is the shortage of available quality employees. “I think every contractor in the country has the same issue,” says Alexander. H.S. Williams is currently talking with local trade schools, working with educating students about available career paths in the trades.
“That’s the only way I know to overcome the manpower issues, is to get the newer generation to see the potential in construction,” says Alexander. “Getting the kids encouraged to go into trades is a big challenge.”
A foundation of service
But for both men, the true measure of success in business, even one that has been around as long as H. S. Williams, is customer service and repeat business, something the company has continually excelled at for years.
“Our continued growth is something that we diligently work on – as well as service to our existing customers – and it goes back to the fact that we cherish our existing customers and we want to continue to provide the service that they need,” says Britt.
In terms of growth, he says, the company has a goal of doubling sales over the next few years, but without sacrificing the longstanding tradition of service to customers. “Customer service is always the number one priority. If you’re not providing service, what do they need you for? They could get anybody.”