VOL. 129 | NO. 82 | Monday, April 28, 2014
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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South Memphis Fence Grows Through Founder’s Experience
By Bill Dries
Warren Price started South Memphis Fence Co. Inc. in the mid-1970s “out of need” – personal need.
He and his wife had just moved into their first home in 1974 and wanted to replace the 4-foot chain link fence with a wooden privacy fence. But they didn’t like the $2,700 to $3,000 price estimates they received. So Price and some friends got a good price on some lumber in Jackson, Tenn., rented a table saw from Dixie Rents and put up a wooden fence that came in at $800 to $900.
He took the old chain link fence to his mother’s house in Como, Miss., and put it up there.
“When we finished, the lady next door wanted to know could we put her up one,” Price said. “She wanted a 6-foot fence. I said, ‘Well, I guess so.’”
He and his friends made $300 from that and another $500 when another homeowner on the street saw their work and hired them to put up yet another fence.
Price made $800 in a week, quite a sum compared to the $2.50 an hour he was making doing mechanic work at the old Treasury department store at Holmes Road and Elvis Presley Boulevard.
“The rest is history,” Price said of the company, which has grown from two employees and a truck at 1404 Airways Blvd. in 1976 to 26 employees and eight trucks at 2836 Lamar Ave. 30 years later – and the company is considering expanding. “We just continued on. … Folks kept asking, ‘Who did that?’”
These days, South Memphis Fence doesn’t advertise, and it has cracked the more lucrative commercial fencing market, which now accounts for 90 percent of its business. The company’s wrought iron fences surround the Uptown Square apartment complex. Its other work includes the fencing at Legends Park and three phases of the Cleaborn Pointe apartments.
Price’s company did the fencing for the new Electrolux plant, as well as 12-foot-high fencing along Democrat Road for FedEx and fencing at nearby Memphis International Airport.
Price says for years he and his company tried to break into commercial fencing, and it required persistence in a business that relies on a relationship with a general contractor.
“We sought out commercial vendors. We went on job sites and said, ‘Do you have anybody doing your fence?’ A lot of them said, ‘We already got the job done,’ or ‘We’ve got this repair,’ just getting a feel of what my company was about,” he added. “It was a lot of ground work involved. We didn’t pass up any opportunities. We did a lot of ground work. We went to so many different job sites and we were told no so many times. But I was just determined to get my name out there and let people see what we could do.”
Price was determined, he said, because it was his “dream.”
I wanted to be a businessman. … Everybody wanted to be a fireman. Some people wanted to be a doctor. My dream was to be a businessman,” he said. “I just kept working toward that. … Whatever I did, I did a great job. I took pride in it.”
Price doesn’t take success for granted either. The business has flourished by his own description, but success isn’t a permanent status that is guaranteed.
Despite the initial demand that paid better than working at Treasury, Price said South Memphis Fence’s start was rocky.
“All of us had families. I had a life insurance policy worth about $8,000 and they didn’t have any type of income at the time,” he recalled. “They fell by the wayside. I went into my life insurance policy and withdrew the cash value out of it.”
The decision kept the company above water for a few years owing to the low overhead at the time.
Today, he still puts profits back into the company as he warily eyes signs of an economic recovery he describes as “pretty decent lately.”
“Everybody started to kind of delete their profit on jobs and just staying busy was the name of the game to pay the bills, pay for your inventory, your wholesale dealer,” Price said. “We didn’t understand that for a few years. But it didn’t take us long to catch on. We had to join the crowd. No more 25 or 30 percent on these jobs. You’re looking at 5, 7, 8 and 9 percent. Ten percent, you are doing very well.”
He still emphasizes basics of quality work and keeping his word.
“I had a paper route. I picked up cans alongside the road, and I was good at everything I did. When you are going for that dream. you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said. “Everything that we accomplished – it was through experience. We had to experience and learn things to get where we are now.”
Warren Price started South Memphis Fence Co. in the mid-1970s out of a need. Today, the company has grown from two employees to 26 and eight trucks.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)