By Eric Peterson | Feb 06, 2015
Owner and CEO Craig Oberg has grown his company from the ground up with innovative prefabricated structures.
"I guess you could call us an American success story," says Oberg of the company that bears his initials, CO Building Systems. "We started from nothing."
Oberg launched the company in 1986 from a 5,000-square-foot building behind his house. Nearly 30 years later, he's in the process of expanding the company's Ephraim facility to 198,000 square feet.
But the growth has been slow and steady. "We've grown in baby steps," says Oberg. "I'm not a big fan of debt." He also credits his employees, noting, "This is a good area for work ethic."
Manufacturing operations are centralized in the one facility in Ephraim, about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City. "We produce all of our products right here," says Oberg.
Beyond the local workforce, Ephraim has proven a good base for CO Building Systems because of low overhead, especially important in a business with razor-thin margins.
With turnaround times as low as two weeks on the fast track and six to eight weeks standard, CO Building Systems makes metal-framed buildings for a wide variety of markets, including agriculture, commercial, industrial, and residential users. The company's catalog covers everything from small garages to massive barns and hangars, as well as a wide range of structural components.
"The thing about metal buildings, they're extremely versatile," says Oberg. "They're the lowest-cost method to get a roof over your head." He also touts their durability: Metal roofs can last 60 years.
CO Building Systems is an industry innovator. "There's a lot of equipment in our plant we've built ourselves," says Oberg. "We've designed and developed half of the machinery we have."
In 2009, the company developed an innovative sealant, Sealed "N" Safe (www.sealednsafe.com), in-house. Oberg says it doubles the energy efficiency of a metal structure with a 48-month payback.
After 40 percent growth in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014, Oberg is projecting a 50 percent sales bump in 2015. A big factor: A new facility is coming online by fall that will quadruple CO's manufacturing capacity. Oberg hopes to hit $50 million in sales for the year.
The company's "ongoing evolution" involves a long-term approach, he adds. "Be proactive, and understand what's coming next, and be ready for it. If you wait, it's too late."
Challenges: "With all of the permit regulations, we see some of our projects drag on for two years," says Oberg. "That really is our biggest challenge."
Aesthetics can also be challenging, he adds, but says they "can be overcome." He points to foam-insulated panels that replicate the look of stucco, embossed stone, or most anything else.
Opportunities: CO's western-focused sales map is growing. "We're continually expanding," says Oberg. "The Southwest is a major push right now." Utah and Idaho are the company's top two markets, but Oberg is looking to further expand in Montana and Wyoming as well. Many competitors shut down in the recession, opening up new markets for CO. "I don't think you're going to see them start back up again until there's more profit margin," he says. "There's a huge opportunity out there."
Needs: Skilled workers. "I'd hire five [welders] right now it hey were out there," Oberg says. The country's educational paradigm needs to shift away from four-year colleges and universities. "That's becoming a safety valve -- a way out of the workforce," he says. "I think we've overplayed that card."