The Dakota’s Sands Drywall Inc. has been doing its best to make its mark on the Plains’ market. The company provides drywall, steel framing, exterior plastering, ceiling installation and manufactured stone to North and South Dakota. Founded and officially headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., the company now operates from three locations, manages a staff of 80 and has approximately 220 subcontractors to its payroll.
Sands Drywall is run by Greg Sands, whose own history in subcontracting spans back to the 1970s.
“I started in the drywall industry in 1975 as a drywall finisher in Rapid City and moved around the country where the work was,” Sands says. “I ended up in Los Angeles in the early-’80s, where I became a superintendent for a large drywall firm running a 14 story steel stud high rise.
“After the real estate crash in California, I came back to South Dakota in 1991,” Sands continues. “I was finishing on many jobs for many good customers and started Sands Drywall in 1994. I hired one guy to help and then 20, 50, 100, and today we are around 200 strong in several states and growing.”
No doubt. The growth doesn’t stop around manpower. The company also has a fleet of booms, scissors and heavy-duty forklifts. Its footprint may soon extend to Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa, totaling six in the union. Fly-over states? Please. Sands Drywall sees a market that holds a vacancy and the company isn’t afraid to take a share of it. Lewis and Clark pioneered the area to their destination out west; Sands Drywall is happy to explore the same distant grounds.
Genesis and Finding Feet
“It was scary starting off,” says Sands. He didn’t go to college and states that everything he learned about building a company was trial and error, and the fortune of working with good customers. “It [the business] evolved as I retained employees and clients.”
Building a successful company doesn’t grow with idle hands: by Sands’ estimate, from dawn to dusk are the hours required for oneself—and that of your peers—to take a company seriously. And that’s exactly the mandate Sands seemed to subscribe to.
Elbow grease, long hours, perhaps a bit of schmoozing and talent led from one project to the next, all the while a business and expansion plan that grew piece by piece. Yes, the process began slow and basic: Sands began as a drywall contractor doing taping only or occasionally serving as a contractor for other subs. Within four years, Sands Drywall graduated to hanging and taping. By 2002, the subcontractor was hanging, taping and framing. Two years later, EIFS and manufactured stone were added to the mix.
“A decade of 80-hour weeks,” laughs Sands. “I also have a great partner Pam, my wife, who was helping me every step of the way. She now serves as the treasurer.”
Even in the some “fly-over” states, where Sands Drywall is operational, business is very good—and as always there are challenges. “Last year was an extremely good year. This year our sales will meet or exceed that.” Sands says that because the builders and owners the company has on its client roster are all doing very well, with lots of projects scheduled in the books, the business will and has trickled down to Sands Drywall.
“We are growing with them,” says Sands, adding that there is the possibility of opening another branch. That decision would be consumer-driven from requests from its customers to go to certain markets. No doubt, it’s a risk but Sands Drywall knows that growth doesn't come without costs, yet the rewards could further the company’s foothold and position in these various markets.
Relationships Key to Growth
“We have relationships with some big national contractors that tell us we should move here or there,” says Sands. “Any move would be prompted by the right team and the right time in place to go. If we have an operation manager that we want to send [away from the home base] we want him to be trained to our philosophies so when that person goes to that market, he knows how we treat our customers and workers. When we open a new market, I don’t want to dilute the philosophy that we’ve built here.”
Oftentimes, where you’ll find ambition, you’ll find either the drive for this growth strategy or one will stumble on challenges and find things are not as they seem. Sands seems to thrive on this challenge. A contractor first, salesman an equal second, the adage “the grass is always greener” couldn’t be truer to a pioneer spirit.
“Dealing with the great employees and customers I get to work with every day is the most interesting aspect to this job,” Sands says. “The greatest part of my job, when I get to see the relationship aspect with employee, customer and owner come full circle and create a winning synergy for all those involved. So that’s when I know the hard work pays off and when it’s win-win for everyone. That constitutes the value of that. All good business is about relationships.
“One of those myths is that people don’t understand the value of relationships and not burning a bridge,” he continues. “I’ve seen that over and over again. A guy will burn a bridge over a $5,000 change order. Customers don’t have to write that down to remember that’s how it went down. I work very hard not to burn those bridges.”