Jim Sobeck rolls out motivational aphorisms the way a concrete truck pours out one of the products his company, New South Construction Supply, sells accessories for.
“The gods laugh at those who make plans.”
“There’s riches in niches. When you do everything everybody else does, you get the results everybody else gets.”
“Nobody likes to do business with people who are difficult.”
In January, New South Construction Supply Co. marks 40 years since a pair of Waynes, Gotto and Glenn, took out 22%-interest loans to bootstrap their business selling concrete, masonry and waterproofing materials in West Columbia.
The company had revenues of $10 million a year with around 25 employees before Sobeck and a group of investors purchased it 20 years ago. Today, NSCS generates about $50 million annually with about 100 employees.
“Jim and the entire staff have done remarkably well,” Gotto says. “I am proud he has continued the legacy and call him a close friend.”
Barrett Cooke, who has been NSCS’s chief financial officer for nearly two years, says he values the decades’-long ethic there.
“It’s a real family,” he says of the company that now has nine branches in three states. “Jim, being the elder statesman of the group, assumes the fatherly role, but each branch has their own individual culture. It’s neat to see how that relationship’s built over time.”
That’s not to say it’s all been easy. Sobeck ticks through 9/11, the 2000s Great Recession and now COVID-19.
A year after he purchased New South, sales in a single month plummeted around 30%, he says. During the recession, he laid off 45% of his workforce and took a pay cut for 3 ½ years.
“As I told everybody, ‘What we’re going through is like having a heart attack and going off to fat camp and losing 50 pounds and getting in shape,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘When this thing comes back, we’re going to be bigger and badder than ever before.’”
In 2011, he says, sales jumped 22% and profit was up 165%. As for the pandemic, construction has risen with the increase in new distribution centers and single family homes, he says.
Sobeck started work at age 12 in his father’s commercial roofing, sheet metal and waterproofing business in Pennsylvania.
Nowadays, a quote on the company’s website speaks to his work ethic and NSCS’s longevity: “The answer is ‘yes,’ now what was the question?”
Josh Beech, president of Beech Contractors, a concrete contractor in Charleston, has experienced that through 10 years as a New South Construction Supply customer.
He recalls order errors for two weekend jobs. Employee cellphone numbers, including Sobeck’s, are on every branch’s front door. Both times, NSCS delivered on Saturday morning.
Beech mentioned the anecdote to a competitor, who said he didn’t have any keys to his company warehouse. “‘How do you ever expect to do business with me?’” Beech says he told the salesman. “‘You just told me you can’t help me.’”
Sobeck, 66, says he plans to help his employees after he retires, too: turning the company over to full employee ownership and leaving them what he bought from the two Waynes.
To that, add another maxim: “I’m an old Boy Scout — you leave the campsite better than the way you found it.”