Seven decades in the making

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Representatives from Roebuck Buildings and Advanced Equipment Company at a groundbreaking in the 1980s.

Since 1947, Spartanburg County-based Roebuck Buildings has taken on projects throughout the Southeast while keeping it in the family

 

John Anderson, founder of Roebuck Buildings
John Anderson, founder of Roebuck Buildings

When John Anderson returned from serving in the U.S. Army after World War II, he did two things.

The first was to marry his sweetheart, the late Vivian “Bib” Dean Brockman Anderson, in February 1946.

The following year, the late Spartanburg businessman joined with a group of investors to establish a new construction venture, Roebuck Buildings.

“Back then, pre-engineered buildings were just starting to emerge,” said Anderson’s son, Dean Anderson, president and treasurer of Roebuck Buildings. “Within the first year, my dad and his business partner J.D. Edwards had bought out the other partners. By the mid-’80s he bought out Edwards. … Our motto is ‘70 years in building.’ I think that’s a pretty rare feat for any company.”

Challenging years

The journey hasn’t been easy.

A boom in the pre-engineered building market saw the company’s fortunes rise during the 1950s.

Its projects included warehouses and large retail buildings, such as car dealerships, spanning from Virginia to Florida.

But as the market began to tighten during the 1980s, the younger Anderson said Roebuck Buildings was faced with a dilemma.

It had outgrown the prefabricated market, which had become dominated by smaller firms. It was too small to challenge larger firms for projects that were larger and more complex. The company had to decide whether to scale back its operation or transform into a different kind of company altogether.

With his father poised to retire and Anderson set to take the company reins, the decision was made to evolve Roebuck Buildings into a full-service contractor.

The company invested in new technologies and talent, particularly on the design side of the business.

Anderson said Roebuck Building’s commitment to quality and expertise led to more growth and success in the years that followed.

The elder Anderson died in 2002.

By 2007, the company’s portfolio had grown even larger.

And then came the recession in 2008.

“Between 2002 and 2007 we saw growth that was just unsustainable,” Anderson said. “After the recession hit, our workload dropped off more than 50 percent. We had some tough decisions to make. We had to lay some people off. It was difficult because we are like a family. … We took on some projects that we may not have taken on during normal times. We did what we had to do to survive.”

Turning it around

Anderson said the clouds finally began to break in 2012.

He said the business has continued to grow every year, and even more since the presidential election in November.

“I’m not being political, but we have seen a tremendous uptick since then,” he said.

roebuck projects sidebarThe company recently completed a renovation of its 18,000-square-foot headquarters building at 3600 S. Church St. Extension in Roebuck, which has been its home since the 1960s. The facility includes 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art office space.

Roebuck Buildings’ market includes the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Its list of projects includes several notable facilities in the industrial, health care, education, community and faith, fire department, and commercial arenas.

More than 50 percent of the company’s business is from repeat clients, Anderson said.

Anderson said his workforce has grown to 70 employees, including 20 office workers and 50 people out in the field. And the company is looking to hire more.

“We’re very excited about the future,” Anderson said. “We are growing, but it’s important for us to manage that growth so we can continue to provide our customers with quality. We’re always on the lookout for new talent.”

‘Doing things the right way’

With all of the growth in manufacturing and distribution sectors, however, Anderson said the company is facing a labor shortage.

“We have had to subcontract more work,” he said. “There just isn’t that many people who want to do construction work.”

Anderson said he would support guest worker programs similar to those that are available in agriculture and other industries.

He said he sits on the advisory board for the R. D. Anderson Applied Technology Center in Moore and has worked with Spartanburg Community College. The answer, he said, may be in working with local vocational schools to develop a talent pipeline for the construction industry.

“We have employees who have worked here for 30 years,” Anderson said. “We’re very proud of that. … At some point, though, us baby boomers are going to retire.”

Anderson said his son, Ken Anderson, 29, has joined the company in preconstruction services. He said it’s still a little premature, but he hopes to hand ownership of Roebuck Buildings to a third generation.

“The culture here is very family-oriented,” he said. “We don’t have your typical corporate structure. We’re not here to micromanage people.”

Anderson said the company has surpassed 3,000 days without a lost-time accident, an accomplishment he’s very proud of.

“It’s a pretty significant milestone,” he said. “It means that our employees are doing things the right way — safely. I think it speaks to the level of quality that we strive to uphold. At the end of the day, you want everyone to be able to go home to their families.”


TIMELINE

 

1947 — Spartanburg businessman John Anderson joins with a group of investors to establish Roebuck Buildings, a construction company focused on the pre-engineered building industry.

1948 — Anderson and business partner J.D. Edwards buy out their other partners.

1960s — Roebuck Buildings continues to grow; moves headquarters to 3600 S. Church St. Ext. in Roebuck.

1983 — Anderson’s son, Dean Anderson, joins the company.

1988 — Dean Anderson takes charge of the company after his father retires. Faced with the decision to grow or scale back the company’s operations, the younger Anderson decides to reshape Roebuck Buildings into a general contracting and design firm.

2002 — John Anderson dies.

2008 — After two decades of growth, the company downsizes due to the recession.

2012 — Economic recovery brings life back to the construction industry; Roebuck Buildings begins to see its business grow again.

2016 — Company completes renovation of its 18,000-square-foot headquarters, including 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art office space.

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