Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
When Precision Structures Inc. began, in the 1970s, it was the dawn of confined animal feeding operations. Despite a rocky market at the start, the company has grown since then from a local business run from a basement to a successfully company with several dedicated office buildings and operations in eight states.
Somewhere around the late 1990s, Chris Harmsen entered the picture as an intern. By 2010, Harmsen and his wife bought the company.
“One month into my internship, Claud asked me if I had interest in taking over the company, and I said yeah,” Harmsen said. “Business ownership was what I was wanting to do anyway, and I wanted to be in ag structures specifically … as I got to see the structures aspect, I enjoyed getting out to all the job sites, I enjoyed being part of the construction. And I quickly understood how construction and business interested me more than engineering did.”
The field is not without challenges. Harmsen said the market for hog confinements made it a “boom or bust” business.
“When the markets are jittery or when there’s oversupply and pork production is in the red, not many people want or need new buildings,” he said. “On the flip side, when it goes the other way and people are optimistic and they want growth, then they want a lot of buildings … we sold about 60 buildings this year. That’s about half of what we would in a boom market, but it’s keeping everyone busy and we’re doing our best to take care of customers.”
To survive those busts, Harmsen said the secret was establishing a reliable, high-quality brand.
“In down markets, our market share typically goes up, and I would attribute that to the average customer in a down market being a more experienced, more educated customer with higher expectations,” he said. “We try to be known for quality and service, we follow through doing what we say we’re going to do, and those customers are better at identifying that.”
The reputation is a necessity for success. Unlike other construction markets, Harmsen said the market for hog confinements was used to repeat customers.
“House builders, a lot of times, just get to work for someone once. Most hog building owners don’t just build one building,” he said. “We want our customers to be extremely happy, we want to get that repeat business. A lot of times, it’s not just that generation’s repeat business, a lot of times there’s a son, grandson, that move into the farming operation, and we want to exceed their expectations on everything we do so we can be there for decades, and be their answer for who takes care of their needs for hog facilities.”
That’s especially pertinent in PSI’s industry, where imperfections have a way of getting exposed.
“We’ll work hard to figure out a solution when something’s not working, but once we have a solution, we try to stick with it,” Harmsen said. “Hogs are about as good at finding weaknesses in a design as anyone. They’ll sit there all day and play with things until they figure out how to break it.”