Family-Owned Sandersville Building Supply Celebrates Success

Jim & Jimmy CroomeJim and Jimmy Croome credit much of their business success to the solid relationship they've built as father and son. They admit they share a "laid-back" personality and tend to approach challenges in similar ways, which makes decision-making easier. But even when they don't initially see eye-to-eye, they reach agreement pretty quickly.

"We don't always agree," Jim said recently, "so we talk until we can both live with the decision."

Making decisions is only one of the ways that this father-son team works well together. Neither one can remember exactly when Jimmy decided to join the business, but he filled an opening in the SBS installed sales department after he graduated from Georgia Southern in 2000 and has been an integral part of the business ever since. Both men are grateful for the opportunities that owning a business has afforded them and are committed to helping the business continue to grow.

Sandersville Building Supply has a long history – it was founded in 1880 to repair steam engines and cotton gins, but soon grew into a millwork company and later a building supply business. With the leadership of three families, SBS has weathered reconstruction, two world wars, the Great Depression and, most recently, the Great Recession.

Initially, the Sam Lang family owned the business and operated it for several generations. The Langs sold it to Clifford Bell who, in 1974, hired Earl Croome, Jim's father, to run the business. In 1989, Earl and Jim bought the business from Mr. Bell, and now Jimmy has become the third generation of Croomes associated with SBS.

Jim came to SBS with experience in building supply. Earlier in his career, he had worked for large companies and was known for his ability to turn around struggling businesses. Earl, too, had worked for other companies, but thought owning their own company would be the perfect opportunity for himself and his son. Unfortunately, they only worked together for a short time. Earl died five years later and left the business to Jim.

Jimmy has reaped the benefits of growing up in a family business. He has worked at SBS since he was a teenager, learning how to run the business by working in the business. During college, he worked at Howard Lumber in Statesboro. After graduation, he was ready to put his business degree to work and started his career at SBS.

SBS draws customers from a 10-county radius every month. It provides customers a full-time interior decorator, a paint specialist, a drywall operation, and typical building supplies, in addition to the installed sales department. SBS is a member of the LMC buying co-op.

Jim and Jimmy say they've watched other family-owned businesses struggle because the families failed to structure the business properly or owners have allowed family relationships to impact the business negatively. Here are their tips for running a successful family-owned business:

  • Control ownership. Jim and Jimmy are 50/50 partners. They have chosen to use insurance policies to ensure that death doesn't create unintended partners for the survivor. If one of them dies, the business passes to the survivor and an insurance policy reimburses the estate of the deceased partner. The proceeds from the insurance policy ensure that spouses, children and other heirs are compensated without giving them ownership in the business.
  • Don't be shy about letting employees go. This may sound harsh, but Jim and Jimmy say that their business requires teamwork. If they hire anyone who doesn't have the right skills, doesn't want to learn, or isn't interested in working hard or doing a good job, it disrupts the team's productivity. Terminating the relationship, Jim says, should be done sooner rather than later. Jim and Jimmy see it as an opportunity to help someone find the job they're really meant to do.
  • Be careful with your mix of employees. A good team is worth its weight in gold. Team members need to feel valued and that their ideas are heard. A company that "stacks the deck" with too many family members can prevent non-family members from participating completely. No two companies are alike, so be aware of the balance on your team.
  • Address problems early. Both of these men are straightforward, but they are both very kind. They don't often raise their voices, but they do confront problems early on. Neither allows an issue to fester; they deal with it sooner rather than later.

Jim and Jimmy Croome have created a successful business and are excited about the future. Jim plans to decrease his involvement when he reaches age 66, but says he'll always be available to Jimmy and the business. In the meantime, they've started thinking about hiring someone to be Jimmy's second in command – maybe a family member, maybe not. Either way, the future is bright for this family-owned business.