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Two Tales: Survival or Not in the Component Business

Published March 17, 2024 by
Joe Kannapell
Joe Kannapell

One gentleman owned the best plant in a fast-growing town. The other worked for the best supplier in a fast-growing role. Both had what seemed to be unassailable credentials and both adapted well to changing market conditions. But only one would survive. Their tales tell a lot about survival in the component industry.

The owner was the late Ricks Wilson, who operated a new, well equipped, 50,000 sq ft component plant on 30 acres. A Harvard-educated past President of San Antonio Homebuilders, he was well connected with his builder customers, and he operated in one of the fastest growing markets that was somewhat insulated from recession by the stability of employment and spending at its four military bases.

The other gentleman was the late Ted Dasher, who pioneered software development for the dominant truss industry supplier, Carol Sanford. A three-degreed engineer who had worked for Bell Labs (inventor of transistors) and Lockheed, for Sanford he led computerization of truss engineering, which freed up an army of draftsmen, and produced stacks of books of standard engineering.

Yet, both of their careers would have to endure the frequent trials of being involved in the construction business.

Wilson showed remarkable adaptability in adjusting to changing market conditions. When roof truss sales were constrained by cheap stick framing, he was among the first to introduce floor trusses, and later, plated door and window components. When business slowed in San Antonio in the mid-1980s, he purchased an existing plant in Ft. Worth. And when both markets failed, he figured out how to build trusses on remote apartment jobsites.

Dasher also adapted quickly. When housing crashed in 1973, as badly as it would crash again in 2006, he should have been in the safest place in the industry. However, Carol Sanford somehow became disengaged from his business, forcing Dasher to leave him and leave behind his love of salt water fishing to move to Alabama to work for a Sanford customer. When that became an insufficient challenge, he began to build houses. When that didn’t work out, he went to work for an apartment builder who built his own panels onsite.

Both took every stop-gap measure they could to keep going, but both ended up in untenable situations. However, their dire predicaments shed light on an important, but counterintuitive, lesson. Dasher’s main asset, his brain power, was fully intact and portable, while Wilson’s main asset, his business capital, was diminished and fixed. Unfortunately, the Texas recession in the late 1980s turned into a prolonged depression that took Wilson’s business and hundreds of other construction-related entities. Dasher, on the other hand, leveraged what he learned from his diverse experience and became one of the first independent knowledge workers to serve the component industry. He created “The Plan,” the first in-house wall design software and truss design software for a plate company, earning a great living, and never having to move his family again.

Dasher’s example foreshadowed the future opportunities that would arise for remote component designers. However, those who wish to rise beyond a design role should consider the sources of Dasher’s exceptional success. Not only did he gain much from schooling, but he gained the most by working in nearly all parts of the building industry. He exemplified the axiom that true knowledge comes from seeing the same thing from different angles. Or, in other words, there is no substitute for wide-ranging experience.