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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 7, 2015 2 years ago

Steel deal

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P.J. Callaghan has built relationships, and projects, in the steel building industry since World War II. But even older companies need to reinvent.
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

It's not exactly a household name, and that's exactly what executives at Clearwater-based P.J. Callaghan want to fix.

The company has been building in Florida for 67 years, starting with residential homes in 1948 as Burket & Callaghan. The firm now focuses on steel industrial buildings, and has had an authorized dealership partnership with national metal-building pioneer Star Building Systems since 1967.

“We have done all sorts of work in industrial construction, but our real bread and butter has been what we've done in the trucking industry,” P.J. Callaghan Senior Vice President Tobin Robeck says. “We're building truck terminals and maintenance facilities all over the state of Florida.”

But despite the longevity and success, the firm, with 32 employees and more than $15 million a year in revenues, is not widely known outside its niche.

The family-owned business is on its fourth generation, with the management team of brothers-in-law Tom Burket and Robeck poised to take over. Burket is the great-grandson of founder John Burket Sr., and grew up with the family business. Robeck, however, took a different path -- he joined P.J. Callaghan in 2012 as a senior vice president after seven years in the banking industry, right up to his work as a branch hub manager for Regions Bank.

Coming from an industry known for continually reinventing itself, Robeck knew P.J. Callaghan could use some refreshing on both the marketing side, and its targeted customer base.
“Before I got here, there just wasn't any marketing,” Robeck says. “Our business always was based on word of mouth, and doing anything beyond that was something very new to us. Even our logo needed updating, which we did two years ago for the first time since 1977.”

P.J. Callaghan now has a new look, and a new approach. That includes a direct marketing campaign that targets Pinellas County property owners with steel buildings built around 2000 for potential upgrade work, like sheet metal or roof replacement. And P.J. Callaghan, for the first time ever, expanded its in-house drafting team to include an architect.

“We see a lot of design-build with general contractors, but they will go out and outsource the design work,” Robeck says. “This allows us to use our construction expertise to save money, and keep all that work inside our walls.”

P.J. Callaghan also is recognizing the current trend of using steel buildings beyond just industrial uses. A touch of stucco, brick or other exteriors can shield what is otherwise a typical institutional-style look, helping put up commercial and civic buildings in less time, and at lower labor costs.

One example: Robeck and his team is on the verge of completing the Northwest Church of Christ on 38th Avenue North in St. Petersburg. Built primarily from steel, P.J. Callaghan has offered its services for that project almost entirely at cost.

“It introduces us to a community, for a lot of people who probably never heard of us,” Robeck says. “Before we weren't really set up to build these types of non-industrial buildings, but as we get to know the people in these communities, we realized very quickly that these are the people we want to work with. So we're going to show them what we can do.”

Robeck believes P.J. Callaghan will continue to evolve in ways like that.

“Coming in as the fourth generation, we had a lot to learn, but also a lot we could contribute,” Robeck says. “We want to work with the people we like, and the best way to do that is to reach out and build a brand that speaks to the people we prefer to do business with.”

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