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Kernersville company succeeds through calculated risks

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S&N Communications Aerial Construction services. (Courtesy of S&N Communications via the Winston-Salem Journal)

S&N Communications is serving as another local example of a company reaping the benefits of taking a calculated risk to expand through acquisition and/or innovation during a down economy, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

S&N, based in Kernersville, provides construction and maintenance services to telecomm, cable and utility companies, primarily in the mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Southeast regions.

Among its services are: locating and placing underground utility lines; extending mainline utility platforms to individual homes and businesses; excavation and installation of residential and commercial gas lines; engineering; and infrastructure construction.

The company said it has installed more than 40 million feet of fiber optic cable and connected more than 900,000 homes and businesses with telecom, cable and gas service.

S&N announced its most recent purchases Oct. 21, in this case two Maryland companies, Tower 16, Inc. and SCE Inc., for undisclosed prices. They are operating as wholly owned subsidiaries of S&N, retaining their brands. It also bought Stake Center Locating of Salt Lake City, Utah, earlier this year.

The purchases give S&N 52 field offices in 35 states. Not counting the Tower 16 and SCE deals, S&N has 80 employees locally and 995 nationally.

Allen Powell, chief executive and president of S&N, took time last week to discuss the company’s growth and future plans. An edited version follows:

Q: How did S&N’s founders determine their business model for a highly competitive industry, and why the strategy made sense?

Answer: S&N began as a splicing contractor. In the 1990s, the founders understood that in order to compete on a broader scale, they had to offer additional services.

In 1995, Pyramid Construction, which provided aerial and buried construction services, was added to the S&N family. As many major utility companies downsized, S&N continued to employ a philosophy of providing a wider range of services and management services to an expanding list of customers.

Q: Which service category do you believe S&N is best known for, and which resonates the most with your customers?

Answer: What we are best known for is one of those things you have to experience in order to fully understand and appreciate. S&N is responsive and flexible. S&N is best known for telecommunications services because the communications industry has provided the largest growth engine in our industry in quite some time.

The S&N approach to providing safe, high quality, on time service is the basis for our reputation. The S&N service that resonates with our customers is in our branding, “We’ve got this.” We take the time to understand our customer’s needs, and we delivery.

Q: The company claims in the “our story” part of the website that “we’ve helped evolve the telecommunication industry.” Explain the company’s role and what are some of the key accomplishments you pitch to potential customers or potential acquisition targets?

Answer: When the massive nationwide FTTP (fiber (optic) to the premises) project first rolled out in 2004, nothing on that scale had ever been attempted since the interstate highway system construction projects.

Many contractors were eager to get involved with such a project that had legs – initially projected to start winding down in 2011. S&N was not initially involved in the FTTP deployment project.

We did see all of the missteps and omissions contractors made. Construction contractors failed to communicate with local authorities, municipalities and home owners associations. Construction companies were creating deformations in streets and customer driveways with shallow boring techniques. Construction companies were damaging utilities at a high and unsafe rate. S&N successfully executed a plan in each instance.

When S&N was provided an opportunity, we seized the moment.

Q: Which acquisition has been the most pivotal to your success to date, and why?

Answer: It’s too early to tell about Tower 16 and SCE, however the upside is huge.

Stake Center Locating has proven to be a very nice acquisition. Stake Center has a great relationship with many customers who continuously asked it if they offer additional services, like those provided by S&N.

Based on Stake Center’s reputation with customers, and the added business development activities, S&N has been able to offer construction services to many of its customers. S&N also has introduced Stake Center services to several customers previously unknown to that company.

Q: Why have you stayed based in Kernersville after so much success and entering larger markets than the Triad?

Answer: The Triad area offers a high level of well-trained and educated candidates.

Q:. How successful has S&N been in recruiting the type of workers you need, and what can the local community do better to meet those needs?

Answer: S&N continues to have tremendous success in recruiting the type of employees we need. We have supported and will continue to support local community involvement directed towards career path identification and training.

Q: What is the forecast for the company’s growth in five and 10 years, and is there any consideration to becoming a publicly traded company?

Answer: The sky is the limit. Fiber deployment will be a hot topic for years to come.

However, electric, gas, water, etc., infrastructure is aging, and we believe utility providers are facing an overhaul of those utilities for the foreseeable future, decades to come.