by Kim F. Miller • photos by Gordon Walter
When western saddle maker McCall Saddles wanted a model that weighed substantially less than the traditional 40-pound-plus average, they called on Mark Jolley and Logan Zhu. Mark’s title is president and Logan’s is CEO, but at heart, “We’re product guys,” says Mark. Using technologies from some of the many other industries they’re involved in, the duo designed a tree that made McCall’s new McLite line 15 pounds lighter than its traditional contemporaries, yet strong enough to withstand a truck driving over it – repeatedly.
Mark and Logan expect to bring similar innovations to the barn building world as the new owners of one of that field’s best known brands: MDBarnmaster.
“We recognize MDBarnmaster as a great product with great people behind it, but we see opportunity for innovations,” Mark explains. With manufacturing facilities within and beyond the United States and serving several industries, the partners believe there are myriad ways they can enhance MDBarnmaster’s offerings. Expanding its line of stabling options and problem-solving accessories and enhancing quality and longevity are the goals. Innovation always and automation, when appropriate, are the means to attaining those goals while simultaneously keeping costs down. “We have extensive knowledge of competing on a global basis and know what it takes to compete anywhere in the world,” Mark says. “We can bring in materials and technologies that were built for other industries yet have applications in barn building.”
The partners are Made In The USA proponents. Most MDBarnmaster components will be manufactured in the United States, in the company’s longtime Ontario headquarters in Southern California’s San Bernardino County. “We want to help build a solid manufacturing foundation in the U.S., and reach out beyond the U.S. if we need something that is better built there.” Remote control openers for big barn doors, motion sensors that would lower a saddle rack at the right time and coatings that better protect the vulnerable six-to-eight inch base of any barn structure are a few of the possibilities that could result from applying ideas, materials and technologies from other industries.
Dave Harrah, a veteran of the prefabricated barn building world, continues with MDBarnmaster as one of about 90 percent of its workforce retained in the ownership change. The expertise and good reputation of Dave, the MDBarnmaster team, and the dealers who represent it were strong selling points to the new owners.
An important part of the new vision is that MDBarnmaster be the brand of choice for builders with a wide range of budgets. Mark wants all to capitalize on the workmanship and durability of the company’s products and infinite customization options – from his dairy farmer dad in Idaho to high-end horse keeping facilities anywhere in the world.
He sees ample growth potential for the industry. “A lot of people don’t really know what a pre-fabricated barn is,” he observes. “They’ll call a local contractor to start from scratch because they don’t understand how fast and innovative prefabrication can make the barn building process. We can often erect a barn in two to three days and the cost is very competitive with that of a traditional building. People don’t realize how easy and fast they are to install, whether they are doing it themselves or using a contractor.”
A Shining Example
Eddie and Angela Patterson recognized MDBarnmaster’s many attributes when they began planning for their 10-stall private stable in Tulare County’s Springville. Angela is an accomplished barrel racer and Eddie is a successful Non Pro cutting horse competitor with a professional background in construction. That gave the couple valuable perspective when choosing the right barn building company for their project. They had a lot of experience and firm ideas and found that MDBarnmaster and local dealer Lee Dunlap were ideal partners for bringing their vision to reality. Lee brought many practical ideas and solutions and was able to accommodate the Pattersons’ custom requests. That included working with outside contractor Jim Emmerson, whose remarkable creations with natural woods and synthetic stone finishes brought the couple’s beautifully rustic visions to life.
Lee’s experience and MDBarnmaster’s vast inventory of special features resulted in many functional details the Pattersons are grateful for now that the barn is in regular use. Angela breeds her former barrel horse, Exclusive Red Man, so Lee’s suggestion of a sliding wall option that easily turns two 12’ by 12’ stalls into one 12’ by 24’ foaling stall already came in handy with this season’s two foal deliveries so far. Suspended on a track hanging from the roof, the 400-pound wall is easily moved. “The stall works great,” Angela reports. “We were able to put it back in place to accommodate guests’ horses between foalings.”
The couple loved MDBarnmaster’s “lazy Susan” style pivot wall. Incorporated into their extra large tack room, the pivot wall gives easy access to saddle racks in the covered grooming area at one end of the barn. When the riding day is done, a half revolution returns them to safe shelter in the tack room.
Like many of Lee’s clients, the Pattersons opted for MDBarnmaster’s half-Dutch doors. Priced the same as standard Dutch doors, the lower portion of the half Dutch door opens and closes independently of the upper door.
The Pattersons challenged Lee with their insistence on a 20’ barn aisle, versus the standard 12’ and 16’ widths. It’s a request he gets increasingly and the company was able to accommodate it by adding a truss that’s not required at the normal aisle-widths. “It’s two feet over where a normal truss would be, so it’s not a hindrance in any way.”
The extra width adds safety and convenience, giving horses, people and equipment more clearance in what is usually the barn’s busiest area. The aisleway is paved in red rubber bricks to contribute to the rustic look while offering slip resistance and a little cushion. Stalls and an extra large wash rack feature rubber mats from MDBarnmaster that are part of the Pattersons’ master plan for great drainage and an odor-free environment. The stable’s concrete foundation is slightly sloped toward a center drain. The underside of the stall mats has a slightly pebbled surface that allows urine and water to run down to that drain.
Lee Dunlap laughs that his job usually entails helping barn builders save money, but that wasn’t a main mission for the Pattersons. The use of natural cedar logs and other woods native to their Sierra foothills area added considerable cost to the project, but the end result is spectacular and just what they had in mind. “Eddie came to me with several jobs where he said, “let Jim (Emmerson) have a free hand on this,’ and he did an exceptional job,’” Lee relays.
Lee came to MDBarnmaster after 35-plus years of success in the furniture business, including a stint as chairman of the board for the Better Business Bureau in San Mateo County. Applying that big picture vantage point to MDBarnmaster under its new owners, Lee sees a bright future. “We have always prided ourselves on quality,” he notes. “Our guy who runs the factory, Art Ramirez, is very cognizant of what goes out that door.” The quality products are backed by valuable experience and knowledge thanks to the fact that MDBarnmaster is represented by many collective years of working with horse owners.
MDBarnmaster’s Mark Jolley concurs. “The product and the people are solid,” he says. “We’re not looking to take anything away from that. We’re building on it.” An aggressive business model and an open mind are keys to ongoing success. The company is actively recruiting dealers throughout North America and around the world and Mark welcomes ideas. Continued success, he says, will come in the form of both increasing business and increasing contributions to the industry and beyond. “We have a lot to offer – free standing buildings, garages, low income housing, etc. There are tons of things that our buildings can be used for. If someone has an idea, we’re the guys you want to talk to.”