Bob Pierce Jr. is the third president and third generation to own and operate Pierce Fence Company in Dover. His own fence experience started at the age of 16, and in the more than 25 years he has worked for the family business, he has installed a multitude of fencing.
Bob Jr. took over the company in 2015 when his father decided to semi-retire and concentrate on residential sales. Bob Sr. and his brother, Bruce, had taken over from their father, William E. Pierce Jr., in 1990. Bruce later sold his share but continued to work as an installer.
Bob Pierce, Jr. is pictured with Pierce Fence Company’s recent awards. Photo by Bernad W. Carr
Bob Jr. is passionate about carrying on the legacy his grandfather started, with the hope of one day seeing his sons become the fourth generation. Already Bobby (Bob III), who started working in the business at 15, is a foreman at 19 and runs his own crew. His younger brother, Blake, started working in the shop at 14 and has moved to the field, working as a laborer.
Bob Jr.’s wife, Karen, said, “The average span of a family-owned business is 24 years. Only 13 percent are passed down successfully to a third generation. Statistics show most don’t last that long. It is a testament to our family that Pierce Fence Company has been around for more than 50 years.”
In order to stand the test of time, Karen added, “one must being willing to evolve, make changes, accept both failure and achievements as well as learn from experiences.”
Pierce Fence Company started with a small house on a commercial lot at 5751 North DuPont Highway in 1969 and has expanded in that same location into a large building that houses three offices, a shop area and a supply yard. Pierce Fence was one of the first authorized dealers in Delaware for the brand Anchor in the 1970s. It has grown to be a provider of vinyl, aluminum, chain link, steel, ranch rail and split rail fencing.
“When my husband and I became the owners, our main focus was to create an effective business model. We would pick an area where we needed or wanted improvement within the business and focus on one at a time. This took years, and each year when we thought we were done making goals, Bob and I would say, ‘We are almost where we want to be.’ But then it just keeps going. I think we have learned that making goals and meeting milestones doesn’t end. To have a successful business your goals keep evolving and you just ride the roller coaster.”
Pierce Fence had about 10 employees when it was handed over to Bob Jr. and Karen. “We currently have 26, and with that, we needed more structure and balance,” Karen said. “Implementing operating procedures allowed for the day-to-day tasks to go smoother. It achieved efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance while reducing miscommunication and failure.”
Karen herself learned to delegate. “As a business owner, you are a ‘wearer of many hats’ and need to learn to not take on so many titles by yourself.”
Director of operations is Wayne Hawkins, Karen’s brother, who has worked for the company for 15 years. Karen’s sister, Michelle Hawkins, is shop manager.
Early on, the couple focused on the firm’s computer use and Internet presence, which was nearly obsolete.
“We had to bring the company up from the 1980s,” Karen said. “We were still walking around with clipboards, processing handwritten forms that would be filed away in a box up the in rafters. Now it’s all on computer. If a customer from several years ago calls, we need to be able to look up that account. That’s been one of the hardest parts, getting things updated and into the computer. We are working on a software system for our industry. This has been in the works for over a year. We are eager to achieve this goal and reach one of the hardest milestones to date.”
As for the Internet, “There were a lot of late nights educating ourselves on how to dominate in our area when it came to scaling high up in search engines. We were fortunate enough that Pierce Fence had a good word-of-mouth background due to being in business for so long.”
Another focus has been better communication with customers. “We knew it was important to not have our customers feel like we just gave them a number and moved on to the next customer,” Karen said. “We want to earn their business. Servicing the customer is the first priority, and exceptional service is above all. We set up a system to make sure we stay in contact with a customer after an estimate is given. We check-in; we ask questions, and we follow up. Again, this took about a year or so to get right because it is not something we had in the past.”
Karen said another goal was to attract quality employees. “We are grateful to have accomplished that. We created employee handbooks, offered paid time off, paid holidays and a 401k with a company match. You have to be willing to give in order to receive. We have a great team.”
Equipment, too, needed to be top quality. “We wanted to be more efficient on job sites. Over the years our crews relied on augers and shovels, but we have since invested in many large machines to not only help our crews but to be able to achieve quality results faster, which allowed us to become more efficient across the board. We are one of the only fence companies in Delaware that have the equipment that is specifically made for our industry.”
Balancing family life while running an age-old business isn’t easy. Karen acknowledged there are perks, such as bringing your children to work. “But there were times where I had to juggle the phone while chasing a toddler who took my pen, all while having another customer walk in to make a purchase. Thankfully, our sons are older now and can help in the business.”
One pleasure the boys enjoy is returning to a job site where their great-grandfather put up a fence in the 1970s that is still standing tall. Both boys are highly interested in keeping the company going.
“Our workday doesn’t seem to end. Family dinner conversation always seems to turn to work, and we’re responding to emails at midnight to catch up. There is no end to the amount of time that goes into running a small business.”
The effort is paying off. Pierce Fence Company was awarded First State Favorite for 2018, 2019 and 2020 by readers of the Smyrna-Clayton Sun Times and Dover Post. Pierce Fence also was awarded the Edward Rush Award from the Better Business Bureau for 2020. This award is given to a family-owned business from Delaware that exemplifies the ideals of business ethics and customer service. It has come to signify excellence and integrity in business.
Karen said Pierce Fence did not have to shut down last year because of COVID-19 because it was considered an essential business. “We do emergency repairs for Delaware Electric Co-op and the State Police. We don’t just install backyard fences,” she said. “We were very fortunate.”
With people hunkered down, they expected sales would drop, but they had “an insane year,” she said. “People couldn’t go anywhere so they spent their vacation money on their home and out-yard space.” This year is already off to a booming start.
Bob Jr. said, “We have built our reputation by selling quality fence products at a fair price and having good customer service. We stand behind our workmanship whether it is a residential or commercial job, small or large. We have the experience to get the job done right.” A five-year workmanship warranty is offered on new residential installs.
Customers can request an appointment by telephone, email or online at piercefence.com. Bob Sr. meets with customers personally to take notes, offer options, make suggestions and take measurements. Estimates are free; pricing is competitive. Supplies are available for do-it-yourselfers.
For fencing installation anywhere in Delaware, call (302) 674-1996 or (302) 703-9141 or email email@example.com.