OUR STORY - THE HISTORY OF SNOW JR. & KING, INC.

Snow Jr. & King, INC. was founded in 1945 by John Wesley Snow Jr. and Victor King, who died in 1948.  Starting at age 14, Mike Snow worked summers for his dad earning $0.75 an hour.

            “I enjoyed the construction end and its physical work,” said Snow.  “It suited my abilities.  I do not fit well behind a computer screen.”  In keeping with his hands on bent, Snow earned a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial arts, with an emphasis in business and economics, at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.  After graduating in 1968, he completed his apprenticeship and then served in the U.S. Navy.  In 1970, he joined Snow Jr. and King full-time as an estimator and project manager.

            By 1984, Mike Snow president and John-as chairman-were less active in day-to-day operations.  In the face of the lagging local economy, the company was forced to sacrifice margins in order to maintain its workload.  Average annuals sales had leveled out at about $2.7 million.

            Snow was eager to jump-start growth by capturing opportunities elsewhere.  He decided to expand the company’s geographic reach into Raleigh, home of the booming, high-tech Research Triangle Park.  “The market was hot and there was a shortage of masonry contractors so we opened an office there” remember Snow.

            Within a year, Raleigh branch landed a $5 million masonry contract for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s 20millon square foot factory in nearby Winston-Salem.  “The value of that job was more than we had ever done in one year,” said Snow.  “But the second choice contractor hasn’t done any bigger jobs than us.  That’s the way it is in this business.

            The branch needed to expand its crew of about 20 workers to 200, which was a challenge in the face of Raleigh’s vigorous construction economy.  Meanwhile, the project crew grew to an $8 million job.  Snow JR. and King completed it in 16 months, placing 1.8 million 8-inch block equivalents.  “It was a stressful period, but the crew pulled it off and did a tremendous job,” stated Snow.

            The pivotal project put the company in a new league.  The Raleigh division thrived through the remainder of the 1980s; however the market proved to be volatile and in 1993 Snow pulled out of the city to focus on retaining market share in Norfolk.

            Meanwhile, the parent company was developing an important niche in the historic community of Colonial Williamsburg.  In 1985, Snow Jr and King bid on the re-construction of the Public Hospital, a two-story brick institution built in 1773 for the treatment of the mentally ill.  Fire destroyed the facility in 1885 and another hospital was built on the site.

            Colonial Williamsburg acquired the property in the 1069s and archaeologists excavated the original foundation, which was still filled with ashes and debris.  Plans called for a reproduction of the Public Hospital with a brick concourse joining it to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.  Architects and historians from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation set the requirements for the design and oversaw the implementation. 

            In competing for the project, Snow Jr. and King’s craftsmen constructed more than 40 sample panels of 18th century style masonry, demonstrating techniques such as tooled joints and precision cut arches.  The company worked with brick manufactures on firing processes that would achieve the right texture.  To duplicate the mortar of the colonial period, the company experimented with various ratios of lime and different grades of crushed oyster shell.  Snow JR. and King won the contract and the Public Hospital rose from the ashes over a century after its demise.

            Snow’s superintendent of the Williamsburg project was Earley Thompson, a veteran craftsman who recently retired after 41 years with the company.  “He’s an icon - an expert on colonial work who very few could compete with” commented Snow.  “I knew I could bid competitively and Thompson would always bring the job in on target.”

            Thompson’s length of service with a single company was extraordinary in an industry where workers tend to be mobile.  Long tenure, however, is not the exception at Snow Jr. and King.  Six of the ten other superintendents at the main branch have been with the company between 17 and 33 years, sharing their knowledge with the employees that will produce the next generation of foreman.

            “The strength of the company is in its dedicated foreman.  “We show up ready to do the work, we have the equipment, and above all the foreman knows how to do to his job.  General contractors are willing to pay a little more for these advantages.  We get a number of jobs where we are not low bidders for these reasons.”

            Snow believes in building loyalty by compensating employees well and providing incentives such as generous bonuses.  “I take pride in compensating my employees the most I can, and they hung with me during the time when I couldn’t pay them as much as I would like.  I want them to look forward to coming to work for the team.  If I retire doing well, I want the same for my employees.  The more you pay the better it will be for the industry.”

            Wage rates, pension programs, and other benefits are some of the reasons that Snow – a card-carrying member for 29 years – champions the union.  “The union scale sets the rate for the region, that’s good for contractors.”

            The union’s greatest contribution, however, is the International Masonry Institute’s organized apprenticeship program.  “If you get the right training it opens doors.  The apprenticeship program also serves as a recruiting tool, attracting 10 to 15 apprentices a year from local vocational tech schools.  There will continue to be a tremendous demand for masonry.  The industry needs structured training, and the union is the only source that really seems to be there.

            Bullish about the future of the industry, Snow has taken steps to ensure the future of the company.  He bought the family business in 1986 through a leveraged buyout from his father before his death in 1992 and currently owns 52%.  His two daughters are not involved in the company, so he has arranged for ownership to some of his dedicated, long-time employees. D. Scott Pritchett-President, Peter B. Easton-Senior Vice President, and Pete Fries-Norfolk Senior Project Manager are in the process of buying Snow’s remaining Stock. Quality, attention to detail, professionalism and employing the best in the masonry industry will continue to be the Snow Jr. & King Inc. approach.