Pre-engineered building firm built on relationships

11/01/2012 12:00 AM

10/31/2012 11:58 PM

The pre-engineered building business has changed drastically over the years, as the structures evolved from basic metal boxes used mostly to store machinery to retail outlets, houses of worship and more.

But one constant remains, according to Bill Johnson, president of Evans Building Co.

“It’s still goes back to the relationship between us and the owner,” Johnson said. “It’s still a service-oriented business.”

That focus has helped Evans Building stay in business 50 years and retain its status as one of the area’s largest pre-engineered building contractors.

Evans was started in 1962 by Johnson’s uncle, John Evans, and two other men, Harold Heinrichs and Archie Lynch, who’d worked together for a general contractor in Goodland.

One of the company’s first buildings was for Bill Lear, founder of the Lear Jet Corporation.

Originally the trio worked as subcontractors, erecting structures for other builders, but they soon became general contractors themselves as well as a franchise dealer for pre-engineered building manufacturers. Since the 1980s their building components have been supplied by a St. Joseph, Mo. plant and shipped in pieces as long as 40 feet.

Pre-engineered buildings are popular because they cost less and offer owners flexibility and durability, Johnson said. Supported by columns instead of weight-bearing walls, they can offer a “large, clean span” inside.

“We do almost everything but residences, but we did do a ‘holidome’ on a residence,” Johnson said.

The interior of the company’s own headquarters serves as something of a showroom, mixing a variety of floors, ceilings and other features that provide options for customers.

“This is the high-dollar area,” Johnson said, pointing to granite tile in the lobby.

The company now employs 28, including Johnson’s son, J.D., who’s a project manager.

Evans has erected hundreds of buildings over the years, mostly within an hour’s drive of Wichita.

Some of the better-known examples of its work include the YMCA Farha Sport Center, the Envision building on Waterman, the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and the Islamic Society of Wichita building.

Johnson said he enjoys it when their buildings “become something of a landmark, instead of just being a building.”

Evans has also built a large number of commercial and industrial buildings, many of them for repeat customers. For example, Evans has built 15 to 20 buildings for Rand Graphics, Johnson said. A big part of Evans’ business today is giving older pre-engineered buildings a retrofitting or “face-lift.”

Johnson followed his uncle to Wichita from Goodland, joining the company full time in 1973 and becoming its president in 1996.

“I didn’t want to sit behind a desk,” he said. While he has to do some of that as company president, he said it’s getting to know Evans’ customers and their needs that makes his work interesting.

“I get to meet some interesting, unusual people,” he said. “I get to go behind the scenes.”

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