SBC Magazine March 2017 : Page 32

FACES OF THE INDUSTRY Keith Walden President Riverside Roof Truss Danville, Virginia Riverside has been rebuilt as a successful business—twice! “I WAS OUT OF COLLEGE and had worked a couple of jobs, but it was my dream to have my own business,” Keith Walden explains. So in 1986, at age 26, a “Business Opportunity!” listing in the newspaper classifieds caught his eye. After some research, he convinced his father-in-law to help him buy Riverside Roof Truss. The company had suffered through a few down years for the building industry, and the owner “just wanted to get out,” Keith remembers. So he took over the business, leav-ing all the old equipment in place, and went to work. “I was the plant manager, the designer—I used to design trusses, build trusses, deliver trusses; whatever it took,” he says. In today’s environment, he says, “it’s probably harder for some young guy just to come in buy a truss plant with no experience.” For Keith, getting into the business was easy, and his venture went well: in 1986, Riverside was scraping by with a barebones staff. “We had one salesman, and one truck driver, ten truss builders in the plant, and me at the very beginning,” Keith remembers. By the early 1990s, the company was expanding into a larger plant with new equip-ment. In 2007, after being in business for 22 years, Keith was ready to sell. “It was a hard decision to do that. When I sold Riverside, I didn’t know if I’d made the right decision. It was my livelihood—my way of life.” That hesitation primed Keith to look for the next opportu-nity: two years after selling, he contacted the plant man-ager. “I called him up and said, ‘Just checking in with you to see how things are going since the decline in the economy. If you ever want to sell, I might be interested.’ He said, ‘can you be here tomorrow?’ About a month from that day, I was back in business.” Keith says it was like he’d never really left. “It was like I took a vacation.” That vacation, however, had taken a toll on Riverside. The plant Keith sold had around 90 employees, and the plant he bought back had about 15. “For the first couple years, we were probably just breaking even,” he says. “We weren’t making a bunch of money, but we were making a living.” 32 sbcmag.info • MARCH 2017

Faces Of The Industry



Keith Walden
President Riverside Roof Truss

Danville, Virginia

Riverside has been rebuilt as a successful business—twice!

“I WAS OUT OF COLLEGE and had worked a couple of jobs, but it was my dream to have my own business,” Keith Walden explains. So in 1986, at age 26, a “Business Opportunity!” listing in the newspaper classifieds caught his eye. After some research, he convinced his father-in-law to help him buy Riverside Roof Truss.

The company had suffered through a few down years for the building industry, and the owner “just wanted to get out,” Keith remembers. So he took over the business, leaving all the old equipment in place, and went to work.

“I was the plant manager, the designer—I used to design trusses, build trusses, deliver trusses; whatever it took,” he says.



In today’s environment, he says, “it’s probably harder for some young guy just to come in buy a truss plant with no experience.” For Keith, getting into the business was easy, and his venture went well: in 1986, Riverside was scraping by with a barebones staff. “We had one salesman, and one truck driver, ten truss builders in the plant, and me at the very beginning,” Keith remembers. By the early 1990s, the company was expanding into a larger plant with new equipment. In 2007, after being in business for 22 years, Keith was ready to sell. “It was a hard decision to do that. When I sold Riverside, I didn’t know if I’d made the right decision. It was my livelihood—my way of life.”

That hesitation primed Keith to look for the next opportunity: two years after selling, he contacted the plant manager. “I called him up and said, ‘Just checking in with you to see how things are going since the decline in the economy. If you ever want to sell, I might be interested.’ He said, ‘can you be here tomorrow?’ About a month from that day, I was back in business.” Keith says it was like he’d never really left. “It was like I took a vacation.” That vacation, however, had taken a toll on Riverside.

The plant Keith sold had around 90 employees, and the plant he bought back had about 15. “For the first couple years, we were probably just breaking even,” he says. “We weren’t making a bunch of money, but we were making a living.”

Building Riverside a second time meant family help again, this time from Keith’s sons. “I bought it back right when Clif graduated; the timing was perfect,” Keith says. His oldest son was able to finish college and start immediately in the truss business. Two years later, his younger son graduated and joined the Riverside team. And they’re not the only ones.

“We’ve hired students graduating from our local community college here that offers a program in design,” Keith says. His staff still need time to get up to speed, he says, “but after about a year, they’re ready for anything!” Under the direction of the Walden sons (Clif, currently sales manager, and Wilson, currently general manager) Riverside has been rebuilt as a successful business. Today it employs five salespeople and 13 designers, with a total staff of about 100. The plant has been expanded to house new equipment including Virtek lasers, Mitek automatic planx tables, blade saws and cyber saws.

Recent growth has even prompted Riverside to expand its office space. “We have salesmen sitting at the kitchen table doing their paperwork before they leave the office,” Keith notes. “That’s how crazy it is around here—we’ve got them working out of the kitchen!” Riverside is currently in the process of building a 2,000-square-foot addition to accommodate its growing staff.



Keith Walden’s son, Clif, started making truss deliveries as a toddler. Today, he’s the Riverside’s sales manager and his brother Wilson is the company’s operations manager. Their sister Carpenter will join the company soon.

The inconveniences of rapid growth are far better than the alternative, Keith says: in the truss business, “when you’re busy, there’s nothing better. When you’re slow, there’s nothing worse.” He learned early to remind himself the slumps don’t last. He recalls sitting around a nearly empty office, wondering whether buying Riverside (the first time) had been a good idea. His salesman leaned over and asked, “do you see that mud puddle over there?” Keith nodded. “When that mud puddle dries up,” the salesman predicted, “we’ll be busy as hell.”


“I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever met in the truss business.” — KEITH WALDEN


These days, being busy doesn’t put too much pressure on Keith. “I’m not retired,” he says; “I’ve finally reached a point where all the people are in the place they need to be, and I’m just here to help them be successful and continue to build Riverside.” Back when he started the plant, he recalls, “I built trusses every day.” Now, “occasionally I’ll go down and build a truss,” he says, but it’s despite the misgivings of the production crew. “They’re probably wishing I would just leave,” Keith jokes.

More often, Keith is doing what he’s always done: whatever it takes to keep Riverside going. “Sometimes that means running errands or mowing the grass,” he explains. “I could be wearing a three-piece suit, walking around here trying to be Mr. Executive if I wanted,” he says, “but I’m wearing shorts and a golf shirt, and I just got back from running over to the hardware store to buy a chain for the equipment.”

Keith says he got lucky in picking the right industry. “When I bought the company,” he recalls, “I worked for a construction company as an estimator. I never really enjoyed doing that.” The truss business, he says, is different. “You work hard,” he admits, but it’s worth it. “I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever met in the truss business,” Keith says. Not only has it made for a good career, it continues to be satisfying every day. His cheerful prediction? “I’ll probably be with it until the end.”

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Faces+Of+The+Industry/2717845/385881/article.html.

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