8/26/2005 - Calera is seeing its industrial sector boom

by Kaija Wilkinson

When Calera Mayor George Roy describes the growth in his city, he points not only to an influx of houses, stores and restaurants but to Calera's growing industrial community.

Custom Marketing Services Inc. is one of Calera's industrial residents, and owner Dennis O'Brien says moving down south about five years ago is the best move his company has made since starting in Homewood in 1991. In fact, Custom has a 575,000-square-foot facility on the drawing boards that it will expand into once it's completed in late spring 2006.

Representing phase IV of Shelby Commerce Park, the facility is being built by Graham & Co. Inc. and will be an "almost mirror image" of Custom's current 500,000-square-foot building in the park, says Ogden Deaton, vice president of Graham & Co.

The general contractor is Jim Cooper Construction Co. and Designform Inc. handled the architectural design.

Custom Marketing also occupies about 120,000 square feet of a building it shares with two other tenants in Calera Industrial Park, about a mile away from the Shelby Park on U.S. Highway 31.

Once the phase IV building is finished, Custom will be able to consolidate its Pinson Valley and Ensley operations in nearly 2 million square feet in Calera, says O'Brien.

Designed by Designform and completed April 2003, the current facility, which is landscaped with a pond, is a showpiece of industrial architecture, say Roy and O'Brien.

"It's not like a warehouse you'd expect to find in rural Alabama," says Roy. In fact, a picture of the building was recently spotted by a Custom client in a national real estate magazine.

"It's been a good market for us," says Deaton of Calera. "When we went down there in 2000 there was very little."

Since then, the area boasts tenants like Sysco Food Services of Central Alabama Inc., Rain Bird Distribution Corp. and Fontaine International Inc.

Construction is under way now on Phase III of the Shelby park, a 247,000-square-foot spec building that will be completed in mid-October.

Within Graham's South/Perimeter market, Class A space in Calera is comparable to that of other submarkets, fetching rents in the $13 range for service center space.

Custom Marketing, which O'Brien describes as a "third-party logistics specialist," stores and distributes products for a wide array of customers, from book and magazine publishers to makers of walkers and canes.

The company is currently in negotiations with a furniture importer to handle all their national distribution.

In 2004, Custom Marketing launched a spin-off company to handle staffing called Premier Staffing Solutions Inc.

"That was our HR director (Lauren Goodson's) background," O'Brien says. "We do take advantage of temporary help during our peak seasons."

Including temporaries, the payroll hovers at around 200 employees.

As a private company, Custom Marketing does not release annual revenue, but O'Brien says physical expansion should give some indication of its growth.

The company began in a two-room office on West Valley Avenue in Homewood, and ended up having to quickly rent an additional 5,000 square feet in the Oxmoor area, then 15,000 square feet, then 55,000 square feet.

In 1993, the company built a 64,000-square-foot facility in Bessemer.

About 1995, Custom Marketing bought a 67,000-square-foot facility from a supermarket promotion company in Homewood and began handling all their distribution.

After outgrowing both their Homewood and Bessemer facilities, Custom Marketing approached Graham & Co. about helping them land additional space in Bessemer.

When broker Sonny Culp called O'Brien to tell him about the Calera property, "I thought he was crazy to be honest with you," O'Brien says.

But after visiting the facility and crunching some numbers, O'Brien realized it made sense.

"The infrastructure here, with I-65 and (U.S.) 31 coming right through the area where we built the facilities, is great for trucks to get in and out," O'Brien says. "And the work force in this area has been phenomenal."

kwilkinson@bizjournals.com - (205) 443-5637

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