By Jenny Giarratano
Marty Hooks could have chosen a life of leisure after working 30 years in the metal buildings industry. However, when his employer began downsizing and offered him an early retirement buyout, he decided to open his own business to create jobs for veterans and young people in his adopted hometown of St. Mary’s, Georgia.
Hooks, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, used his buyout to fund his vision of a service company that sells, drafts and engineers pre-engineered metal buildings, opening PEMB in May 2020. While planning, he contacted University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (UGA SBDC) consultant Jennifer Lee at the UGA SBDC in Brunswick.
“I knew about the UGA SBDC program early on and reached out to Jennifer to tell her what we envisioned doing,” Hooks said.
Lee worked with Hooks to secure a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) CAPLine loan, designed to help small businesses meet short term and cyclical capital needs. Hooks previously had some loan-related issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Jennifer was instrumental in putting me in contact with people who could assist me and get things resolved,” Hooks said.
He took a $3 million loan in 2020 and turned into more than $12 million in revenue by 2022. Hooks expects close to $18 million in revenue this year.
As PEMB grew, it expanded into different divisions, but there wasn’t a master plan in place for brand hierarchy. Lee recognized the complex company structure and different division names were causing inefficiencies and had the potential to confuse customers.
“Marty is an ideas guy, always thinking about new ways to solve problems or challenge the status quo,” Lee said. “His business was growing so rapidly with so many opportunities coming his way that he felt himself having to create different entities—some directly related, others as branches. He needed to better name and position these entities.”
Hooks invited Lee to facilitate a strategic branding session with key leaders from PEMB to sort through options and create an umbrella positioning strategy. They sent Emily Merck, who led the marketing efforts for the company, to the UGA SBDC’s Marketing Mastery workshops. Lee also consulted with Merck on marketing.
“Establishing an emotional connection with customers was a key priority and company differentiator,” Lee said. “We worked through the importance of separating how the company is organized from internal and external perspectives. Understanding the customer journey, managing touchpoints and making the path to purchase as easy as possible is critical to making the correct brand relationships within the organization.”
They rebranded the company PEMB-USA and Merck rolled out the re-brand, new organization structure and website.
“We’ve seen exponential growth ever since,” Hooks said.
Hooks has seeded other businesses in the area and put them in touch with UGA SBDC for assistance. He purchased the building for Blue Bridge Coffeehouse, which his son owns and runs, and supported the launch of Hooks Crafted Leather Company, Kings Latin Cuisine and a trucking company he turned over to the men who had started it as a PEMB-USA division.
“In just the last three years these businesses, as well as mine, have seen success with the help of UGA,” Hooks said.
Expansion is the next big step for PEMB-USA. The company has purchased 46 acres of the defunct St. Mary’s airport and is now working with the city to convert it into an industrial site. A 200,000-square-foot building will hold advanced assembly lines for building PEMB-USA products. Lee is assisting Hooks in putting together a package for the $25 million investment, which is projected to employ 75 to 100 people.
“Our goal is to create higher-paying jobs to attract younger people who are leaving the community for these jobs,” Hooks said. “We’re also recruiting other companies to come in and use the new industrial park. Jennifer has been involved with us from the beginning on this venture too.”
“Marty’s vision and high tolerance for risk offer advantages to both his business and the community,” Lee said. “He’s not afraid to fail, which, when paired with the right team and resources, decreases the chance of failure. He’s willing to give good ideas a shot—and willing to work with the UGA SBDC to be successful.”