Founder, Shearer Enterprises
Interview by Bea Lueck
A few weeks ago, just as the merger between Shearer Enterprises and ROX Home Services was finalized, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Fred Shearer. Fred grew up in Maricopa and along with his wife, Jess, raised their family here in Casa Grande. His business dates back almost 50 years in Casa Grande. He has seen lots of changes, both in the community as well as in the construction business. I so enjoy speaking with the ‘old-timers’ in the community. They have seen so many changes and experienced both good times and not-so-good times. Their wisdom is endless. We can learn a lot from spending time with them and wanted to share the American Dream story with you.
GC LIVING: I’m here with Fred Shearer, patriarch of Shearer Enterprises. Where were you born, Fred?
Fred Shearer: Bald Knob, Arkansas is where I was born. It’s about 60 miles northeast of Little Rock. It’s a farming community on the hills. The first year we came to Arizona, my parents picked cotton and then went back to the farm in Arkansas.
GC LIVING: So, you went from Arkansas to Chandler.
Fred Shearer: That was just for the season. Then we came out here the second season and when the season was over my mom said, “We’re not going back to Arkansas.” So, they leased the Arkansas farm to the neighbor, and we stayed in Arizona. My dad moved into the construction business as a heavy equipment operator and welder.
GC LIVING: About what year was that?
Fred Shearer: We came here in ‘49 the first time and ‘50 in the second time. We lived in Chandler until I went to 7th grade in Maricopa. My dad worked for a company that had a contract with the railroad that goes through Maricopa. He was a heavy equipment operator on the job that went from Picacho to halfway to Gila Bend. I graduated from high school in Maricopa.
GC LIVING: How many were in your graduating class?
Fred Shearer: Nine boys and nine girls, a class of 18.
GC LIVING: One of the bigger classes back then. Did you go to college?
Fred Shearer: I went to Phoenix Technical School. I had a brother-in-law at that time who was a crop duster pilot and I used to work flagging and loading airplanes in the summertime when I lived in Maricopa.
He talked me into going to school to become an airplane mechanic. I thought it was a good idea because I had a clue what I wanted to do at the time. I was mechanically inclined and had worked with my dad on cars since I was 5 years old.
I finished tech school in a year and a half and got a certified aircraft and mechanics license and went to work at Sky Harbor Airport for Desert Aviation. We took old World War II aircraft and converted it into fire bombers for the forest fires.
GC LIVING: How long did you do that?
Fred Shearer: That was there about three years. And then with the military situation in Vietnam, my boss told me to go across the airport to the Air National Guard and get signed up. I told him I’ve already been over there, and they weren’t taking anyone. He told me he would talk to the commanding general. They called me and they said, “Of course since you’re an aircraft mechanic. We’ll take you for sure.”
GC LIVING: Were you always stateside as a mechanic or were you ever deployed?
Fred Shearer: I was stateside. I had six months of active duty going through basic training and school. After that every summer I had two weeks active duty and one weekend each month. This lasted for six years. My wife and I were married before basic training and then I left for six months.
GC LIVING: Where did you meet Jess, your wife?
Fred Shearer: When I was 21, I had a roommate was one of the young pilots. He was dating one of Jess’s friends. Jess would come along with her at times. I had a girlfriend and she had a boyfriend, so we just became friends and enjoyed each other’s company. Our relationship evolved from there and she turned out to be the best partner I ever had.
GC LIVING: And you’re still living in Phoenix and working as an airplane mechanic when you got married?
Fred Shearer: Right. When I came back from the service, Jess had moved down to Casa Grande and was living with my older sister. She was there, and she had a job as a secretary for a loan company in Casa Grande. So, we decided to stay in Casa Grande. I ended up going to work at the same place my dad worked, a ready-mix plant out here at the edge of town, Pinal Sand and Gravel.
I worked there a couple of years, and I had an application in for a civil service job at the Air Guard. The planes were flying in supplies into Vietnam and I was one of the fulltime aircraft mechanics. At the time Jess was seven months pregnant with our first child, Tammy.
After a little less than two years I figured there was little chance for advancement, the regular pay wasn’t that good, and I was getting bored.
About that time, Ben Zink bought Pinal Sand and Gravel. A friend of mine told Ben about me and he called me and asked me if I’d come back to go to work for him. And we decided, yes, we would and so we moved back to Casa Grande. Jess was about seven months pregnant with our second child, Marci, at the time.
Ben had expanded the business. We had 24 mixer and dump trucks, a gravel pit, and a plant at ASARCO. I ended up being the general manager at 28.
GC LIVING: Was that the ASARCO mine on Cottonwood Lane? Or the one south of town?
Fred Shearer: South of town about 28 miles. I stayed with Ben until 1973. The job was very stressful with lots of hours and was tough on the family. From what I learned from Ben I had the confidence to start my own business.
GC LIVING: By now you have a couple of kids.
Fred Shearer: Oh, yes. And now she’s pregnant with our third child, Clint. We moved every time she was seven months pregnant.
GC LIVING: I bet she just loved you.
Fred Shearer: Oh my God, she did even though it was really tough moving that many times. She worked until we had the kids and then when they went to school.
Another brother-in-law and his dad had started a small business called Protective Insulation. I bought the business from them in late 1973. It turned out all right and we’ve been in business since then.
GC LIVING: The names changed as it evolved, and the product lines grew with the demand.
Fred Shearer: Yes, but you’re still dealing with the same customers. That was the easy part, changing from the insulation business to the window business. We went through some tough times in the early years, first 10 years.
GC LIVING: But you kept the window business?
Fred Shearer: Yes. Right about that same time I met a guy on a job site in Eloy. I was insulating, and he was doing a grid ceiling. He was located in Phoenix and would come down here to do jobs. We started talking. I told him I liked what he was doing, and he told me how to do the work and how to bid a job. He told me he would come to Casa Grande and hang ceilings for me and that’s how that product line began. I learned the trade so I could do the work and then hired someone with experience.
In tougher times, I worked longer and harder hours while looking to see if there was anything I could add to the business. That’s when we added the windows and later fireplaces.
The way we got into the window business was Harlyn Griffiths was building an office on Trekell and we got that job plus the contract for the condos on the corner of Trekell and McMurray. We later did houses in Rancho Grande and that worked out well.
Clint worked for me when he was young. Later he wanted to go into business with me and suggested we could do garage doors since no one local was doing it. As things got rolling, that worked out pretty well, too.
When we went into the last recession in ‘08, there wasn’t enough work for all those different trades. It was slow enough that you couldn’t make enough money on the fireplaces, so we discontinued that line. The guy who worked for me doing the ceiling installations quit so we discontinued that as well. At that point we were doing windows and garage doors.
GC LIVING: It made sense to cut a few product lines that were no longer viable. So now you’re garage doors and openers, windows and doors. When did concrete join the mix?
Fred Shearer: That was just here in the last two years.
GC LIVING: How has the industry changed over the years from when you started to now? Obviously, regulation has become considerably tighter.
Fred Shearer: Yes, that is one of the major things. I also think, to a degree, small companies are a thing of the past. You have to have a lot of other things put together to make it work. And that is what is happening here with Clint and Rock. Right now, we compete with the manufacturer of the product. They are selling and doing installations, the same thing we’re doing.
GC LIVING: You’re a distributor, but they also are your competitors? How does that work?
Fred Shearer: Because the business is so competitive, the customer tends to take the best price and not consider the service. The customer doesn’t know who they will send out to do the job and not realize there probably won’t be much service down the road if they need it.
We’re one of the few in the window businesses that pull out the screens and take them back to the shop, seal them in plastic, and then when the house is finished, we go out to check the windows and put the screens in. That isn’t in the contract but it’s the way we’ve always serviced our customers.
GC LIVING: I think a lot of people, both on the consumer side and on the business side, are starting to recognize there is a value for service and people are willing to pay for the service as long as the service is top-notch.
Fred Shearer: And then there are some that over-expect for what they’re paying.
GC LIVING: Were you involved in the original new home construction in Coyote Ranch, as far as the window packages?
Fred Shearer: Yes, and the fireplaces. And we weren’t in the garage door business when they first started building in Coyote Ranch.
GC LIVING: As an expert in the window industry — it’s hot here. Windows are very important to help keep your house climate controlled. Double pane is a must, but I see triple panes on the market now. Is it worth the added cost?
Fred Shearer: I don’t see too many in this area. We’ve done a couple of houses with Milgard vinyl, triple pane. It’s a considerable difference in price for a triple pane. The glass they manufacture now and the frames are a lot more energy efficient than years ago. That’s why it is worth replacing older windows with new efficient ones.
GC LIVING: Is the glass UV resistant?
Fred Shearer: Yes, it’s actually a coating on the inside of the outside glass pane so it reflects the heat outward.
GC LIVING: What do you see is the future for Shearer?
Fred Shearer: I think in this area, they should do very well, because they’re combining different aspects of the construction and homebuilding together for the customer. If you’re dealing with the same customer, they already know what you can do, so that’s who they’re going to call. I have people call me every day because we would always give them our cellphones. At times it’s inconvenient, and it slows me down, but they feel comfortable calling me.
GC LIVING: Since the merger of Shearer Enterprises and ROX Home Services, they’re expanding product lines, so now it’s not just the windows and doors and the garage doors. They’re bringing in a cabinet manufacturer to have both kitchen and bath cabinets as well as garage cabinets. They’ve also added flooring including luxury vinyl planking and tile, and I think I saw samples from Cali Bamboo arrive the other day. And there may be a couple more items under discussion.
Fred Shearer: Yes. They are working on the warehouse showroom at 2296 N. Pinal Avenue right now.
GC LIVING: I was there the other day and it looks like a construction zone. It’s definitely a niche market for western Pinal County that’s been needed.
Fred Shearer: I think so.
GC LIVING: This can give the consumer more of a one-stop-shop type place. “I know I need to remodel; I want to do this.” This way they won’t have to piecemeal it or try to manage everything themselves. They can go to one location and say, “Yes, I want the kitchen remodeled, but I want the patio to go with the kitchen as a continuation of my living and entertainment space.”
They can do the interior kitchen, then put the outdoor kitchen in as well and make a nice pergola or patio extension and then say, “Oh, I need more storage, so do the garage cabinets while you’re doing it, and you might as well put the new doors on at the same time.” And there you go.
Fred Shearer: Most consumers don’t have the time or the knowledge to put all those things together. It is an advantage to have those tradesmen on your payroll every day for the job to run smoothly.
GC LIVING: You can control the job workflow much tighter and shorten the construction time.
Fred Shearer: Absolutely. It’s kind of strange to me that construction hasn’t slowed down with this coronavirus and all the things it’s affecting.
GC LIVING: I think some businesses have increased sales volume.
Fred Shearer: I thought people would be scared and not buy, not move and not upgrade. But there’s a shortage of houses in the market. Clint and I were just talking about it. A guy we’re working with up in the Valley put his house on market Friday and sold it Saturday for full price. That’s surprising to me.
GC LIVING: It’s a hot market right now for resale, new builds and remodeling and staying where you’re at.
Fred Shearer: I’m glad the way things are progressing in the venture. I think it’s going to be a winner.
GC LIVING: So, have you officially retired at this point in time or yes, no, sort of, maybe not?
Fred Shearer: No, for sure. It’s soon. It’s way past time. I should have sold out when it was on the high point but then when the crash hit, there was no building.
GC LIVING: Nobody was building new homes. Homeowners were not remodeling.
Fred Shearer: No. Not like the old days when I got into the insulation business. It was the right time because that was the energy crisis in ‘73. Remember? Gasoline and electricity. That was the right time to do insulation as it was all retrofit.
GC LIVING: How did Shearer survive the recession?
Fred Shearer: I would say that we ever have had to cut back. It just was closer to the rib at the time. We’d think before we purchased big items.
And also, I want to say when I say “we” it was always Jess and Fred. She worked too and that helped.
GC LIVING: What’s your favorite part of the industry? If you could say, ‘This is what I wanted to do,’ what was it?
Fred Shearer: Well, I like the actual working part and that’s not a good thing for a manager, the owner to be. We did do some investments and I slowly purchased or built several commercial buildings which has been a large part of our retirement plan.
GC LIVING: You own the real estate. That’s the retirement plan. So when you do officially retire, what are you looking to do? Are you going to … go fishing?
Fred Shearer: No, I’m not a fisherman. I used to fish, because my dad was into it so much. Now I play golf and I love it. And I have a classic car that I go to car shows in, and we drive it around.
GC LIVING: What kind of car?
Fred Shearer: ‘62 Corvette. I graduated from high school in ‘62 and we used to cruise Central Ave. in Phoenix. I knew a guy whose dad bought him a brand new ‘62 Corvette. I always said I was going to own one someday.
About 20 years ago, we had the opportunity to buy a share in a condo in Oceanside, CA. with a group of friends. That same year, I found my ‘Vette in New Mexico. Clint and I went and purchased it. I really have enjoyed working on and driving it all these years.
The condo also turned out to be a good investment and we’ve enjoyed it very much with our children and grandchildren. Now we’re in the process of buying a townhouse in Torreon in Show Low.
GC LIVING: On the golf course?
Fred Shearer: It’s just off the golf course. There is a little fishing pond in walking distance which will be fun for our grandson, Will.
GC LIVING: So what is your favorite course you’ve gotten to play so far?
Fred Shearer: Well, I’ve played a lot of nice courses. That’s a tough question, but I think I’d have to say Torrey Pines. Clint and I got to play at Pebble Beach for his 30th and my 60th birthdays. It is a wonderful memory.
GC LIVING: Do you have a bucket list courses you’d like to play?
Fred Shearer: I would like to play The Dunes in Oregon. Possibly because my son Clint played it and said it was one of the most fun courses he has ever played. In fact, Jess and I stopped there to see it on our trip back from driving the Highway 101 from Washington State.
GC LIVING: What else is on your bucket list for retirement?
Fred Shearer: We would like to travel more in the United States. We’ve been to Italy and Spain, and Jess has been to England. It’s 13 hours from New York to Italy and we don’t want to travel overseas anymore. There’s so much we haven’t seen in the United States. We’re going to Laramie, WY to see our granddaughter this summer because we’ve never been in that part of the states. We’re going to make it a sightseeing trip.
GC LIVING: Go by yourselves or bring the grandkids with you?
Fred Shearer: No, we like to travel alone.
GC LIVING: You want to set your own schedule and pace and…
Fred Shearer: Yes, we don’t like to be tied down to a schedule, even on tours. When we went to Italy, we had to get up at 6 a.m. and the whole day was planned. It was a great trip but not relaxing at all.
GC LIVING: Do you take the Corvette to out-of-area car shows?
Fred Shearer: Yes. We’ve been to Hot August Nights a couple of times and to car shows in Pinetop, Prescott and California. We have done a lot of these trips with my best friend, Butch Herman and his wife, Lee. Butch and I went to high school together and now he lives a quarter mile away. He has a ‘60 Corvette and I can’t count all the trips the two of us have been on.
My life has been very rewarding in work, family and friends. Now I will retire soon and hopefully have more adventures!