Owners Ernie and Paulette Yocum marking 50 years of success in business, marriage
By Kalea Hall
Ernie Yocum says he didn’t know much when he came to the Youngstown area from Milton, Ky., when he was a teenager.
“I was a farm boy, so I knew how to dig holes,” he said.
It turns out, digging holes is what would get him a job, and a lifelong career.
He dug hole after hole as a fence installer, and after a couple of years, he formed Austintown Fence Co. in 1967 at age 18.
Today, Ernie will drive around with his wife, Paulette, spotting fences he’s installed – from residential to commercial. Some are temporary, and some are permanent.
For Ernie and Paulette, the business has been a permanent fixture for their entire 50-year marriage. Their roles have been separate and the same with the intention of making sure the customers are happy with the security or decor the fence they select provides.
“There’s a saying out there, ‘If you don’t have a dog or neighbors, you wouldn’t want us,’” Ernie said.
He started out installing residential fences, and the business started growing.
He thought he had a chance at making a better life for his new wife and eventually his family, so he started his own business. He’d worked for a fence supplier, and that gave him the connections he needed to get started.
Paulette, who was 17 at the time, was on board.
“I answered the phones out of the house for years,” she said.
The business was all word of mouth at the start, which helped build its reputation. Then the Yocums placed some advertisements and the business continued to flourish.
He opened a shop and later built a new shop with a larger showroom in 1984 that’s still there at 6533 Mahoning Ave.
Austintown Fence Co. had a list of residential customers that helped add commercial projects to its line of work.
D-U Construction of Boardman has worked with Austintown Fence on and off for 35 years.
“They are reliable and dependable, and they have fair pricing and they are good to work with,” said Dave Untch, co-owner of D-U Construction.
The company has fabricated its own aluminum fences and designed wooden picket fences topped with everything from ducks to hearts. Eventually, the wooden picket fences went out and vinyl fences came in.
“When vinyl first came out, that was so hard for me,” Ernie said.
He knew everything about wood fences, and he wasn’t ready for the vinyl. But after about six weeks, he said he knew everything about the vinyl.
“Vinyl is the biggest seller,” he said.
Today, Austintown Fence still does some aluminum fabricating and wood building.
The thing with fencing is there’s never two jobs that are alike, which keeps it interesting for Ernie, Paulette and their team of about 13.
The internet really changed the business for Austintown Fence Co. Paulette took to getting the business on the internet about 15 years ago.
“It has opened up a lot of opportunities,” Paulette said.
Today, they sell parking-lot products, barricades and other products they didn’t sell before. The internet made Austintown Fence’s suppliers interested in having them sell their products. It put the Austintown Fence name out there, so they could get other jobs in other areas and helped them to diversify their customer base.
“We do work in Cleveland and Pittsburgh,” Ernie said. “We have traveled around with fences.”
“We drop ship a lot of products all over the U.S.,” Paulette added.
Most people wanting a fence for their home still come in and check out the showroom.
“It makes a lot of difference,” Paulette said.
Some of the customers have used Austintown Fence Co. on second and third fencing jobs. Ernie says it’s the honesty and fair pricing that are most important to running a thriving business.
“It’s really been a ride and a lot of fun to meet up with old customers,” Paulette said.
During the 50 years, it’s been a lot of trial and error in learning how to keep the business thriving.
“We install 400 to 500 fences every year,” Paulette said.
When the married business partners go home, they try to turn off the work button, but at times it can be hard. Together, they’ve raised a business and three children, and later this year they plan to take a trip to Hawaii to celebrate both their business and marriage anniversaries.
“We do everything together,” Ernie said.
“It’s been a journey for sure,” Paulette added.