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Yuba City shop in the safety business
• LOCATION: 2192 Live Oak Blvd. (at Northgate Drive), Yuba City
• HOURS: 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday
• PHONE: 751-7961
• WEBSITE: www.northvalleybarricade.net
The glass-fronted store is filled with brightly colored jackets and vests hanging on racks in the middle of the sales floor. Along the south wall are racks of safety signs and hand tools, and on the other are pants and more safety gear. In the back are cubby holes filled with gloves and hardhats.
As North Valley Barricade owner Robert Horton says, this is a unique store in an interesting location — at the corner of Northgate Drive and Live Oak Boulevard in Yuba City.
Horton said he moved his business from Shasta Street, right near downtown, to the northern edge of the city because it gave him a little more exposure and he was able to buy the building.
The family-owned and -operated safety-equipment business has been a fixture in the Sacramento Valley for more than 30 years, Horton said, but he's owned it for just 12 of those years. "The original owner worked out of his house in Chico, but when I bought it, I moved it down here."
Horton's journey to business owner took many turns, including as an Army draftee, prison warden and Yuba City general services manager.
It began in the 1960s, when the nation needed men to fight in Vietnam; then, after his time in the war zone, he decided to make the military a career.
"When I retired from the Army, I really wanted to work for myself," he said, "but just prior to (leaving the service), I took some tests to become an agricultural specialist with the Department of Agriculture. I scored high enough that I placed No. 1 on their list in California. So I came back here to wait for a job to come open.
"But when I got here, the prison in Live Oak advertised for a deputy director. For part of my career in the Army, I was in corrections. The Army said I had the equivalence of a federal prison warden," said Horton. "So I applied for the job, and they hired me and six weeks later I was the warden. That was in 1994."
Horton worked at the prison for about three years before he was promoted and transferred to the corporate headquarters in Houston. In Texas, he oversaw a number of private prisons located in the Southeast and East.
Travel became a big part of his career in the prison industry. Horton said his job often called for him to be at the airport on a Sunday evening to fly somewhere, then on Wednesday he'd fly somewhere else, and then on Friday he was back on a plane to Houston. He said he was able to take his wife along, but after a while they got tired of living out of suitcases.
"So when an opportunity for a job here came open, and since my wife and I are both from this area, we came back. I was able to get a job with Yuba City as the general services manager. I did that for a couple of years, but it really wasn't my cup of tea," Horton recounted.
"One day while I was with the city, Pete Webber, the guy who owned this business, walked into my office — he was a real laid-back kind of guy — so I asked him, 'How do I get your job?' He said, 'I'll sell it to you.'
"So in 2000 I bought it. Pete, who was 70 at the time, worked with me for a couple of weeks to help me get going," said Horton.
North Valley Barricade's main business for years was supplying gear to road-building contractors. "We make our money when people build roads, whether it's a city, county, state or private contractor. We sell construction safety supplies — that means everything from a pair of safety glasses to the message boards you'd see along the highway," he said.
"We did real well for about seven years. Then all of a sudden it went down when road building dropped off. Today, it's a tough, tough business. But we have been able to adapt to the environment to where we've been able to survive and continue on," Horton said. "A part of that is because of my family. My daughter used to be a teacher, but she didn't want to do that full-time so she started working with me. Then my oldest granddaughter — she wanted to work a couple of days and go to school. That was good for me when she went to work here."
Pointing to the rows of high-visibility jackets, vests and other safety gear in his 2,800-square-foot store, Horton said, "All the stuff you see in here is kind of a sideline. When I first bought this business, we sold barricades, marking canes and cones. Since then, it's kind of evolved into everything that goes with those. And it's those other items that saved us.
"This is a unique business in that I've had people walk in here and tell me they've never been in a store like this. And they're right — they've probably never been in a store like this because most places wouldn't bother bringing in these smaller items. They'd just stick with big-money stuff. But we've found that selling the jackets, T-shirts and all that covers our expenses."
While the store does some walk-in business, a big part of the profits come from government contracts that his granddaughter bids on.
One thing that has helped North Valley Barricade secure those contracts is that it is a certified Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise.
This is a certification program managed by the California General Services Department, Horton said, that attempts to help disabled veterans find business opportunities within the state. "My company has been certified since 2004," he said.
"This program has helped my business get its foot into the door for many California contracting opportunities. We still have to bid projects and compete with our competitors, but it allows us the opportunity to bid and let big contractors know we are serious about participating in the larger jobs.
"Locally, people who know I am a disabled veteran do take that into consideration when they have a choice where they buy their product. Does it make a difference? I don't know, but it is nice to have customers thank me for my service to our country," Horton added.
What North Valley Barricade sells isn't just dependent on the economy — it also changes when new government regulations go on the books such as erosion control mandates.
"When I first bought this business, we never did any erosion control. But now erosion control is a big, big thing. We sell wattles and other erosion-control devices."
A wattle, he explained, is a tight roll of wheat straw that is used to stop sediment and other debris from entering retention ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.
Another item he sells because of changing government rules is life-hazard safety tape. He said it is used to keep people out of burned areas and away from hazards.
North Valley Barricade has these and many other items for purchase including handheld stop-signs, grinding disks, personal protective gear, pavement marking equipment, stencils and safety cones. And if the store doesn't have it, Horton says he'll do his best to find it because he knows the importance of customer satisfaction.
"I'm not worried about the sale I make today. I'm worried about the sales I'm going to make over the next 10 years. And if I take care of my customers now, I'll make those sales over the next 10 years," Horton said.