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ROY BAILEY AND HIS FRIEND, RUSS Dresen, were hanging around one summer night having a few beers. They were, in many ways, no different than most other 20-somethings on a summer evening, knocking back drinks and talking about their plans for the future. There’s only one real difference here worth noting—little did they know that that particular evening would dictate the direction both of their lives took from that point on.
At the time, Dresen was working at a plastics company, producing truck bed liners, and Bailey, as per his usual order of summers, weekends and other miscellaneous bits of time off from school at the University of Wisconsin, was working at a water well drilling company. After a hearty round of sharing the details of their jobs to one another, the two stumbled upon an idea.
“At my job, no matter where we’d drill the well, it was always at the mercy of the homeowner,” says Bailey years later, recounting his halcyon days. “The issue was that the homeowners hated the big steel pipe casings that we’d install in the yard. Well, obviously they had to be there. But we got to thinking: There’s got to be something we can use to cover these up to make them less obtrusive.”
Dresen offered to help Bailey build such a device. With his knowledge of the plastics industry, surely he could design something lightweight and cost-efficient, that could easily be placed over the pipe casings but also durable enough not to get swept away by rain and wind. The two friends brainstormed several possible forms the device might take. Bird baths, toadstools, giant mushrooms, wishing wells—all of these were considered. But in the end, Bailey and Dresen settled on what felt the most natural: rocks.
“Rocks just seemed to fit in best with the environment,” says Bailey, who formed DekoRRa Products (Dekorra being the name of the township the two were based out of; the capital Rs for Roy and Russ) in 1997 —a good two years after their inspiration for plastic-made rock enclosures first hit them. For Bailey, who also tends to the business side of DekoRRa as vice president, this role still causes him to reflect on just how he ended up where he is. After all, he didn’t know a thing about irrigation before he got involved in the well drilling business in college, and even then, that was only to pay his way through school.
“I didn’t even know what backflows were when we started,” says Bailey. “In the irrigation market, that’s a huge part of our industry now. Anyone who buys a house that’s connected to an auxiliary water supply—which is a lot of them—are required to have backflow devices. I’d never heard of them, and neither had Russ.” Bailey pauses for a moment. “These days, we put rock enclosures over those things all the time, so we sure know what they are now,” he says with a slight chuckle.
Unlike most people who end up in the irrigation and landscaping industry, Bailey had no exposure to any aspect of the business growing up in his hometown of Pardeeville, Wisconsin. The youngest of two siblings, Bailey’s days were spent skiing the nearby slopes in winter, and lazing his summers around the pool as a lifeguard, engaging in typical teenage activities. In school, he majored in hospitality tourism with the intent of becoming a ski instructor one day. Skiing was his passion, and he was good at it, too.
Bailey’s steady skiing regime forced him to look elsewhere for a career, however, as his body became more and more worn out from the intense physicality of the sport. “My knees took a beating,” says Bailey. “If it wasn’t for that, I’d probably still be skiing to this day and getting paid to teach others how to ski.” Bailey also met his wife, Jennifer, around that time. She wanted to stay in the Midwest and raise a family—another factor in his decision to stay put and find a less physically taxing career.
By the time he and Dresen started DekoRRa, Bailey had to pull resources he never knew he had to get the business off the ground. The two partners would go to the library on a regular basis, downloading information off the database’s business director list.
For each promising landscaping business, nursery or garden center they came across, they’d mail that company ads, business cards, and call them on the telephone to explain what they were about and what they offered.
In addition, for the first time in his life Bailey had to try his hand as an artisan. Modeling slabs of concrete after actual stones, he designed patterns, shapes and textures for every DekoRRa product. “I was completely self taught,” admits Bailey. “By no means did I learn any of this in my training when I was going through school. It was really difficult at first. I’d bust up three or four patterns on three or four different blocks of concrete just to get one design. After a while, though, I finally started to get the hang of it.”
Using the concrete as blueprints for the finished products, Bailey designed casts showing how the stone enclosures were to look. Dresen followed the blueprints, using his knowledge of plastics to manufacture an abundance of enclosures made of a blend of polyethylene and recycled/recyclable materials. They would then sell the products to landscape contractors and distributors.
Since its inception, DekoRRa has carved a nice niche for itself in the industry, building name recognition every consecutive year. “There are other companies out there that do what we do with different processes, but I think we’ve presented ourselves with the best design and the most proactive relationship with our customers,” says Bailey.
Bailey still stays very active outside the business arena. He bicycles regularly, spends summers at the lake where his in-laws live, works on the house, and, of course, does a bit of skiing here and there, though not to the extent he used to. He has two sons to look after: Max, 6, and Nathan, 3, who are already following in their father’s tracks on the ski slopes.
“Ironically, I never thought I’d end up in the water industry, even though I worked in it throughout school,” says Bailey. “I guess I had my sites set on the frozen water industry. But you know what? I don’t have any regrets.”