When Jim Geurin, a high school band director in Van Buren, Arkansas, needed engineering help, he knew exactly where to turn. In 1946, Geurin and the district superintendent, Virgil Coleman, wanted to build bleachers for the high school, so they asked George Stocker, the dean of the U of A College of Engineering, to help with the design.
Geurin and Coleman took it from there. They bought some steel, got lumber donated by a local company, and built a set of bleachers for the school. According to the company website, “Jim and Virgil must have done a good job that first time out of the gate, because every time their school played another team that fall, coaches and fans left wanting bleachers of their own…the next few summers, [Geurin] and Virgil went school to school, pouring concrete, welding steel and building bleachers for all the local teams.”
This local success launched Geurin on a second career. He set up an office in Graham, Texas and hired crews of local college students. The new company, Southern Bleacher, had clients in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.
Geurin made his business a success by paying attention to the latest innovations throughout the years: replacing wood seats with lighter, stronger and more durable aluminum planking, providing galvanized structural steel instead of traditional primed and painted steel (which was the industry standard at the time), and embracing the new technology of computer-aided drafting in the 80s, which later led to investment in high tech equipment for precision manufacturing. Most recently, the company has started building modular press boxes, which can be assembled at their facilities, then shipped to the client, saving time and money.
Geurin’s daughter, Jo Ann, joined the company in 1973, and her two sons, Garrett and Wyatt Pettus, now run the business. While engineering deans at the U of A have been too busy in recent decades to provide bleacher designs, the university is still an important partner for the company. Garrett received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the U of A in 1996, while two of the company’s regional managers, Linc Darrow (BSCE 1995) and David Norman (BSCE 1994), are College of Engineering graduates.
Darrow explained that his U of A education gave him a definite advantage in his professional career. “You learn to compete very well going through the U of A engineering school,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of emphasis on the basics—all the things you use in a real-life scenarios. The knowledge I received as an engineering student helps me compete daily in this business.”
Norman agreed that his engineering education prepared him for his career. “I’ve never felt mismatched for a job or project,” he said. “I have always been confident about being able to take on various roles in design, construction, and even sales. It was a very well rounded-degree.”
Southern Bleacher has come a long way from that first project at Van Buren high school. Today, the company has 150 employees, and it sub-contracts with approximately 30 installation crews. Southern Bleacher’s clients include everything from small-town schools, fairgrounds and rodeo grounds to huge arenas, raceways and stadiums. The website quotes an employee who has been with the company since 1967: “It’s good people, it’s a good company, it’s a good product.”