Trend toward work-free fencing

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Finished fences: Jorge Gamero, a worker at Region Fence Sales, assembles some of the stockade wooden privacy fencing at the business's site in University Park. | Photo by Michael Roberts

If it’s true — as famed American poet Robert Frost once observed — that “good fences make good neighbors,” then the Vandergriff family is responsible for hundreds of neighborly relationships across the Southland over the last four decades.

In 1970, the late Jim and Carol Vandergriff opened Region Fence Sales in Tinley Park. Forty-two years later, the business, now firmly in the hands of second-generation owners Eric Vandergriff and his sister, Andrea Hendricks, continues thriving.

Region, which spent its opening years in Tinley Park before enjoying a 25-year stint in Harvey, moved to a 10-acre parcel in University Park in 2005 to accommodate its swelling customer base. The company’s current spot hosts a retail showroom, warehouse, welding shop, and offices.

“From this one site, we can manufacture fencing, do repairs, fabricate our own wood and vinyl panels, or build custom fencing,” said Eric Vandergriff, who heads Region’s day-to-day operations while Hendricks handles sales.

Over the last 42 years, Region has covered fencing needs for homeowners, commercial businesses, and towns, handling everything from city back yards and 24-foot backstops for park district baseball fields to expansive horse farms, dog kennels, and electric-powered gates. Region even scored a contract to install fencing in Iowa along the oil pipeline.

“About 40 percent of our business is commercial and the rest is residential,” Vandergriff said. “Though we cover about a 75-mile radius, our core business is the south suburbs.”

Changing with the times

Since the 1970s, the company has witnessed significant growth in the Southland not to mention sweeping changes in the fencing industry.

When Region Fence Sales began operations in the early 1970s, the vast majority of jobs called for chain-link fencing. Soon, chain link gave way to wood, then ornamental iron, and, most recently, Polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

“Homeowners want maintenance-free today; that’s one trend driving today’s market,” Vandergriff said, specifically identifying PVC and aluminum as many residential customers’ preferred option. “People lead busy lives today and they don’t have time to spend a weekend or two pressure washing a fence, staining it, and sealing it.”

Though the cost of a maintenance-free fence will almost certainly rise above even the most elaborate natural wood options, Vandergriff said that homeowners who plan on staying in their residence beyond a decade will see a fair return on their investment in due time.

“When you add up the paint, sealer, and supplies to maintain a wood fence, not to mention the time, it can easily rise to a greater expense over time,” he said.

Colorful choices

Whereas most PVC fences were initially white, Vandergriff has seen more color choices come along to tempt homeowners.

“When we started using vinyl, it was all white. Tan slowly crept in as a color choice,” he said. “It was largely to make the fence look more wood-like without the maintenance needs.”

In recent years, PVC colors have followed the trends in house siding, which has brought more earth tones and darker browns into the marketplace. In addition, the PVC can be manufactured to have a wood-like texture and look.

“Now, we’re seeing people really pushing the marketplace to experiment,” Vandergriff said. “People are trying to get away from the white vinyl because it can look like a great white wall.”

To survive Chicago’s sweltering summer heat as well as its frigid winter frost, Vandergriff urges homeowners to investigate four-season vinyl, finished aluminum, or green-treated lumber for post and rails on wooden fences. Over the years, Vandergriff’s watched far too many homeowners select solely on price and ignore critical questions about product durability and professional installation, key elements given Chicago’s climate.

“A cheap fence gives all fence companies a black eye,” Vandergriff said. “With fencing, do it right the first time with proven, quality materials and a reputable installer. That’s the way to make your dollar go further and to get peace of mind.”