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The sisters of Armour Barns
Family adapts to keep business legacy thriving
Armour Barns
Shannon Keith, left, and Shay Durden are two of the three sisters who own Armour Barns of Statesboro. Youngest sister Jessica Kelly is attending design school in New York.

Sisters Shay Durden, Shannon Keith and Jessica Kelly own two local businesses started by their father, the late Jerry Kelly, and operate one of them, Armour Barns of Statesboro.

Sometimes a man who comes in asking who he should talk to about having a custom, metal-covered pole barn built looks a little confused when Durden tells him he is already talking to her. But he’s quickly “schooled” when she takes him out among the demo barns and starts describing the options for materials, she said.

What more customers might find surprising is that Durden and Keith – who drive forklifts when needed at Armour Barns – are both registered nurses still active, to different extents, in specialized health care careers. 

When they were growing up at Jesup and later, their father had a far-flung career in construction, working on projects as far away as Afghanistan and as large as oil refineries. He also owned farmland on the Effingham-Screven County line that he leased to a farmer.

Jerry Kelly established businesses in and near Statesboro because he planned to retire here. He built and opened Statesboro Car Wash in 2008. His three daughters still own it, but lease it to someone else to run. In 2015 Jerry Kelly purchased the pole barn business at 9103 U.S. Highway 301 South, which is today Armor Barns of Statesboro.

“He purchased it because he had a pole barn built on his farm and he didn’t like the quality of it,” Durden said. “He planned to run this and to be here after he retired from construction, and when he bought it he totally revamped everything that we do to make it a higher quality product and service.”

The business grew, but illness interfered with Jerry Kelly’s plans for an active retirement, and that led to changes in life plans for his entire family.

“When he found out he had cancer, he started holding routine business meetings with us, teaching us how to do what, how to handle things, made us take a lot of notes, gave us some directives,” Durden said, adding after a laugh, “and threatened us.”

Keith was a cosmetologist for 20 years and had owned a hair salon, and has since been involved in hospice management. But Durden noted that neither she nor younger sister Jessica Kelly had any business background.

 “We do now though,” Durden added.

“OJT (on-the-job training),” Shannon said.

Healthcare careers

Twenty years ago, Durden graduated from Georgia Southern University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and went on to the Medical College of South Carolina where she attained a master’s degree as a nurse anesthetist. She worked as a nurse anesthetist full-time for more than a decade.

But after their father died at age 71 in January 2017, Durden went to work full-time with the family business, Armour Barns of Statesboro. She still does anesthesia work once or twice a week, usually at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, sometimes at other medical facilities.

Her sister Shannon Keith, who had attained her associate degree at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick and become an RN, worked as an administrator for four hospice agencies she started up within a single corporate structure. Keith remained a Brunswick resident until their father’s illness, when she moved here but continued traveling each day to manage hospice care.

With their father’s passing, Keith made the decision to stay here, and for about a year also went full-time with the family business. But she returned to full-time hospice work about two months ago as director of operations for a local hospice service, Regency SouthernCare.

Does her decision to return to her career mean that Armour Barns of Statesboro is now on a firmer footing?

“Well, it is,” Keith said. “Daddy was very much an eye-to-eye, handshake, old-school businessman. What Shay and I did is brought our modern-day touch in and got really firm processes and procedures in place in operations so we can deal with it not only here but remotely.”

She helps out with bookkeeping and similar tasks by internet access, and on-location when needed. Their mother, Laura Owens, also comes in as needed to field calls, take messages and get estimates out, and other family members help too.

Over 200 barns so far

Only family members are on Armour Barns’ payroll, but they maintain a vital business relationship with Josh James, a contractor who has been Armour Barns of Statesboro’s lead installer since Jerry Kelly bought the business.

“He has built, he said, well over 200 barns since he started with Daddy,” Keith reported.

In consultation with the customer, Armour Barns of Statesboro supplies the materials and plans, and James and his crew erect the barn.

Here “barn” means any of a variety of structures with timber poles and steel trusses supporting metal roofs. Some are open-sided shelters, some are fully enclosed, with doors and windows. Square-tube steel trusses, sturdier than angle-iron types, are an Armour Barns selling point. Besides demo buildings, the company offers 3-D computer renderings to help customers plan.

Farm, commercial and residential customers buy their barns. Some people even choose to add interior features and turn them into homes.

Jessica Kelly, the youngest partner, is now a student at the Parsons School of Design in New York. She helps guide the brand, chooses the color pallet, designed the logo, and has worked in the Armour Barns office, her sisters said.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458. 

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