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Alana Parker of Rocket City Drywall Wears Many Hats

A wearer of many hats, Rocket City Drywall owner Alana Parker shared her triumphs as well as her challenges to a packed house for a recent Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship series “Strong Coffee, Strong Women” breakfast at the Stovehouse.

“I’m the president, but I’d like to say that I’m also the vice president, secretary, and janitor on demand,” she said.

Alana Parker, owner of Rocket City Drywall. (Steve Babin/Huntsville Business Journal)

Parker is also a recipient of three small business awards – the 2018 Female Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2019 Alabama State Small Business of the Year, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year.

Rocket City Drywall is one of two Drywall companies in Alabama and the only locally owned and operated supplier in North Alabama. Currently, there are six drywall suppliers in the marketplace in the U.S.

“A lot of people think my competitors are Home Depot and Lowe’s,” said Parker. “They are my customers. The big competitors are much scarier.”

Not only is Parker the youngest owner of a drywall supplier in the United States, she is the only woman in a male-dominated industry. Parker was born in 1985, around the same time her grandfather started  Rocket City Drywall. Originally, the company was on Church Street, where the city’s transportation hub currently sits.

“I learned how to drive a forklift at age 8, this was before OSHA,” laughed Parker.  “We were right on a rail line. I used to climb the stacks of drywall in the train cars.

“Drywall is separated by smaller pieces, called dunnage. My job was to collect the dunnage and throw it off from the train car. As for gender role division of labor, my grandfather never let me know anything different.”

Parker was raised by a single mom in Raleigh, N.C. , but spent her holidays and summers with her grandfather here in Huntsville.

“As soon as school was letting out, my granddad would be there to pick me up for the summer,” said Parker. “My visits to Huntsville slowed down a bit in high school, when I got a car and a boyfriend.”

Parker graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2007 with a degree in English writing, but went to work for her grandfather.

Then, in 2008, the reality of working at a small business in the building industry hit … hard.

“In 2008, Huntsville was the first market to get hit with by the recession, but it was also one of the first to recover,” she said. “Rocket City Drywall took a $600,000 loss in 2010. People say that I was born with a silver spoon, but I was given a silver spoon with a $600,000 price tag on it.”

This setback forced Parker to reach out into the community.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m smart enough to figure it out with help,” said Parker. “The first thing I did was reduce the company from a $6 million company to a $3 million company. This raised a lot of eyebrows.”

Now, she owns the company.

“I bought the company from my grandfather in 2016,” said Parker. “I got an SBA loan. It’s a lot of paperwork, but it provides access to capital when there are limited options.”

Rocket City Drywall had always been a residential construction supplier, but Parker had decided to expand the business to include a commercial division.  Parker spent five years developing the commercial line when tariff restrictions created a volatile market atmosphere, which made supplies often inaccessible.

“I was ready to roll out the commercial product line, but I had to sit back a year and watch and see how people reacted to the tariffs, to see how suppliers were treating customers,” said Parker. “There was no pricing security, how were suppliers going to react? Taking that year to evaluate the market was the best thing I’ve done for the company.”

As the presentation came to a close, Parker added personal bits of insight.

“I am optimistic to a fault,” said Parker. “I’ve never seen a problem that doesn’t have an answer. Stay motivated with faith and family, believe in what you’re doing. Know that sometimes, it’s going to come out of sheer stubbornness.

“The next step is just around the corner.”

breakfast at the Stovehouse.

“I’m the president, but I’d like to say that I’m also the vice president, secretary, and janitor on demand,” she said.

Parker was a speaker for the The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurshipseries “Strong Coffee, Strong Women.” She is also a recipient of three small business awards – the 2018 Female Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2019 Alabama State Small Business of the Year, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year.

Rocket City Drywall is one of two Drywall companies in Alabama and the only locally owned and operated supplier in North Alabama. Currently, there are six drywall suppliers in the marketplace in the U.S.

“A lot of people think my competitors are Home Depot and Lowe’s,” says Parker “They are my customers. The big competitors are much scarier.”

Not only is Parker the youngest owner of a drywall supplier in the United States, she is the only woman in a male-dominated industry. Parker was born in 1985, around the same time her grandfather started  Rocket City Drywall. Originally, the company was on Church Street, where the city’s transportation hub currently sits.

“I learned how to drive a forklift at age 8, this was before OSHA,” laughed Parker.  “We were right on a rail line. I used to climb the stacks of drywall in the train cars.

“Drywall is separated by smaller pieces, called dunnage. My job was to collect the dunnage and throw it off from the train car. As for gender role division of labor, my grandfather never let me know anything different.”

Parker was raised by a single mom in Raleigh, N.C. , but spent her holidays and summers with her grandfather here in Huntsville.

“As soon as school was letting out, my granddad would be there to pick me up for the summer,” said Parker. “My visits to Huntsville slowed down a bit in high school, when I got a car and a boyfriend.”

Parker graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2007 with a degree in English writing, but went to work for her grandfather.

Then, in 2008, the reality of working at a small business in the building industry hit … hard.

“In 2008, Huntsville was the first market to get hit with by the recession, but it was also one of the first to recover,” she said. “Rocket City Drywall took a $600,000 loss in 2010. People say that I was born with a silver spoon, but I was given a silver spoon with a $600,000 price tag on it.”

This setback forced Parker to reach out into the community.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m smart enough to figure it out with help,” said Parker. “The first thing I did was reduce the company from a $6 million company to a $3 million company. This raised a lot of eyebrows.”

Now, she owns the company.

“I bought the company from my grandfather in 2016,” said Parker. “I got an SBA loan. It’s a lot of paperwork, but it provides access to capital when there are limited options.”

Rocket City Drywall had always been a residential construction supplier, but Parker had decided to expand the business to include a commercial division.  Parker spent five years developing the commercial line when tariff restrictions created a volatile market atmosphere, which made supplies often inaccessible.

“I was ready to roll out the commercial product line, but I had to sit back a year and watch and see how people reacted to the tariffs, to see how suppliers were treating customers,” said Parker. “There was no pricing security, how were suppliers going to react? Taking that year to evaluate the market was the best thing I’ve done for the company.”

As the presentation came to a close, Parker added personal bits of insight.

“I am optimistic to a fault,” said Parker. “I’ve never seen a problem that doesn’t have an answer. Stay motivated with faith and family, believe in what you’re doing. Know that sometimes, it’s going to come out of sheer stubbornness.

“The next step is just around the corner.”