Case Studies

Pala Construction Corporation

Insider Retail Expertise Builds a Family Legacy

James C. Palaia Sr., founder of Pala Construction Corporation (Pala), had a knack for building because he was always exploring new solutions. “My father was always tinkering with construction equipment or building something,” recalls James “Jimmy” Palaia Jr., now president and CEO of Pala. “He loved everything about construction. He converted our little ranch-style home into a large open-concept living space. He was always adding rooms and playing with the layout.”

Family Foundations

Since its inception the New Jersey-based company has been a family affair. Anthony Palaia, James’ brother, was influential in getting Pala off the ground as a sales representative for Lozier Corporation (Lozier). “Anthony sold new, complete store set ups, providing fixtures, shelves and advertising through Loizer,” shares Jimmy. “My father also started working for Coke A Cola as a truck driver. When Anthony sold a couple of White Modell stores, he asked my father to take a look at the interior fixture portion of the project to see if it was something he would be interested in and that’s how the idea for Pala began, which is half of the last name.”

From the time Jimmy was 8 years old, he was introduced to construction projects. “My father used to take me on his jobs in the summer so I could learn the fixture installation trade,” he recounts. “My father was a man of few words, but he always got his point across. He was an excellent teacher and although his college aspirations of becoming an architect were cut short by the Korean War draft, he was a big believer in higher education; he insisted I attend college.”

Jimmy started out at Farliegh Dickenson and continued on to the University of Maryland, obtaining credits toward a civil engineering degree, but like his father’s, his education was also cut short. “My father needed me at home to help him with Pala, so I returned home at 21 years old to help him establish customer relations and expand the company,” he shares.

Building Big Plans

Shortly after Jimmy returned, the company landed its first major project. “My father was working for Jamesway and we presented them with the idea of hiring Pala to complete all future projects by contract,” recalls Jimmy. “At first, Jamesway didn’t call us back and we stayed busy with home renovations, but they eventually asked us to bid on a new store. This was our first large opportunity and we successfully completed our first new Jamesway store in Delaware.”

Jimmy goes on to explain that Pala had to hire 15 people to get the project finished on time and on budget. “Jamesway was extremely happy with our work, our employees and Pala continued to bid on all of Jamesway’s new stores and remodels,” he continues.

Pala’s success story really began after its involvement with Jamesway. “We were averaging five to 10 complete stores a year and Jamesway was growing extremely fast,” recalls Jimmy. “We remodeled existing stores and had numerous new customers calling on our expertise. We converted Makro stores into K-Marts and remodeled for Fortune 500 stores, including Rickels, Modell’s, Drug Fare, Bob Kislans and Channel stores. The retail business gave us the opportunities we needed and fulfilled our dreams of expansion.”

Interior Excellence

Today, Pala has continued its relationship with Target, Lozier and other well-known Fortune 500 retailers. The company’s notable client list includes: BJ’s, Best Buy, Burlington Coat Factory, Giant Foods, Home Goods, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Pet Smart and Walgreens just to name a few.

“We’re still a diversified interior installations contractor, focused on quality and price and specializing in gondolas, cabinetry, light-duty shelving units, sales counters, mezzanine, conveyor systems and other fixtures in the interior workings of retail stores,” reveals Jimmy. “We typically handle fixture installations for new store construction, remodels and nationwide roll-out programs. We’re also experts in wood working, metal and laminate, as well as interior painting.”

Pala now supports some of the largest retailers in the country, such as Target. “Target is our largest customer,” notes Jimmy. “We do projects all over the East Coast, and from Illinois to Texas. Our main office is in Warren, N.J., but we have an additional office in the state and two in Pennsylvania.”

What started as a humble father-and-son team now has more than 40 employees backing a well-known name. “We’re a union company and we have a steady workforce of about 40 people, but that number increases heavily when we take on big projects,” Jimmy explains. “In fact, it can fluctuate all the way up to 500 people; we’re a member of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and also have an international agreement that allows us to utilize a vast network of union carpenters for jobs that require more labor.”

Pala ramps up its crews when tackling large-scale installations. “From 1999 on, we’ve easily installed 85 or more new stores and 21 full remodels, 300 Mr. P Fresh, 150 RS for Target, but our most current project was for the corporation’s Staten Island store,” notes Jimmy. “This is a much larger store than usual for Target with a mezzanine stockroom along with the PFresh Program that started about five years ago.”

Pala’s heavy installation work, from the mezzanine stock room to the sales floor, earned the company some major recognition. “We received a construction coin award from Target,” adds Jimmy. “It’s a very prestigious award from such a large corporation; it’s hard to come by.”

Over the years, Pala has also delivered projects for Best Buy, Zara and the famous Macy’s Flagship Store in Herald Square, New York City. To Jimmy’s delight, 2014 will mark 45 years in business for the family-owned contractor. Pala Construction Corporation continues to build relationships with retail giants across the U.S. while remembering humble beginnings and the hard work and dedication that made it happen.

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