Hydes & Son: A family saga and a raconteur

The family must qualify among the oldest in the Cayman Islands. When “Aunt Julia” Hydes passed on Nov. 30 last year, she was 106, Cayman’s oldest citizen and just shy of her late-January birthday.

The Hydes family has been around at least that long. Aunt Julia was Juniour Hydes’s grandmother, and already 44 when he was born in 1963. When he founded Hydes & Son in 1987, she was 68 and watched the company grow.

“And next year is our 30th anniversary,” says Juniour, practiced raconteur, second child and eldest of seven brothers – and while not all of them are involved in the company, most have been at some point, and the family remains the dominant force behind the Printer’s Way provider of roofing services, hurricane shutters, aluminum products, gates, gutters, pool and patio enclosures, window screens and doors.

The list is exhausting, but its origins are humble, starting with Aunt Julia’s son Edmund Hydes – and even that, like much surrounding the Hydes family, is a story.

“I was born Edmond Junior Hydes,” Juniour says, noting the spelling difference between his first name and his father’s. The intention had been to name the first-born son after his father, adding the generational suffix “Jr..” The message to the registry was garbled, however, and the “Jr.” was transposed into a middle name on his passport.

The addition of the letter ‘u,” creating the unique “Juniour,” followed that, further muddling the tale to the point that only the most determined interlocutor can understand what happened.

Juniour’s own son is “John,” and he is a singer and rapper, avoiding any greater confusion in the family annals.

Meanwhile, the list of other family participants in the business is dizzying. “We are the largest in Cayman,” Juniour says. “The Flowers family is older, but there are only three of them.” Isaac Edie’s family at Edie’s Decor rivals the Hydes, but falls just shy.

Juniour followed Sharon, born in 1962, and was himself followed by Ray, born in 1965; Denny, born in 1968; Kurt in 1970; Troy in 1972; Minroy in 1973; and Jonathan in 1978.

Juniour’s son does radio; Denny’s daughter Chelsea and her brother, and Sharon’s son David are at the company. Others have drifted in and out, some have never been interested, and others have never done anything else.

Hydes & Son, Juniour says, was born as an idea in the mid-‘70s “when I was probably 12 years old,” but “it was not actually a business until the ‘80s.

“My dad worked at A.L. Thompson’s and did everything, installing appliances, working in all the departments. I started to work there when I was 13,” Juniour says.

Thompson’s sold windows, and each one came with a screen. Inevitably, when a screen ripped, customers would return, asking for repairs.

“My dad, trying to be helpful, thought he could repair them. He got some mesh and screwdrivers, and tucked them in around the frame, which warped, but he finally got it.”

Word of mouth was quick, Juniour says: “You could get repairs at A.L. Thompson’s,” and Alfred Lawrence himself and his wife Corinne were supportive.

“He asked if he could do repairs on the side and they said ‘sure,’ so he purchased the materials from A.L. and did the work at home.”

Juniour and brother Ray joined the enterprise “with a mitre box, screwdrivers, screws and a hacksaw” and worked under a tree in the back yard.

The big break came when the three received an offer from Harbour Heights, the condominium complex adjacent to Public Beach.

Developers needed between 40 screens and 50 screens, “a big job,” says Juniour, “and the $13.75 we earned was a big, fat paycheck. In two weeks, we were able to get $25 bicycles from Uncle Bill’s,” which still sells bicycles today.

Edmund left A.L. Thompson’s, running a warehouse at Hampstead’s around the corner from the airport Foster’s. Juniour graduated from Triple C and went to work at Foster’s in 1981, one year after it opened, working in each department, rising to general manager and, ultimately, a certified supermarket manager.

Ray moved to Republic Airways, and the three continued fixing screens. They hired a full-time assistant and rented a shop in Industrial Park, and, at last, in 1987, they judged the business had grown sufficiently that they formally established Hydes & Son.

“We all quit our jobs, Foster’s, Hampstead and Republic,” Juniour says. “My wife thought I was nuts.”

In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert hit and Hydes & Son was suddenly swamped.

“It was so difficult. We suffered,” although, he says, “after the rush of work, things started to settle down.” In a sense, it was hard to know which was worse.

“We were scraping. We suffered for several years to get up and going. We realized that screens alone were not sufficient, so we diversified into railings, working in aluminum.”

The three of them pitched a job for builders Arch & Godfrey. The company already had screens, but needed railings at the new Seven Mile Beach Commonwealth condominiums, which opened in 1991.

Naturally, Juniour has a story about the contract. The family was still unfamiliar with railings and needed help: “We looked in the phone book and found a guy out of Hialeah, Florida. He sent some samples down and gave us some advice.

“We were winging it,” Juniour freely confesses, humbly – if still serious. Drawing on his years as a supermarket manager, he recognized that “when some guy asks you something, you gotta tell him something.”

He went into the meeting “blind,” he says, with only minimal information and basic ideas about costs. “Fortunately, we were a little cheaper than the other guys, so I was able to persuade them, and we got the job.”

It was the break they had been seeking. “It was huge, and thousands and thousands of dollars, and 28 years later we took out the railings, refurbished them, stripped the paint, did an even better job and put them all back again.”

The project was a success and, to this day, Arch & Godfrey turns to Hydes & Son for railings in all their developments, which extend to at least 23 condos, office buildings, hotels, specialty projects such as the airport and at least three local schools, shopping malls and even private homes.

“That kept us going, and in 2004 Hurricane Ivan came in and rearranged the island. We were asked if we did roofs, so we found a guy in Florida who did standing seams and aluminum roofing and went into it. We had to get educated, though, and we brought a guy down to train and certify us, and we wound up doing it better than with the original systems.”

Juniour cannot say enough about the “living genius,” an employee from Nicaragua, who worked the machines that shaped roofs and panels out of enormous rolls of aluminum.

After watching the competition struggle to lay a “ridge cap” across the peak of a completed roof – and too often observing the wind strip away the entire roof before the cap could clamp the edges of the sheets in place – the “drunken master,” as Juniour calls him, developed an alternate system. A specially designed ridge cap went on first and workmen slotted the edges of the sheets underneath as they worked.

“We never did it that old way, but with this new way, the caps can’t fall off. We perfected the standing seam roof.”

Like Gilbert before it, Ivan brought plenty of work, boosting staff levels as high as 68, including 15 Texans and “some from Nicaragua.”

Afterward, however, “we took a hit as the recession came.

“It was a struggle. No one was spending, and we weren’t immune to the rest of the world.”

In the last 18 months, however, real estate has picked up, the recession has abated, “residential has gone crazy and things are going really well now.”

Plenty of challenges remain: high-end electronics; security systems at places like South Sound Road’s Boulevard, Camana Bay, the Kimpton Seafire and the proliferation of gated communities; screens and shades, both internal and external are controlled remotely; electronics raise and lower doors.

New materials, and new kinds of gates, trellises, staircases, cable and glass railings, “a lot of high-demand stuff,” requires greater skills and higher prices.

“You have to keep up with new architectural styles, and while it used to cost, say $70 per foot for railings, now it’s $250 for cable and glass rails – and the competition is always there.”

“I have a passion for this, “Juniour says. “One of the brothers said he wasn’t interested, that he didn’t care that much. He didn’t have the same passion. You have to balance it with family, but to this day I have never woken up and regretted having to go to work.

“The day that happens is the day I’ll quit.”