At first glance, the lumber industry may seem stagnant, but industry veteran Dave Anderson said it’s anything but. Anderson became president of Mead Lumber, a 113-year-old Nebraska-based company, in 2020.
“If you think about it, the improvement in efficiency gains over the years is unbelievable,” he said. “From a technology standpoint, from an equipment standpoint, even the products, are different today than they used to be.”
And, he said, there is still plenty of room for growth.
Since Morton Mead founded the company in Ashland, Nebraska, it has strategically grown across nine midwestern states and accumulated 53 operating locations.
The company recently purchased Component Manufacturing Company and Reaves Buildings in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Like many of the companies Mead Lumber acquires Component and Reaves will maintain their historic names.
“People that live in Nebraska for a long time, especially in small towns, know Mead Lumber because we have 16 or so lumber yards across the state,” he said. “But, in other states, we’ve acquired companies and when we go to the market we don’t want to lose the culture or [name recognition.]”
In a bid to safeguard name recognition, Mead Lumber has gone a different route: matching branding through color, logo and tagline. For example, the Reaves Building logo will be rebranded to match Mead Lumber’s signature red font.
This is a fairly new strategy for the company, which recently completed a branding strategy overhaul to align all assets.
While general admin work and big-picture strategy decisions are made by a lean team based out of Omaha, a lot of decisions are made by store and regional managers.
“We’re selling the same products across different markets, but the markets themselves are different; the customers are different, so what might work in one market, might not work in another,” Anderson said.
Store managers are also in charge of ensuring that employees understand the company’s core values, a major component being an investment in the employees themselves and their communities.
“We support local events and organizations and we leave that up to each location because every community is different,” Anderson said.
Many of the companies Mead Lumber has acquired were originally family-owned businesses. And, in a similar vein to Mead Lumber, had arrived at a generation that did not want to continue.
In 2014, Mead Lumber’s leadership decided the solution was to convert the company into a 100% employee-owned company, a strategy that has, and continues to, attract companies with similar values. Mainly, companies that put people first.
“There are big, national players that are very aggressive from an acquisition standpoint … and they have the ability to cut the check,” Anderson said. “But we can compete with them because of what we bring as an employee-owned company and that culture.”
Because of Mead Lumber’s reputation, selling companies know that their former employees will be taken care of, and will have a chance to prosper through the employee stock program.
Mead Lumber employees who have worked 1,000 hours — for example, 40 hours per week for 25 weeks — are eligible for an allocation of the company’s stock. That stock grows each year and is valued by an outside company.
“We have hourly, non-management employees that have worked with us for 20-30 years and will retire millionaires,” Anderson said.
The caveat is that it takes time to see those changes; about three years according to Anderson.
That’s a major challenge for employees in the lumberyard or truss plants where retention numbers are lower.
“Our industry is still hands-on, and even though technology has improved things it’s still hard work,” he said.
In addition to stock options, the company has a 401(k) plan — which over 90% of employees participate in — medical, dental, and vision insurance, paid time off, holiday pay, and flex spending accounts.
Not all work is done in the lumberyard or truss plants, though. Mead Lumber also hires engineers, architects, and designers to help cater to customers who wish to design custom homes, either newly built or renovated.
For example, contractors and DIY customers can receive guidance with everything from cost estimates to blueprints and material orders. That requires professionals who know the market, know the product, and have the technical knowledge to execute a customer’s vision.
“We work with a lot of technical colleges because we want to show what it is you can do, especially on the design, engineering, and architecture side,” Anderson said.
It also needs employees with Class A or Class B licenses to transport goods, as well as employees to install products, such as insulation, gutters, soffit and fascia, and garage doors.
The company also operates some retail hardware stores and considers its “comfort zone” to be “from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River, North Dakota to Oklahoma.”
“Because we’re across nine states, and each community is different, it provides us a lot of diversification,” Anderson said. “We stay pretty even keel.”
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