Home Lumber turns 100

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS Joseph Beckman, CEO of Lumberplus Cos., continues to adapt to builder needs.

CROWN POINT, IND. —When a company passes the 100-year milestone, it’s a sign that it has done many things well, including adapting to a changing world.

The adaptations continue to this day at Lumberplus Cos. of Crown Point, Ind., which operates century-old Home Lumber in Crown Point and Glenlord Home Center of Lincoln Township, Mich. One of the biggest moves can be found in Michigan City, Ind., where the company opened a truss manufacturing plant in late 2005.

The company is aiming for more commercial-end business, and the truss plant is a key element of that strategy.

Lumberplus CEO Joseph Beckman, who bought the family-owned business from his father in 1983, calls the Michigan City facility “very sophisticated.”

“Plans go from the estimate to the order to the saw to the table—everything is automatic,” he said.

“Our direction right now is to become more sophisticated in the businesses we’re doing,” added Beckman, who was recognized as Indiana Businessman of the Year in 2001. “That means more sophisticated in purchasing, in selling, in how we got to market and how we get our trucks to the job.”

While the company sees an opportunity for trusses in its markets right now, wall sections may be the next new product to take off. “We’re not there yet, but we’ll look at that when we know we’re doing all the other things right first,” Beckman said.

The focus on commercial began a couple years before the company opened the Michigan City facility.

Beckman’s son Joe carries the day-to-management responsibilities of the truss plant and the lumberyard. “The truss plant not only manufactures but does a lot of engineering advisement for the builders,” he said. “We’re getting a lot more commercial work than we ever had.”

The northwest Indiana company continues to learn from its experience. Case in point: it recently found on a record truss production day that its automated horizontal stacker couldn’t keep up with the flow. Three workers were more efficient stacking trusses manually. “That’s depressing,” the younger Beckman said. “But it’s a learning experience.”

The pro dealer ranked 293rd on the recently published Home Channel News Top 500 Score-board, with estimated sales of $44.0 million.

To boost sales, the family-owned company is also embracing the trend toward showroom sophistication.

Many of Home Lumber’s builder customers fall in the 15 to 30 homes per year category, and providing the home center to show off upscale products is another service for them. In fact, Home Lumber arranges to contact the builder’s customer directly. “We feel that we’re in a better position to make the upsell on these products than many of our builders are,” said Beckman.

In October 2006, Lumberplus expanded its Glenlord Home Center, building an upscale showroom as part of the 56,500-square-foot facility. In doing so, Beckman was honored as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Cornerstone Alliance of Southwest Michigan, a business group.

The sign outside Home Lumber in Crown Point reads in part: “Builder and professional sales only, please”—solid evidence of the facility’s pro focus. The showroom inside is designed as a tool for the builders.

Home Lumber received an upgrade earlier this year as well, shortly after a local competitor unveiled a showroom upgrade. “It’s an arms race,” quipped the younger Beckman.

The Home Lumber showroom offers 24-hour access to customers. So far, interest in the service is minimal, but the feature reflects the company’s mindset of anticipating the needs of the builder customer. “In technology and other ways, we want to make things available, and then when everybody comes around to needing it, we’re already there,” he said.

Change has figured prominently in the history of the company, which moved from Hammond, Ind., after a fire in 1970. A subsequent business in nearby Dyer, Ind., included a 7,000-square-foot hardware store and an affiliation with Ace. Joe’s children Kate, 27, and Joe, 31, both grew up in the hardware store business. (“Most people in town didn’t realize we were a lumberyard,” Beckman said.) In 1980 there were no outside salesmen. Today there are 16. In the late 90s, the company decided to leave Ace and focus full time on home building and commercial accounts—a well-timed decision near the ground floor of an historic rising market.

In August, the company will celebrate its centennial with a party for more than 600 people.

“Our strategy right now is ‘R4’—that’s right product, right place, right price and right time,” said Beckman. “That’s all a builder wants from us, so we have to do everything we can to give them that.”

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