Centuries in the Making: Maze Lumber (est. 1848)
You might recognize the pair of brothers who were pretty good customers for the old Requarth Lumber, the forerunner of The Requarth Co. of Dayton, Ohio. Their names were Orville and Wilbur Wright. Yes, the same Wright Brothers in your history books.
Requarth moved past supplying aviation industry pioneers many years ago. And that’s one of the recurring themes for each of the businesses profiled that have survived beyond the century mark. They move on when opportunities present themselves.
HBSDealer‘s profiles of lumberyards that have thrived for more than a 100 years offer a glimpse of the durability of this industry. Featured yards include:
- Maze Lumber (est. 1848)
- Alexander Lumber (est. 1891)
- The Requarth Co. (est. 1860)
- S.W. Collins Co. (est. 1844)
Read the feature on Maze Lumber below and stay tuned for the other three profiles coming next week.
Maze Lumber (est. 1848)
In 1848, Samuel Nesbitt Maze founded a business that would continue operating 170 years later and has entered its sixth generation of leadership — a historic trait that few lumberyards can lay claim to.
Situated on the banks of the Illinois River in Peru, Ill. — less than two hours from Chicago — Maze Lumber represents the foundation on which the company originated. Samuel Maze began the business by ferrying wheat up the Illinois and Michigan Canal into Chicago. From there, Maze would buy Wisconsin lumber and ferry it back down for sale at his Peru yard.
“Prior to railroads, that was a huge deal and how we got started,” said Pete Loveland, general manager of Maze Lumber and the great-great grandson of Samuel Maze.
Eventually the business expanded its offerings and sold coal — which lumberyards featured to expand sales during the building offseason.
“We sold lumber in the summer and coal in the winter. Typically, you didn’t have builders working steadily during the winter months,” Loveland said, noting that while the company sold hundreds of freight cars of coal, Maze sold its last truckload about three years ago.
Given its location to the Illinois River, periodic flooding has proven problematic. But its current address on 1100 Water St. is likely to be its home for quite some time. Loveland said that despite the havoc the river might cause, the company has no intention of moving: “We just accommodate it. It’s really a matter of being a major inconvenience.”
He described the river’s proximity to Maze Lumber not so much as a stone’s throw away, but rather “a basketball shot away.”
Having worked in the family business for 40 years, Loveland has seen some major changes at Maze.
“Back in the day, you only had contractors come down to the yard and there was no showroom,” Loveland said. “Now you not only have contractors come down, but you have families too.”
Today, special orders are also the name of the game for Maze as opposed to massive inventories. Due to the diversity of products — millwork, kitchen and bath, windows and doors and fireplace products — “you can’t stock it all,” Loveland said.
The customer split at Maze is roughly 60-40 between contractors and homeowners/DIYers. Among contractors, remodelers are the dealer’s primary customers. Operating in a dense, older market, building permits for new homes can be scarce.
“When we were right in the depths of the recession, there were almost no building permits for a year,” he said.
Given the business is approaching its 200-year mark, perception can be a challenge.
“It can conjure up an image of some type of lumberyard that is living in the past and hasn’t come up to modernity,” Loveland said. “But it’s not reality. Once people get into our yard, they realize we are cutting edge.”
Maze also continues to provide a strong balance of service, quality and pricing for its customers. “It might be cliché, but the reality is very few are able to provide all three,” he said.
“Over time lots of lumberyards have come and gone in this town. Those guys would come up with crazy pricing strategies and schemes. How did they stay in business with those business plans?” Loveland asked. “They didn’t, that’s the answer.”
No comments found