LUMBERYARDS

NLBMDA News: Leadership profile

BY Ken Clark

George Lester is no stranger to industry advocacy.

It was back in 1966 that Lester, the CEO of the Martinsville, Virginia-based Lester Group, whose holdings include four Virginia Lumber yards, attended his first event of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association.

“I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest in the room,” Lester told HBSDealer. “I was wondering: “What am I doing here with all of these giants of the industry?’”

At the 2016 ProDealer Industry Summit, Lester will be standing on the shoulders of industry giants past and present, taking on the chairmanship of the NLBMDA, as current chair Scott Yates of Denver Lumber Company passes the torch. Lester will preside with his arm outstretched to fellow lumberyard dealers, and his eyes open to the need for regulatory reform.

“To me, I view my biggest goal this year is to help increase membership and to continue to advance the legislative priorities of the LBM Industry,” Lester said. “My goal is to communicate the idea that joining and participating in the NLBMDA through our state and regional associations adds a tremendous amount of value to independent lumber dealers across the nation. I know first-hand because I’ve certainly gotten more out of the NLBMDA through my membership with the Building Material Suppliers Association than I’ve put into it.”

As for regulatory matters, Lester brings a 25-year track record of testifying in front of legislative committees in Washington, D.C., and Virginia. He also brings a natural passion to stand up for the interests of small businesses in general, and LBM businesses specifically.

The Lester Group enjoys a rich history in Virginia and dates all the way back to 1896, when its founders ran a plug chewing tobacco business. Today, the group’s LBM division operates four diverse building supply dealers – Lester Lumber in Martinsville, Building Supply of Manassas, Jim Carpenter Company in Fredericksburg and Taylor Brothers in Lynchburg. Earlier this year, the company acquired the assets of a Masonite door plant, also in Fredericksburg, saving the jobs of all 14 employees of the plant.

Change is a constant for the Lester Group. Lester said it’s a much different company today than it was 10 years ago. And if you come back in another 10 years, you can expect another major transformation. “Business is alive,” he said. “It’s constantly changing.”

Unfortunately, so are regulations, and Lester has seen the impact of regulatory red tape – particularly as the pro dealer was preparing to open its Manassas location. A seemingly endless series of rules and conditions attached themselves to the greenfield project. Eventually, Building Supply of Manassas satisfied 78 challenges and opened successfully in 2015.

On a national level, Lester is eager to educate and rally the forces in support of the NLBMDA National Policy Agenda – from the disruptive overtime rule to the legal reform that protects lumberyards as “innocent sellers” under the proposed Innocent Sellers Fairness Act.

Describing the NLBMDA as the dealer’s voice in Washington, Lester explained that it’s the dealers who must make the noise.

The 2016 ProDealer Industry Summit is slated for Charleston, South Carolina, Oct. 25-27. That’s one opportunity for action, education and participation. Another is the annual NLBMDA Legislative conference in Washington, D.C., held each spring.

“Over the years I have learned that those elected officials in the halls of power are elected by us – they are our employees, and they want to hear what’s happening in the real world, outside the beltway,” Lester said. “There’s going to be compromise – that’s democracy. But if we don’t talk, then they won’t hear us. And it’s our responsibility to raise our voice.”

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