How Walker Lumber Leaves Tough Customers HappyJuly 13, 2023
The Nashville-based lumberyard grew 31% last year
Selling building materials to high-end custom builders is hard work for lumberyards. High expectations — both from the builders and the builders’ customers — means success requires discipline, expertise, and focus.
Walker Lumber has taken up this challenge and prospered and recorded $77 million in revenue with three-quarters coming from custom builders. Just seven years after Ray Hayles and Scott McMillan acquired the one-time flooring specialist, Walker Lumber was named LBM Journal’s 2023 Dealer of the Year for mid-sized construction supply companies.
Walker Lumber’s specialty is “Great Gatsby kind of stuff,” Hayles says, referring to the mansion in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel. “We did a $50 million home that had two bedrooms. They are entertaining houses. They’ll have this huge room that requires all kinds of materials. It’s pretty from an architectural standpoint, but it’s very complicated from a design standpoint. Our salespeople are consultants, working with the architect and the builder to make sure it’s done correctly.”
Hayles and McMillan credit Walker Lumber’s success to their team, their business philosophies, and to their partners — including Boise Cascade®. Walker Lumber uses Boise Cascade software in its design and takeoff work, but then goes a step further, by having Boise Cascade cut and prepare the lumber packages for the jobsite.
It works like this: If BCI® Joists are called for, Walker designs the job and sends the data to Boise Cascade’s distribution center in nearby Gallatin, Tennessee. There, Boise Cascade’s automated SawTek® system trims and cuts HVAC openings into the BCI Joists. The BCI Joists are then assembled into a job pack that’s trucked directly from Boise Cascade’s distribution center to Walker Lumber’s yard.
It’s a professional relationship that requires both Walker Lumber and Boise Cascade to operate at the top of their game. Fortunately, that’s not a problem for either.
“Our design team is second to none. I’d put them up against anyone in the country,” says Russ Vantrease, Walker Lumber’s store manager. “They’re phenomenal at what they do. They know what the customer wants, and they design it that way.”
The local Boise Cascade EWP Area Sales Manager who works closely with Walker Lumber, says Walker’s high degree of organization and use of the Boise Cascade suite of software helps Boise Cascade manage Walker Lumber’s job-pack business efficiently and effectively.
“They’re very organized,” Todd said. “They know exactly what they need, and when the engineered wood package is needed. They get into all the details of framing and can see a problem before it occurs. The BC Framer® software goes hand in hand with Walker’s design team to make sure the job is done right.”
While Walker Lumber’s collaboration with Boise Cascade on cutting job packs may be an uncommon, but growing, part of the industry, it makes a lot of sense considering Walker Lumber occupies just a handful of acres inside Nashville’s city limits. Lacking the space to store large amounts of uncut BCI Joists, teaming up with Boise Cascade to cut and deliver the job packs makes logistical and financial sense.
Todd estimates that close to a third of the dealers in the five-state area he covers have similar size issues with yard space. He believes that allowing Boise Cascade to do the cutting can work for other dealers, too.
It is an approach that allows Walker Lumber’s design team to be nimble, a fact that is important because plans rarely go unchanged. These are big homes to start with — typically 6,000 to 10,000 square feet — with complicated layouts. It’s common for the homeowner to settle on a plan with the architect, watch construction begin, and then talk to the interior designer who suggests that walls be moved to accommodate particular furniture.
To make all this work, Walker Lumber puts a premium on service. For example, rather than wait to fill a truck, the company makes up to 80 deliveries of last-second and fill-in items along with scheduled goods. To make sure it exceeds expectations, Walker Lumber has a larger-than-usual fleet, with backups for every piece of equipment it uses daily. And it’s not the cheapest stuff; some forklifts on the trucks feature four-way steering to maneuver in tight spaces.
“That has endeared us to the framers,” Vantrease says. “They can carry 24 or 30-foot pieces between houses.”
From design to framing and beyond, construction is always a team sport. And the success of Walker Lumber and Boise Cascade’s collaboration wouldn’t be possible without the trust that Walker and Boise Cascade placed in each other and the hard work of both teams. No matter the challenges we face, there are always hidden — and sometimes not-so-hidden — opportunities when we rely on each other’s strengths.