Case Studies

Gerretsen Building Supply Co.

Where the Builders Go
  • Written by: Gerretsen Building Supply Co.
  • Produced by: Gerretsen Building Supply Co.
  • Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Gerretsen Building Supply Co. (Gerretsen Supply) carries the largest inventory of wood products in Douglas County, Ore. The business, which was founded in 1923, operates out of Roseburg, which is widely considered the timber capitol of the world.

Gerretsen Supply started out as a building material and fuel yard. The primary focus now is on wood products with emphasis on lumber packages containing Roseburg Lumber Engineered Wood Products, specialty timbers, local Oregon hardwoods (slabs, lumber and flooring), custom milling, prefabrication of lumber packages before pressure treating, and trim and siding packages. In addition to lines of lumber offered, the storefront also offers doors, windows, builders hardware and building materials for local contractors and homeowners.

Gerretsen Supply provides products mainly to commercial builders in western Oregon. However, Eric Gerretsen, president of Gerretsen Supply, says the company also ships products far and wide; the farthest delivery was subfloor packages to Antarctica. “We can sell a 2 by 4 by 8 just like everyone else, but if you want a 16-foot diameter by 30-foot long western red cedar log hand peeled and finished we prefer to do that,” he remarks.

The family-owned company, which has been Gerretsen-run for 90 years, takes particular pride in custom work. Customers go to Gerretsen Supply specifically for the company’s offering of job-tailored local Oregon hardwood lumber, flooring and slabs. Species included are Oregon white and black oak, California chestnut, alder, madrone, western cherry and maple, chinapin, myrtlewood and claro walnut. Event trees, those trees that haven’t survived the last snow or wind storm, add many other species to the list. The company manages everything from measuring dimensions to custom sawing beams, milling and patterns, and Gerretsen says many enjoy custom Oregon softwood species logs or the high-quality hardwood slabs for large tables or custom mantles.

“We’ve turned out some amazing looking pieces of wood,” says Gerretsen.

The company also contracts with contractors working for large organizations, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to provide wood products. Gerretsen says the timber of choice has been Port Orford Cedar, from which the customer has constructed viewing stations along the West Coast flyways.

Rethinking the Wheel

As a company supplying building materials, Gerretsen Supply’s profitability has experienced a dip in the past decade. However, Gerretsen says downturned economy hasn’t stopped the company from succeeding, it just prompted the company to get creative in its marketing.

“We’re stopping and gone back [to re-evaluate] even the basic stuff,” says Gerretsen, discussing the company’s inventory strategies.

The company reconfigured its inventories and worked harder toward competitive pricing. Gerretsen says his staff, which includes 15 employees, also put emphasis on the various products in the company’s extensive inventory. The company tries to highlight some less-often sought out and creative wood products while promoting the popular items that are consistently in stock.

“People are amazed at what we have here in the lumberyard,” emphasizes Gerretsen.

Gerretsen Supply works one-on-one with customers to meet their needs, and that goes well beyond just the physical selection of stock. Support services offered include cost estimating, floor system engineering, product research, special orders, rooftop loading and delivery service. Gerretsen’s knowledgeable staff is also accessible to answer any question a customer may have regarding products or a project. The staff has the experience and ability to help even a novice complete a do-it-yourself home improvement project.

In an effort to increase volume, Gerretsen says the company reaches out to businesses in the Pacific Northwest through word-of-mouth advertising to promote sales. Some staff delivers orders from the lumberyard in a 500-plus mile radius.

“With 15 guys it feels like you get run over …” when it comes to making longer deliveries or working late just to get an order finished, admits Gerretsen, but he reinforces that it’s that type of dedication that has kept Gerretsen Supply in business for 90 years.

Surviving the Cycle

Gerretsen Supply grew significantly during those first 70 years of business. Gerretsen says it went from a small family business, where he worked and played as a child, to employing 100 people in the late 1990s. Gerretsen’s father warned him about the industry’s cycles, however, and inevitably the economy and fluctuations in construction impacted the business, influencing the decision to pare down the staff gradually throughout the last five years. Today Gerretsen Supply maintains a compact size that allows it to run efficiently and weather any unexpected industry variations. That’s just the price of longevity, however; a few good years can be followed by some down years, and repeat.

As Gerretsen Supply works through the dips in productivity, the company stays afloat through diversity. No project is too small or too unique for the company to handle. Gerretsen simply asks, if you can’t locate a particular wood product, “call us.”

The past four to five years proved a series of challenges, but thanks to management’s proactive strategies and gradual economic improvement Gerretsen Supply is seeing a rebound in sales. “We had our best month [Sept. 2012] in the past four years,” says Gerretsen. “So we start rebuilding again.” Assisting in this recovery is Gerretsen Supply’s affiliation with the LMC network of lumber and building material dealers, which connects independent materials companies with savvy builders, quality remodelers and serious DIYers.

Approaching the century mark, Gerretsen Supply is consistently striving to uphold a longstanding tradition of partnership and building on service, and Gerretsen doesn’t see himself retiring from the endeavor anytime soon. Committed to extensive millwork and construction support, Gerretsen Building Supply Co. remains a preferred lumberyard and supply partner for pro contractors in the Pacific Northwest.

Published on: March 28, 2013


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