Case Studies

Intermountain Wood Products Inc.

Consistent products and growth since 1934

From Seattle to Wichita, Kan., and Boise, Idaho, to Bozeman, Mont., Intermountain Wood Products Inc. (IWP) has been gaining ground with locations sprouting up across the West Coast and Midwest since 1934. The Salt Lake City-based industrial wood products distributor now has 12 locations and that number is anticipated to grow significantly in the next five years.

The 80-year-old distributor offers a complete selection of wood products for the cabinet, casework, millwork and flooring industries, backed by outstanding service. “What sets us apart is the level of service we bring to the products we sell,” explains Ben Banks, president of IWP. “In this industry, it can be hard to differentiate product wise because everyone is making about the same quality of product, so the only way we can really stand out is through the relationships we build with our customers and the service behind the product we sell.”

IWP has been building this reputation for reliable service since the early 1930s when the company was established as Intermountain Lumber Company by John Simonson. “We started as a brokerage business and eventually evolved into a traditional wholesale distributor, selling lumber and like items to retail lumber yards,” recalls Banks. “When more big-box stores entered the market it destroyed our independent model and IWP transitioned into an industrial wood products distributor. Our core customers are now kitchen cabinet manufacturers, commercial casework and furniture manufactures.”

In the 1980s, when IWP opened a distribution center in Montana, the company changed its name to the current designation. “We discovered the name Intermountain Lumber Company was already taken so we changed to IWP,” reveals Banks.

Banks entered the business at a young age, working with his father at IWP in high school. “My father owned the company in the 1970s and when I graduated from Bringham Young University [BYU] in the 1980s I came to work at IWP full time,” he shares.

Rapid geographical expansion

Once IWP had its formula set in Salt Lake City, the company initiated a period of significant expansion that’s continuing now. “We now have 12 locations and each distribution center is its own profit center, stocking materials and servicing customers at the individual location,” explains Banks. “We just do the administrative details in Salt Lake.”

IWP now has 125 employees throughout, but will soon be adding more as the operation grows. “In the last year and a half we added a new flooring-only distribution center in Seattle,” notes Banks. “Also, we’re just opening up an industrial-only distribution center in Wichita, Kan.”

Banks goes on to note that the company has hired a full-time sales representative in the Minneapolis market in hopes of putting a distribution center there, as well. “That’s usually our method for launching a new distribution center,” he continues. “We fire a bullet first with the salesmen and if we can drum up some contacts then we fire the cannon ball with the distribution center.”

While IWP is growing across the Midwest, Banks says the company sticks to small- to medium-sized cities. “We’re not in Los Angeles, Houston or Phoenix, for example,” he explains. “We’re mainly working with smaller custom kitchen cabinet companies and stay away from the very large ones because their payable requirements don’t match our receivables.”

Multiple facets

IWP offers a range of industrial wood products, but the company also has a twofold flooring business in the mix. “The first segment is a dealer business, selling prefinished engineered wood floors to consumers and end users,” adds Banks. “We also sell unfinished solid wood flooring directly to contractors.”

Another small facet of IWP’s business is a manufacturing mill. “The mill’s purpose is to manufacture reclaimed wood into flooring and moulding,” details Banks.

As far as flooring products go, IWP lists unfinished solid and unfinished engineered, as well as luxury vinyl tile, flooring finishes and the tools of the trade such as sand paper and glue. “We sell a lot of material to people who do institutional casework, especially dorm rooms,” notes Banks.

IWP’s products have been featured in a number of projects across the country from the new Montage Hotel in Deer Valley, Utah to BYU and the Big Sky development in Montana. “Our products go to a lot of construction in the Jackson Hole, Wyo., area,” reveals Banks. “In mountain communities and the high-end ski areas our products go into luxury flooring and millwork, but the bulk of our business remains in cities.”

Conscientious business

Big business in the wood products industry comes with a sense of responsibility for IWP. The company is Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC) certified. FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Products carrying the FSC label are independently certified to assure consumers that they come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.

“Being in an industry that produces renewable resources makes us proud. Wood by nature is a renewable resource. Whether it’s newly harvested wood or reclaimed lumber, wood can be planted, grown and harvested in a responsible manner,” reads IWP’s website.

IWP carries wood products, such as reclaimed flooring that have been reused multiple times, making it one of the greenest building solutions. “We invested in equipment to remanufacture lumber that has had a prior use. Old barns and warehouses are just some of the original uses. After we have de-metaled and dried this material, we enhance the look and value by producing stunning flooring,” states IWP’s website.

Growing pains

While IWP’s commitment to quality, renewable wood products has carried the company through tough times, Banks says IWP has its share of challenges trying to stay afloat in a more competitive market. “Health insurance is a big issue because it has changed so significantly in the last decade,” he says. “If things keep going the way they are its going to really hurt small businesses that run on smaller margins like us.”

Keeping a constant workforce is always a challenge. “Tech companies making anywhere from 50 to 200 percent margin wise are attracting the best and brightest,” adds Banks. “A wholesale distributor like us, operating on skinnier margins can’t compete when it comes to compensation and benefits. That’s going to be a challenge moving forward.”

Banks goes on to note that another impact on the company is the lower end labor side being the Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas. “Drivers and oil workers out there can make more money in a month than working for six months in a traditional field,” he details.

Despite recent hurdles, Banks says IWP is fortunate to be in its current position. “We had to make some sacrifices, but we didn’t close down a single distribution center through the recession,” he notes. “In fact, five years to 10 years out, I see us adding a distribution center every year.”

Since 1934, Intermountain Wood Products Inc. has made a name in the industrial wood materials industry, laying a reputation for constant quality and the time-tested service to back it up.

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