Liberty Hardwoods Inc.
From humble roots grow huge successes – or so goes the story of Liberty Hardwoods Inc. (Liberty Hardwoods), a Missouri-based hardwood and lumber distributor. Established in 1997 by five dedicated individuals, Liberty Hardwoods now boasts approximately 90 employees and operates in nine Midwestern states.
“Most of us here had worked for another company in hardwood lumber distribution,” says Larry Sumner, president and general manager of Liberty Hardwoods. “The owner of that company had opted to sell to someone else, another company, but we didn’t want to go to work for them. We wanted to do something different, so seven of us came together and we eventually ended up starting this company.”
Sumner speaks of this creation process as if it were simple, something anyone could do; however, his calm, professional demeanor belies the amount of hard work that went into creating what is now one of the Midwestern leaders of lumber distribution.
“We went for the first month and a half without paying ourselves anything,” Sumner continues. “We were just kind of on a wing and a prayer – mostly prayer. Our first full year of business was in ’98, and it was a profitable one. And we haven’t had an unprofitable year since then.”
Growth as quick and expansive as that experienced by Liberty Hardwoods over the past 16 years comes from two traits running deep throughout the company: 1.) a thorough understanding of the industry, and 2.) the proper team to follow through on delivering quality products and services.
“Our core group has a lot of history and a lot of experience, and even some of the younger guys that have grown up in the company have benefited from that,” says Sumner. “So to me, our employees are our biggest asset. They care.”
That kind of companywide care flows from the top on down, starting with Sumner himself. Sumner treats his employees with respect and kindness, which in turn positively influences the way Liberty Hardwoods interacts with customers, both repeat and new.
Keeping customers happy
For Liberty Hardwoods, maintaining a loyal base of customers begins by offering a wide selection of lumber, plywood, sheet goods and custom trim. In addition, the company tries to be the one-stop shop for custom cabinet shops, providing clients with practically everything and anything possibly needed to put a set of cabinets together. Of note, one of the company’s product catalogs contains a whopping 68 pages of detailed product information.
Even through the recession, Liberty Hardwoods has kept on growing and turning a profit – something Sumner accredits to repeat customers. “We cater to a lot of customers who are working with remodelers,” he details. “With the economic downturn away from buying homes, people were remodeling and doing little projects since they couldn’t afford to build a new house.”
But Liberty Hardwoods goes further than merely providing lumber for projects: the company also provides customers with the necessary gear to complete those projects. Hinges, drawer slides, knobs, brackets, kitchen accessories – you name it and Sumner’s team is bound to sell it. Moreover, Liberty Hardwoods also offers power tools of all types, from portable sanders to saws, nail guns to compressors. Everything a handyman or contractor could ever need can be found within Liberty Hardwoods’ catalogs.
The company recently expanded to also offer stains and finishes. “We have added a color lab to custom-match stains and paints,” explains Sumner. “We also hired a full-time finish expert to run the program and advise our customers and sales staff.”
A focused future
With impressive annual revenue, it’s easy to say that the company’s dedicated founders made a wise decision in starting Liberty Hardwoods. From their passion came a Midwestern lumber distributor unlike any that had existed prior, and Sumner hopes to continue growing the company, while also ensuring his employee-focused methodology remains intact.
“My favorite parts of working with the company are the people I work with, they’re a great bunch of people,” Sumner says proudly. “We could not offer the level of service and quality to our customers without the efforts and dedication of our employees.”
Still even with his focus so aimed inward toward his employees, some of his attention remains on what is coming around the economic corner. “Everyone is realizing that we live in a global economy,” he says. “If a European country experiences an economic downturn, or if the Chinese re-enter the market after their New Year, it can have, and has had, a significant impact on this industry.”
Successfully riding the wave of change is the make-or-break for companies as large as Liberty Hardwoods, and having already proven its success for almost two decades, surviving all the while through numerous economic crises, the company is sure to accommodate the globalization movement in a way that benefits both customers and employees.
What it all means
Numerous economic analysts point to the rising housing market as an example of the country’s improving economy. And the logic is solid. The more money people have (and the more they trust the stability of the economy), the more willing they are to buy a house. After all, a house is a stationary product – it’s not able to go where the money goes, and so people must feel safe enough to be stationary.
Of course, economic trends are only signifiers of the future to come, and the reality right now is that Liberty Hardwoods is, and has been, steadily enjoying success for approximately 16 years. Through the good times and bad, the company continues growing, and the reasons why are clear: Liberty Hardwoods Inc. care about employees, customers and the industry.
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