Case Studies

McGinnis Lumber Co. Inc.

Quality Lumber with Integrity
  • Written by: McGinnis Lumber Co. Inc.
  • Produced by: McGinnis Lumber Co. Inc.
  • Estimated reading time: 5 mins

J. Earl McGinnis founded McGinnis Lumber Co. Inc. (MLC) in 1922 in hopes of providing regional builders with quality lumber at competitive prices. J. Earl owned and operated MLC until his death in 1969, but MLC remained in the family. James E. McGinnis Jr., J. Earl’s son, headed MLC successfully for decades before passing control to son James E. (Jim) McGinnis III, the third-generation owner and current president of MLC.

“We’re an old-fashioned business,” explains Jim. Jim strives to run MLC on the same founding qualities his grandfather laid out many years ago, offering quality wholesale lumber at competitive prices to clients across the country.

The strategy has proven successful, as MLC is one of the oldest lumber wholesalers in the country serving thousands of customers over the past 90 years. “We sell customers in 40 states and three foreign countries, from California to the Carolinas, north to Ohio and into the Caribbean and Mexico,” says Jim.

MLC operates as a mill-direct shipment wholesaler, the same model originally established by J. Earl in the ’20s and perpetuated by James Jr. through the ’80s. The difference in MLC today is focus.

“We’ve established a niche in lower-grade material, and sell to industrial users rather than the retailers, treaters and truss manufacturers who were our emphasis in the past,” explains Jim. “Our goal is to make buying the easiest thing that our customers do. We ship the right product at a competitive price, on time.”

Good Wood

Most of MLC’s value-added work is performed by reman facilities not owned by the company. MLC also employs bonded warehouses when necessary to store lumber when market conditions dictate.

“We often take one product and change the size to the customer’s specifications,” explains Jim. In order to meet individual needs, the team at MLC relies on a vast network of suppliers and strategic partners. Wood is sourced from mills around the country, and MLC has material staged in other locations, depending on a customer’s need and location.

The company offers a broad selection of wood products to fit the needs of dealers across the country. The product mix includes corrugation – a paper-based fiberboard used primarily for boxes, pallets and skids – chock blocks, plywood, OSB, pine, hardwood timbers and more. The team consists of 17 buyers, salesmen and management/clerical staff, many of whom have at least 30 years of experience in the industry.

“We are large enough to have buying clout, but small enough to be able to adapt to rapidly changing market trends,” says Jim.

While the construction industry has seen a major dip over the last few years in the U.S., MLC has managed to grow in a difficult economic climate. According to Jim, the team’s success is due in part to MLC offering value that other suppliers could simply not provide.

“Many companies, including ours, have managed to prosper in this economy,” explains Jim. “How much you can get out of a tough economy depends a lot on the effort you put into it. I’m proud of our progress. Our salespeople give it a lot of effort. We’ve done very well over the last few years despite the fact that our industry is primarily driven by the housing market. We can’t control any factors but how hard and smart we work, and that has made all the difference.”

Making Connections

MLC has notably been a member of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA) for over 50 years. Like father like son, James Jr. sat as chairman in 1977, and Jim served on the board from 1990 to 2002.

“NAWLA is a valuable resource,” explains Jim. “There is a level of networking with so many people who do what you do. You can learn a lot from listening to people from companies of different sizes and market focus, and you can pass what you’ve learned along to the next generation.”

As an example, Jim says that the buyout plan he and his father used to transfer ownership was hatched during an impromptu conversation between Jim and an older NAWLA member almost 20 years ago at an association dinner. “NAWLA maintains a Council of Past Presidents and Chairmen that work to keep that wealth of knowledge formally engaged,” explains Jim.

Jim is again serving on the NAWLA board, which he says keeps him in the loop. “It allows me to continue building personal and professional ties,” he explains. Networking with peers is an important part of the business, and the sharing of information about common concerns like personnel issues has proven enormously beneficial to MLC.

NAWLA has many educational opportunities for members, as well. “NAWLA introduced the first wood marketing seminar in 1981,” explains Jim. “It’s a week-long school that they hold once or twice a year that offers an introduction for entry-level lumber folks to industry terminology, sales strategy, handling claims, forestry and much more.”

NAWLA also holds a management school once a year in a university setting, which provides middle management training for industry professionals. “In addition, NAWLA conducts educational sessions at the Traders Market, as well as regional and annual meetings to provide mill and wholesale members continued learning opportunities on industry-specific topics,” Jim continues. “Such opportunities allow members to make lifelong friends and learn potentially business-changing ideas. You get back much more than what you put into it. We’ve never been passive NAWLA members.”

Jim and his team are taking the collaborative experiences behind MLC and the additional knowledge gained through NAWLA to build a sustainable, expanding business. “We’re staying focused on our niche market while keeping an eye on things we can do differently in the future,” explains Jim.

As the economy continues to make a turnaround, the team is ready for expansion. “We want to grow responsibly doing what we do well,” says Jim.
“It’s important for us to stay competitive and control our own destiny.”

The structure and focus of the company has changed a lot in the 90 years MLC has been operating, but Jim emphasizes that the family’s values continue to be a driving force. “My dad always used the Golden Rule in his personal and professional life, and I’ve tried to follow his example,” says Jim. “I believe if our company treats our suppliers, customers and employees fairly and respectfully, we will continue on for many more years.” With that said, McGinnis Lumber Co. Inc. will continue to offer quality wood products priced for the market and backed up by a knowledgeable, fair sales force.

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Spring 2018



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