Case Studies

Satterwhite Log Homes

40 Years of Constant Improvement

Sam Satterwhite never set out to establish a homebuilding business; however, in 1974, that is exactly what he did. “I had been a cowboy,” he recounts. “At 22, I wanted to build a bachelor pad. My first project was a brick A-frame home, no logs, just something different. One day, a man drove by and saw it under construction. We talked a bit, and he said, ‘If you’d build something that different, how about building me a log home?’ I didn’t have the sense to say no.”

With building experience limited to his A-frame and a few barns, Sam got to work. Now, 40 years later, Satterwhite Log Homes (Satterwhite) is a national business. Today, the company directly employs more than 60 people, and many more indirectly through contract relationships.

Satterwhite Log Homes

Travonda Satterwhite has also been integral to the company’s success. “Travonda is the hardest working woman I have ever met,” says Sam. While Sam is deeply involved in forestry, logging, manufacturing and construction, Travonda is focused on marketing, advertising, shows and seminars, business processes, design, as well as sales process.

“She was my first secretary 100 years ago,” Sam laughs.

With the family home only a mile or so from the office, the Satterwhite children have been raised in the business. “Our youngest daughter, Lindsey Satterwhite, is just starting here,” Sam explains. “She’s 23 years old. Our older daughter, Christi, is raising our youngest grandchild, but her husband, Alan Amos, is in sales. Our son, Nick, runs logging operations in Utah and Colorado. It’s definitely a family affair.”

Vertically Integrated Services

Satterwhite helps to build dreams from start to near finish, beginning with logs. The business has logging operations in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Satterwhite logging crews harvest dead-standing Engelmann spruce trees at high altitudes in the Rocky Mountains. These trees are killed by natural causes, and remain standing for years and sometimes decades. “In this arid western climate, dead trees dry thoroughly over time,” Sam explains.

Moisture content of wood is a major factor in log construction. While normal forest products, such as dimensional framing lumber, can be effectively kiln dried, it is difficult or impossible to accelerate drying of massive timbers and house logs. The special characteristics of dead standing timber makes it highly valued for log home construction. These properties justify the difficulty of high altitude logging, exacting environmental practices and extreme transportation challenges and distances. The superb dryness and long-term performance of this material is compelling, and key to the Satterwhite story.

“Satterwhite sawmills are located in Gunnison, Utah; Longview, Texas; soon, Chama, New Mexico,” Sam explains. “From the sawmill, rough timbers are milled and manufactured into a multitude of products, including a wide range of different house log types, and also a mind boggling array of rustic timbers, beams, posts, round stocks, railings and other structural members. Satterwhite delivers nationwide from warehouses in Utah, Texas and Georgia.”

Sam goes on to note that besides the multitude of products manufactured by Satterwhite, the company also offers an enormous range of hard-to-find specialty obtained from small sawmills across North America. “Besides adding an exciting palette of textures, colors and character for log home designers and decorators, the Sawmill Specialty range of materials from Satterwhite has become enormously popular in conventional residential construction and in a wide range of commercial applications,” he continues. “Perhaps no other material appeals to all people everywhere with the same strength, character and warmth as wood.”

Satterwhite designs and sells materials for log homes, serving customers across the country. “We offer a range of standard plans,” Sam explains. “About half of our customers modify these to their needs. Our design department can adapt our standard plans, or develop completely custom plans.”

According to Sam, about half of a modern log home is hardly any different from conventional home construction. “Drywall on interior partitions, plumbing, electrical, septic, heating and air, cabinets, floor coverings, painting are best handled by local contractors,” he continues. “Satterwhite is focused on the log portions of the structure. The customer gets the best of both worlds, because local tradesmen can best handle finishing a log home at the lowest possible cost.”

Beyond log homes, Satterwhite has found a number of emerging markets. “We are constantly looking for other products, new plans and different ways of looking at log home design and construction methods,” Sam elaborates. “We sell a lot of different lumber products to go with homes and commercial log projects. We have gone more into commercial supply of lumber products that are very unique, as well as the conventional market, selling rustic products to go into conventional homes. We sell to other builders, architects and designers among other customers.”

Staying Ahead

New markets and applications have allowed Satterwhite to maintain margins, even in a difficult economy. “We had to shrink our business somewhat due to the economic downturn a few years ago,” Sam reveals. “In order to survive, everyone has had to diversify. Before the recession we had 13 log carpentry crews and now we have seven. Fortunately, they are very busy these days. In the last year we have seen dramatic improvement. At the end of 2013, we were 25 to 30 percent ahead of our prior year revenue.”

Sam has seen a dramatic upsurge in the sale and construction of larger and higher-end log homes, which includes dozens of homes ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet in the last half of 2013. Satterwhite has also seen an increase in beam and timber products used for rustic design effects in commercial buildings. One of the company’s growing customers is Twin Peaks, a national restaurant chain with a mountain lodge theme.

With the market on a slow, but steady turnaround, Satterwhite has proven a strong and flexible business. Sam credits much of his success to his employees. Many of his construction foremen have been with the business for decades. Combined, he says the men leading his seven crews have a total of 222 years with the company.

“Most of our people have been with us for a long time,” he explains. “One of our greatest sources of pride is that with our longevity, we have made a lot of customers happy. We work hard for our customers, and they have rewarded us with loyalty and enthusiastic support. More often than you would expect, multiple generations in a single family have built Satterwhite homes. This translates into stability and ability to provide a livelihood to our extended family of employees.”

In the coming years, Sam plans to continue doing more of the same. The business is on a path of growth. Satterwhite is looking at 10 to 15 percent improvement per year. “We’re keeping some backlog and my employees are busy,” Sam states. In the next few years, the goal to get busier and work harder as Satterwhite Log Homes expands its market share in both log homes and related specialty forest products.

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