Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? I sell lumber and building materials to contractors and home builders, as well as to do-it-yourself customers. I've been in the business for 35 years and owned Hughes Lumber since 1984. We deliver to Northern California, Klamath Falls, Grants Pass, Myrtle Creek and Brookings.
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I grew up in San Antonio and Houston, and graduated from Texas Tech in 1970 and moved to the Rogue Valley in 1974.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? When I was in high school, during the summers I worked for the largest home builder in Houston — Norwood Homes — and I really enjoyed it. One of the keys to his success was building an organization with knowledgeable and trustworthy employees. I tried to emulate that, and Hughes Lumber reflects this. After I moved here, I worked for Copeland Lumber and used them as a training ground, managing one of their yards. I was very successful, and then in 1984 I bought Hughes Lumber from Jim and Vic Olson.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? Every business has cash flow issues as you grow; it seems you never have enough money to pay for the growth in your business. It's always a struggle. You want to grow, but how do you pay for it? I wish we could have been involved in raising money for community programs much earlier. Hughes Lumber puts on an annual golf tournament and uses the proceeds to help the Central Point Head Start program and raise money for the kids who wouldn't have Christmas otherwise. The opportunity didn't present itself until later. We were going through growing pains for the first 10 to 15 years. The Central Point Fire Department used to fund the Christmas program, but they no longer had the money to do it. One of my employees had kids in Head Start. We had started our golf tournament two years before that, and it made sense to work with them.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? In business, the cycles go up and down. The hardest comes during the down cycles, when you have to lay off hard-working employees. It's always unsettling. It's never easy.
Who are your competitors? We have two main competitors in Medford — Rogue Pacific Lumber and Parr Lumber — there's Ashland Lumber and two in Grants Pass — Farmers Building Supply and Field's Home Center. All my competitors are smart, efficient and do a great job with their customer base. I try to distinguish myself by selling environmentally sustainable products recognized in green-building practices — products made from recycled materials that would otherwise go to landfills. Our latest addition to the product mix is a cement siding mix, using recycled fly ash rather than carcinogens. We also have Vast pavers made from plastic bags, and Trex decking, a composite made from bricks of plastic grocery bags that are ground and melted, and mixed with wood chips.
What training or education did you need? I have a degree in banking from Texas Tech. I interviewed with a couple of banks and just couldn't get into it. The starting wage in the early 1970s was $2 or $3 an hour. Accounting is probably the most important background for any business owner, so that helped me. I had six years with Copeland Lumber when I learned the business, and I've been around construction since the mid-1960s. Copeland turned me loose as a manager, and I learned how to manage a store and how to manage people.
What are your goals? In the past five to 10 years, we've seen environmentally friendly products and technology come to the surface. I want Hughes Lumber to be part of that transformation.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? In business, one of the most important things is to learn to communicate with your customers, almost more important than your background education. You have to communicate and relate with your customers and like people. I call cold-turkey on people, and you have to be able relate to them. The first three to five years is critical in getting your business established, and you have to be ready to put in long hours. Access to capital and financing is definitely important. The most important thing is to exhibit the traits of persistence and determination that you will succeed no matter the obstacles.
To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at email@example.com.