Ward Lumber is one of the premier operators of white pine sawmills in New York State and offers white pine in many configurations. Beyond lumber and building materials, the company is proud to provide hardware stores with a litany of building and home improvement needs such as plumbing, electrical supplies, and paint. It also stocks, sells, and delivers feed of all kinds and offers a great deal of contractor services to ensure the success of customers’ projects and businesses.
There is much more to Ward Lumber than meets the eye. Its identity as a hardware heavy-hitter in rural New York belies its 128-year history and its staunch commitment to the community it began in and serves to this day.
Since Construction in Focus’ previous profile on Ward Lumber in 2016, business owners Jay and Jeff Ward have done a complete corporate reorganization, and as such, have created two separate businesses out of what was once combined. Jay owns the retail company with building material supply stores, while Jeff owns the manufacturing company. Ward has seen remarkable success in its time, including the accumulation of various industry awards. However, Jay doesn’t hesitate to note that their success has not been earned easily.
Ward Lumber is in its fourth generation as a family-owned business, but being under a family name does not make running that business easier. Jay Ward puts it best: “Owning a small business has challenges; being a member of a family has challenges, and when you combine the two, that ramps up the degree of difficulty.” Jay and his brother Jeff did not have pressure from their parents to continue the business, and as such, Jay is not putting any pressure on his daughters Lucy and Mollie to continue that legacy into a fifth generation.
Both daughters currently work at the company between semesters at college, but Jay has made it clear he does not expect them to take on his role in the future and would only want them to do so if they were passionate about it.
Jay says that there are other difficulties facing the lumber industry in general today. The scant availability of labor is a pervasive problem, and he notes that finding good help is a huge challenge. There is also something of a shortage in terms of trucking; for every truck, there is an estimated 1.8 loads per available truck ready to be picked up, a problem which can lead to longer lead times, missed deliveries, and higher costs overall. Add to that the fact that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) made electronic logging devices mandatory in commercial trucks as of December 2017. In light of this, rail delivery has been making something of a comeback recently. The price disparity is shrinking from where it once was, and delivery by rail is slowly becoming more economically viable, offering something of an alternative.
When it comes to Ward Lumber’s rural location in the town of Jay, New York, there are positives and negatives. Due to the small size of the local market, the company does not have to deal or compete with a big box store in Jay, NY that may look to siphon off its customer base; however, said base is smaller than it would like due to the area itself having a small town of around five hundred people. To deliver its product outside of the area means long distances to destinations and costs incurred as a result. Through it all, the company believes that these specific issues encourage hard work and determination, which is the name of the game in the lumber business.
In the face of such problems, Ward does not necessarily have plans for growth in its future but will rather be focusing on maintaining what it already has. To grow or expand the business means taking on more people, a task not easily met currently, and while the opportunities for growth do exist, the capacity to sustain such growth is simply not there at this point. Instead, it intends to focus on doing what it is doing now and continuing to excel at it, as well as improving profitability in general.
One such focus of Ward Lumber, and one that is a primary concern in the modern day is sustainability, and the company is assuredly doing its part to stay as green as possible. The company is committed to a lifestyle of recycling when it comes to the business. It has made great steps to reducing its waste streams and frequently reuses and recycles its wood materials so that as much is used as possible.
What is more, there is no unused mill lumber at all; lumber is often re-fashioned into wood chips, bark, shavings, and more for various uses at the company’s stores or used for fuel for the boiler in its dry kiln, which emits little to no emissions whatsoever. Ward’s timberlands are harvested sustainably every ten to thirty years, removing thirty percent or less of the standing timber so that natural regeneration can take place and the forest’s landscape be maintained.
Above all else, Ward Lumber prides itself on being a part of the community. Being a part of the North Country in rural Jay, the company sees itself as something of a community hub, a place where people can not only find what they are looking for in a retail sense but also come together to work and learn. It supports many local organizations, from youth clubs to sports teams, the arts and volunteer first responder organizations. In fact, employees past and present have been active parts of these community groups, serving as youth leaders, coaches, and first responders. The company also offers educational opportunities at its Jay location, such as farm and garden workshops, which are well-attended and bolster a sense of community among the residents.
Dedication to the community is an important facet of Ward Lumber’s approach to business and has been that way for generations. Jay Ward remembers when his grandfather Sid Sr. and grandmother Agnes ran the business and would regularly help customers and community members pay for their building materials, often on nothing more than handshake deals. This approach is followed in spirit today, and is a key part of the company credo of being a good and faithful steward of land and community, to ensure that everyone is taken care of.
When it comes to a successful business, the company feels strongly that a team of good people is what keeps you at the forefront. When you work with and employ people who know your business and are dedicated to serving your customers very well, then you have perhaps the most important part of a successful modern business. It is those good people who have helped keep Ward Lumber growing and thriving since 1890, whether as part of its customer base or the business itself, and it is those communities that it is committed to serving for many years to come.