With seven locations along the Oregon coast, Gold Beach Lumber strives daily to provide lumber and building materials to its customers. In fact, according to the company’s website, it’s the second thing the Ringer family and staff do every day. “We are a local family-owned business who’s mission each morning we turn the coffee pot on is to serve our community,” the website says.
Ryan Ringer now carries on an early morning coffee and service tradition of commitment started by his great grandparents Clarence and Pearl Ringer. They opened the first store—called Home & Building Supply—in Hunter Creek, Oregon, just outside of Gold Beach, in 1959.
Ryan Ringer still adheres to the same philosophy of customer—and community—service. Some of Ryan’s fondest early memories include riding on a forklift with his grandfather, Rodney Ringer, who passed away while Ryan was a junior in high school.
“By the time I was 12, I was able to run my own forklift and pull my own jobs,” Ryan says, “but grandpa sure told a lot of stories on that forklift.”
The Ringer men have come into the business at a young age, Ryan says, but not without first exploring the business world on their own. When Ryan’s great grandparents both became sick with cancer, his grandfather, Rodney, moved back home to help out. Years later Ryan’s father, Reed, was the first in his family to graduate from college and upon doing so, moved east to work in banking for a few years until he came back to take on the family business. And the same is true with Ryan, who worked in sales in Baltimore and Reno before coming back home to take his place at Gold Beach Lumber.
“I grew up riding the school bus to the lumberyard every day because my mom and dad both worked there. I’d sweep the store, take out garbage, or ride shotgun on a forklift. I always knew I wanted to come back, but I didn’t really know how or why. I had a passion for this region.”
His opportunity to return came in 2002. His father was experiencing a drastic growth curve. He had gone from four employees to 18, but was still operating out of an undersized facility. The Ringers knew the company needed to expand, but to grow the business meant to remodel the facility, add warehouse space, and add real estate.
“But my dad at that point was pretty much a one-man band,” Ryan says. So the two had a serious discussion that led to an invitation for Ryan to come home and take part in the family business. Reed would spearhead growth projects and expansions while Ryan leveraged his recent business experience to optimize the company’s infrastructure.
“We needed a new POS system. We needed to establish inventory control, a general ledger, that’s where I came in and started working on the back office stuff.”
Since Ryan’s return to Gold Beach, the company has made four acquisitions, and completed two greenfield starts. The biggest, the store in Brookings, had been on Ryan’s radar for some time.
“We had been doing 60 to 70% of one of our store’s volume with people who came from a half hour away in Brookings. I was young and I told my dad we just have to be in Brookings.” At the same time, during the Great Recession, automakers were closing dealerships at a rapid rate. In January 2008, Ryan flew out of town for a weekend and when he came back, an entire car dealership in Brookings was gone.
“I went into work Monday morning, found out who owned the place, contacted them and asked if they’d sell. Within 96 hours I was sitting in my dad’s office talking about another store. I was 26 or 27 and pretty naïve to the world.”
Reed told his son that if he was serious, he would support the decision financially, but he was at a point in his life where he wanted to work less, so he’d be turning over operations to Ryan.
“He also said I had to be open by June 1, so I had just six months to turn a car dealership into a home center,” Ryan explains.
It turns out, 2008 wasn’t a great time to add a whole new store…except on the coast of Oregon.
“What I did when we opened the second store is we cut our primary store’s labor force in half and outfitted the second location. In hindsight, by doing that we were able to keep more staff than we would have if we had been at just one facility.”
That doesn’t mean it was completely without worry. Ryan says he went through a stretch of nearly a couple years without a single building permit in the county. Yet he learned that splitting the two locations, he could sell things like paint, trash bags, hardware, and hoses in a second community and those sales basically paid the wages.
“It was a tough few years, but it was actually a blessing. We were in a great position with staff when the world started coming out of the hole.”
With Ryan on board, Gold Beach Lumber expanded to seven locations in the decade from 2008 to 2018 through acquisition as well as greenfield builds. With professional builders and remodelers making up 70% of the company’s sales volume, the stores range from 5,000 to 22,000 square feet (the former car dealership in Brookings).
Currently about 150 employees staff the stores, of which Ryan says about 90% of positions are made up of long term employees. The remaining 10% are higher turnover positions. “It fluctuates and it’s at times difficult to fill. Our stores are in rural America. Everyone grows up and just scatters,” he says.
Still, with expanded locations in desirable homebuilding areas, Gold Beach Lumber is on a serious growth trajectory. Last year the company experienced 29% growth.
“This is the first time during any global emergency that the building materials world has been on the safe side of the fence,” Ryan says. “Humbly, we’ll accept that.”
In a sense, Ryan says, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a silver lining in exposing Gold Beach Lumber to customers who otherwise hadn’t shopped at the stores. Two years ago, he says, some people would wait until Saturday morning to drive an hour to a big box store. Last year, the pandemic forced people to stay home more and shop locally.
“We’ve made a niche for ourselves in our markets,” Ryan says. “It’s like being in a one-horse town. A lot of LBM dealers are after those big top-line numbers with minimal margins. And I’ve taken the opposite approach. I’m comfortable with mid-range growth in sales but with a higher margin opportunity.”
Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Ryan says it’s Gold Beach’s connection to the communities it serves that has allowed the company to prosper. “We’re in rural areas. We’ve always just accepted who and what we are and we try to be really good at it. We’re a rural home center that will never compete with the inventory levels of a big box store. We just don’t have those depths on lock sets and paint inventory. But we do have excellent people with roots in the community who do their best to service every person who walks through our doors. Our staff is what is making this place tick. Employees celebrating 40th anniversaries this year, they’re basically my dad’s first hires. Those people are anchors, and at the end of the day, whether you’re selling 2x4s, trusses, or roofing, relationships are what make the sale.”