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Dealer of the Year: A family-owned business finds a new balance at Mitchell Lumber

LBM Journal’s Dealer of the Year awards recognize LBM companies of different sizes that epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit. By our definition, a Dealer of the Year describes a company in which leadership excels at identifying underserved—or emerging—markets, satisfying customers, and constantly working to grow and improve business. While these companies represent vastly different operations, the common thread is their fierce commitment to finding ever-better ways to serve their customers and their communities.

When his father, Jeff, unexpectedly passed in 2014, Andy Mitchell hadn’t planned on taking over his family’s business. Although he had worked in and grown up around the lumberyard, he had been working as a union firefighter and his wife, Breezy, had recently become a nurse, and neither were sure about running a lumberyard.

“With the downturn of the economy, we were really nervous,” Breezy said. “We were starting a family, and we weren’t sure if this was really the kind of future we wanted. Our first thought was to sell it and just kind of be done with the lumberyard. We had a couple of offers and we were being really nitpicky about the deals. So finally one day we thought, maybe this just isn’t what we want. We weren’t ready to let it go.”

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In 2019, the couple officially took over Mitchell Lumber, which was founded in 1971 in Silverdale, WA, and has been operating on the Olympic Peninsula in Belfair, WA, since 1992. Founded by Andy’s grandfather, then sold to his parents, Jeff and Kath, the yard is now run by Breezy as the majority owner, as well as Andy who splits his time between the lumberyard and his firefighter work.

Breezy said keeping the business in the family may have kept them smaller, but it allows them to better serve their employees and the community. “We’re the last-standing family-owned lumberyard out here on the peninsula,” she said. “We tell our employees what sets us apart is that we don’t have the [buying power] that some of the other lumberyards have behind them, but we have the capability to make decisions and make their lives easier and better very quickly.”

Moving toward modernization
Since taking over, Breezy and Andy said they’ve made a number of changes, while honoring the business’ past. One the couple’s first decisions was to work with local CPA Kyle Kincaid, a contact Jeff had made before his death. With the advice of Kincaid and others, the Mitchells steadily grew the business from $3 million in revenue in 2019 to $11 million in 2023.

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In 2020, Mitchell Lumber purchased land next to the existing lumberyard to expand operations, fulfilling a longtime dream of Andy’s father. Today, the business carries a wide range of inventory from lumber and hardware to fencing, windows, decking, siding, beams and more, with well-known brands like James Hardie, Pacific Woodtech, and Fiberon decking. The company also offers delivery and contractor services, and builds custom wooden swim floats for private use, many of which can be seen along the Hood Canal and Puget Sound.

With a combination of new technology—the company utilizes ECI Spruce for its business management software—and the guidance of long-standing business contacts, the couple found a new balance to help move the business forward, something that has helped them survive in an age of consolidation and closures.

“A lot of the smaller, local lumberyards around here were acquired by larger corporations or closed,” Breezy said. “We’re in a unique age bracket where we still remember what it was like, but we’re still young enough to know that things are changing. If we don’t change with the world, we’ll get left behind.”

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Breezy said there are still many customers who insist on having paper copies of statements versus going paperless, or calling a salesperson directly versus ecommerce, which she said they are always happy to accommodate.

The couple said they lean on the support of their IT Manager, Justin Heinitz with IT Machine, to help with ongoing improvements. “We walk a fine line of being innovative, but not pushing our customer base too far either.”

Through all the changes, one constant for Mitchell Lumber has been the company’s employees, some of whom have worked for former competitors that went out of business and even a few that came back from retirement because they missed their old jobs.

“They came back and they’re still working because it’s fun, and they don’t even have an end date because they’re loving what they’re doing,” Breezy said. “It’s just it’s a good environment here. We try to stand out with customer service and relationships, and it all starts with our employees, then our employees carry that service to all of our customers.”

Commitment to doing good
But despite the changes to bring innovation to Mitchell Lumber, the couple said they are dedicated to maintaining the business’ reputation in the community.

“My dad was a very respected, kind, fair, thoughtful individual,” Andy said. “He was not very animated, kind of stoic. But when he passed, there were about 400 people at his service. Going back to his high school days, people came from far and wide. That was my father’s reputation and it was the lumberyard’s reputation in the community, and it’s something that I make sure that I’m upholding.”

Breezy said Jeff was always ready to lend a hand in the community or help a stranger, and to this day, the Mitchell family tries to keep that spirit alive.

“‘What good shall I do this day?’ We really try to live by that as our motto. It’s the last thing you see before you walk outside of our door in our house, and it’s the first thing you see when you walk into our office.” Andy said Mitchell Lumber’s reputation has not only helped with customers, but with vendors as well.

“As heavily as we rely on our advisors and professional help by our CPAs, IT manager, and attorney, we lean very heavily into really good relationships with our vendors,” Andy said. “Building those relationships over the previous 40 years made them willing to help and I really saw the value in that. So we have really strong relationships with some of our vendors.”

He said he’s seen multiple times when a simple conversation can lead to a chance to help a vendor, or the other way around, creating a long-lasting relationship that’s mutually beneficial.

“Having those vendor relationships means that those random conversation can lead to a huge cost saving and profitability going up for that order and orders overall. [Recently] I had a one-on-one meeting with the manufacturer rep for decking, and they asked, ‘What can I do to support you?’ And I said, ‘Just show up and talk. That’s what’s going to make you successful as the rep for your decking manufacturer and every little bit you are able to help Mitchell Lumber as a manufacturer, we really invest that money back into the company.’ They’ve seen this company triple in size over the last 5-6 years. So they know that we’re a good partner for them as well.”

In addition to running the business, the couple also stays active in the community, with Andy continuing his work as a professional firefighter and Breezy serving as a director on the Central Kitsap School District board. That involvement carries over to Mitchell Lumber, which sponsors local sports teams and community centers and supports the American Heart Association as well as lymphoma and cancer charities. The couple has a number of goals for the future, including seeking a women-owned business certification, investing in social media, and diversifying which markets they serve.

Andy said over the next few years, Mitchell Lumber hopes to go after federal government contracts for projects at nearby naval bases and create a more robust decking program, as well as to acquire more space to expand inventory for the company’s interior trim and door packs.

However, even with all their future plans, Andy said his favorite part of the day is still walking around the yard and store, cup of coffee in hand, helping out where he can.

“There’s nothing I like more than helping in the store, walking down the aisles. I think it’s why we have such a great reputation—we have instilled in our employees what has been upheld from the 70’s when it was my grandpa and my dad. If someone asks you where to find a hammer, you don’t just say Aisle 6, you walk down Aisle 6 with them. There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

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