LBM Journal’s Dealer of the Year awards, sponsored by Epicor, 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.
PHOTOS BY KEVIN TREHAN, NHPA
In an industry in which it’s common to work alongside family members, the leadership team at Koopman Lumber demonstrates how to do so successfully while also adhering to fiercely independent values and topping an 800% revenue growth over the past 12 years.
Founded by Peter T. Koopman in 1939, the company is still headquartered in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, just down the street from where the original location began in Peter Koopman’s garage. The same community-minded values of generosity that drove Peter Koopman, a builder, to sell off extra lumber he had accumulated, still drives the company today.
Now run by Peter’s grandchildren Dirk Koopman, Denise Brookhouse, and Denise’s husband Tony Brookhouse, the family business has grown to include nine locations throughout Massachusetts as well as two distribution centers, and a Cape Cod location set to open in Dennis, Mass. later this year.
Siblings Dirk and Denise trace their own involvement in the company to when they were 10 and four years old, respectively, when their father returned from a teaching and sales career to get involved in the family business. They learned from a young age the dedication and commitment required to operate a small business.
“I remember that I saw him all the time before we moved back, and once we moved here, I didn’t,” Dirk says. “He pretty much buried himself into digging this business out of a tough spot.”
That was the mid 1970s, and by the time Denise and Dirk were able to be more involved in the store, they witnessed the implementation of the company’s first computer system in 1984.
After college in New Hampshire and a stint playing pro basketball in Germany, Dirk returned to Whitinsville ready to start a family of his own. In 1987, he began what would become his focus of developing the business into a more contractor-oriented supplier.
Denise and husband Tony, also after attending college in Michigan, joined the company almost a decade later. Tony was first asked to help Dirk with the family business, and when the company’s controller moved, a spot opened for Denise, who had been working as a CPA.
The three-person leadership team of Denise, Dirk, and Tony cover all aspects of the business. Dirk handles purchasing and general management, Tony oversees sales and general management, and Denise directs finance. Together, the group has grown the business by seven locations, with a continued focus on serving pro builder and remodeler clients, which make up around 90% of their customer base.
“We started out with three lumberyards that were focused on retail,” Denise says. “All the locations we’ve acquired since have been about 95% pro. Every year retail becomes a smaller part of our sales.”
With around 420 employees serving customers in New England, Koopman Lumber saw revenues of about $219 million in 2021, and is on pace to exceed that by nearly 30% once 2022’s books are closed. Denise attributes the spike in revenue to the recent acquisition of two locations, one September of 2021 and one June of 2022.
Steady housing growth in the region has also helped fuel Koopman’s growth since the Great Recession. “We haven’t had a year that we’ve gone backwards since 2009. We always budget down because we don’t think it can be as good, but then it is,” Dirk says. “Next year we’re budgeting down 2%, but who knows. We’re adding a location.”
The group at Koopman Lumber attribute their company’s success to two things: First, their focus on independence. While other independent lumberyards around them have been purchased by larger groups, Koopman remains family owned and operated. For Koopman Lumber, that means agile decision-making and the ability to respond in real time to any business challenge the day may bring.
“The consolidation in the industry has been sad to see,” Dirk says, “but at the same time has been good for us. We’re one of the only ones left. Everyone has always said that you’re never going to beat up on a well-run independent lumberyard, so we make sure that’s what we are.”
The second quality that sets them apart from competition, the group says, is the fact that each of them is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.
“If you do business with our company, 99% of the time you’re doing business with one of us,” Tony says.
Increasingly there are more family members that customers will encounter in the Koopman stores and yards. Two of Dirk’s four children have already joined the business and a third will join next year. Denise and Tony also have four children with potential to join the company. While the Koopman name may open opportunities at the company, it’s not a given that any of the next generation will grow into roles there.
“We have a rule that you have to work four years somewhere else to join the business,” Denise says. Even then, the company works with outside consultants who require each family member to work a nine-to-11-month rotation at different positions within the business. After they’ve completed the rotation, the potential employee is then reviewed by others in the company (not their parents or relatives) and through the consultants, a career path is developed.
“Having them evaluated internally by people other than us and then that given to the consultants is huge,” Tony says. “We’re not coloring it or giving an opinion on it at all.”
Paying it forward
A strong succession plan goes beyond just the family’s needs, Denise says. “We want this to continue for generations. We’re so involved in the communities that we serve. We don’t want to see a national company come in and take over.”
Still practicing the Christian values on which their grandfather established the company, Koopman donates 10% of all profits to organizations that serve the community. “That’s why we are stewards of this business,” Denise says. “We need to take care of the assets and make sure they’re safeguarded for the future.”
Koopman Lumber’s ability to hire and retain exceptional employees comes from the company’s positive culture and engaging training and retention programs. Two Koopman Lumber employees took part in the North American Hardware and Paint Association’s Retail Management Certification Program last year, where they developed a new employee training program. The new program will go live this year and will incentivize employees to complete additional, optional training. Employees also benefit from an internal referral program where they can earn $2,500 when a job candidate they refer is hired. Throughout the year, Koopman Lumber celebrates its employees’ milestones and achievements, letting them know they are valued members of the company and family.
“Something we do differently, when we buy another lumberyard, we don’t talk about ‘acquiring’ it,” Tony says. “We make brass plaques for the building to recognize the original site of that family company. We’re not all about the money. We’re not outsourcing all the jobs to a home office.”
Koopman Lumber values its customers, too, engaging with them through different channels. From helpful customer service inside the stores to valuable online videos and articles, customers can find the products, services, and information they need. The company meets customers where they are, sharing information and resources on social media, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other online platforms.
Koopman Lumber will continue to grow, as long as the growth makes smart business sense, the leadership group says. As they do, they’ll continue to extend the family bond that has developed companywide and earned Koopman Lumber a Dealer of the Year-sized reputation among independent lumberyards. ■