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Dealer of the Year: San Antonio Lumber

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 is 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.

San Antonio Lumber
50 years after coming on full time at San Antonio Lumber, Tom Schrader has passed the trade to his daughter, Sarah, who joined the company in 2012.

Anyone who has worked at a lumberyard—not to mention owned and operated one—knows that you need to wear many hats on any given workday. Sarah Schrader, fifth-generation family owner of San Antonio Lumber in San Antonio, Florida, recently found herself wearing the hat of an event planner.

On January 21, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary with a party that brought in customers, family, friends, politicians, and an appearance by an internationally-known country band, The Bellamy Brothers.

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“We transformed our yard into the venue,” Sarah says. “We started planning a year out. We got the band before they left for a European tour.”

Sarah’s father, Tom Schrader, co-owner in the business, said his biggest concern was making sure everyone was included. “We didn’t want to miss any customers,” he says.

In a town like San Antonio, with a population of just 1,200, it may have been noticed if someone was left out. While the size of the town may be small, the business scales much larger considering it is just 40 miles north of Tampa and its rapidly expanding population.

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Tom Schrader and his daughters, Sarah Schrader, Theresa Schrader, and Anna Hickel celebrate 100 years at the company’s anniversary party held on January 21.

Fifth Generation

Founded in 1923, the lumberyard is one of the few businesses formed in Pasco County in the 1920s that still exists today. Over the years, it passed through Schrader men and in 1994 Tom took the reins. Built on a location that was then the railroad hub of San Antonio, the company at one point had a partnership with the Purina Chow Company and became the state’s largest Purina dealer in the state of Florida because of the railroad.

The company’s main location was a drive-through lumberyard built next to the railroad. The business eventually expanded warehouses across the street to increase operation capacity. The company has since operated the drive through yard, Tom says, with the addition of warehouse space and an expanded office. Still today, while traffic in town has picked up considerably, San Antonio Lumber team members cross the road between facilities.

Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Tom Schrader grew up at the lumberyard and knew at an early age he would one day run the operation. After high school, a stay at a junior college was, “basically to play baseball, since I knew what I’d be doing,” he said.

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Now 50 years after coming on full time at age 20, he’s passing the trade to his daughter, Sarah, who joined the company in 2012 after a career in pharmaceutical sales. Tom still comes into the office every day, but at 70, he says he doesn’t need to stay the whole day.

One of Sarah’s first tasks with the company was implementing a new POS system in 2013. She also worked in accounts payable, office management, and other roles as she learned more about the industry.

“It was beneficial for me to work in different companies, and in different industries, to bring some of that insight back with me,” she says. Over the years she’s “done and overseen a lot of everything.”

Sunshine State Service

In the bustling local market in East Pasco County and the ever-expanding Tampa area, the Schraders’ company serves custom builders and remodelers, which make up 75% of the business. Even the other 25% of retail traffic likely includes many who are building their own homes.

“We serve private, custom builders,” Sarah says, “not track or national builders.”

With 18 employees, the company racked up $9.5 million in sales in 2022, continuing the growth trend of recent years. Along with the full-line lumberyard, the company operates an on-site custom door facility. The door shop has added value to builders and has earned repeat customers. The company also recently renovated its showroom, including the addition of new offices that display actual products. “Our offices look like miniature houses in the showroom that display products,” Sarah says. “They can come in and see many products in application.”

Recent upgrades to the POS system, as well as adding GPS in trucks, has improved efficiency.

“We’ve been continuously growing year-over-year,” Sarah says, even while battling through the pandemic, sky-rocketing lumber prices, and now higher interest rates.

Tom agreed, adding that while lumber prices have come “back down to earth,” volume has stayed up.

The continued growth is attributed to San Antonio Lumber’s simple philosophy of how it treats customers. There are four essential rules in place that make customers feel at home and like family, Sarah says.

First, the phone gets answered in two rings. They know customers are busy and valuable time from a workday isn’t wasted on waiting for someone to answer.

Secondly, there is no automated phone system. Calls made to San Antonio Lumber will never be lost in a “phone tree” or impersonal way of routing calls.

Third, either Tom or Sarah is always present. While the team takes care of the customers and surely could without one of the Schraders in the building, any customer at any time has the opportunity to interact with a company owner. Lastly, the entire team prides itself on treating customers like family. Customers are greeted by name on their way in and come to know a level of service they’d never receive at larger stores.

San Antonio Lumber
With a closely-knit team of 18 the company has earned a reputation as an ideal workplace in the community because of its focus on employees. That reputation was built in part on accommodating employees’ work/life balance through operating hours.

Employee Focus

With a closely-knit team of 18, Sarah said the company prides itself on the longevity of its workforce, including an employee who recently retired after 50 years at the lumberyard.

Tom says the company has earned a reputation as an ideal workplace in the community because of its focus on employees. That reputation was built in part on accommodating employees’ work/life balance through operating hours.

Once open half days on Saturday, the store is now closed on Saturday. “Even though we could maybe be generating more revenue, sometimes that isn’t as important as employee well-being and satisfaction,” Tom says.

As well, the business now closes at 4 p.m. on weekdays. “Our employees really appreciate that and any late customers who used to come at 4:30 now come at 3:30, so business didn’t change,” he says.

Indeed, the family atmosphere is what drives Sarah’s focus on how the company interacts with team members and the community it serves. “We’re a small business. We want to take care of our employees because they take care of our customers. Employees who are happy want to be here for a long time, and we can do these small things that can help make their lives better.”

In the community, San Antonio Lumber partners with Habitat for Humanity, of which Sarah sits on the local board of directors. Because of its rural location, the company also supports programs such as agricultural clubs as well as other school programs.

Looking Forward

As the Schrader team looks to the future, they’re able to grow as a single-location lumberyard in their market. While they’ve considered relocating in the same area to avoid the across-the-street facility issues, as well as upgrading buildings, the focus is on serving their customers first. With some employees nearing retirement age, there’s a renewed challenge to bring along the next generation and keep the company up to date with the latest technology.

As the family continues the transition to the next generation of leadership, Tom is reminded of how far the business has come in the five decades he has been involved. While their delivery fleet now includes two Freightliners, a 24′ box truck, and two flatbed dump trucks, a fully outfitted fleet including GPS technology and Moffett capabilities, things weren’t always that way. “When I first started, we didn’t even have a forklift!” he says.

 

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