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Dealer of the Year: TK Building Supply

TK Building Supply

LBM Journal’s 2022 Dealer of the Year Awards, sponsored by Epicor, recognize four 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.

TK Building Supply
TK Building Supply was born when Travis Rupe (right), along with his childhood friend, Kevin Jester (left), purchased the business in 2010, the year the two, at 23 years old, graduated college. The company was called Thermokraft then, and primarily manufactured vinyl replacement windows.

TK Building Supply

Ask nearly anyone in the LBM industry and they’ll tell you one of the perks of working at a lumberyard is the simple fact that they can move around a bit during the day.

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Travis Rupe learned that before he ever worked at a lumberyard. It was during an internship as an accounting major that Travis realized sitting behind a desk looking at a screen all day wasn’t what he wanted to do long-term. A summer construction job convinced him that the building industry could keep him on his feet. When one of the suppliers in Windsor, Missouri suddenly had a for sale sign in front of the building, Travis found a way to make use of his accounting background as well.

TK Building Supply was born when Travis, along with his childhood friend, Kevin Jester, purchased the business in 2010, the year the two 23-year-olds graduated college. The company was called Thermokraft then, and primarily manufactured vinyl replacement windows.

“We quickly realized we could order vinyl replacement windows through bigger manufacturers. Our growth then was in metal roofing,” Travis said.

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To start, they sold vinyl siding, windows, gutter material, and metal roofing. Eventually, the two sold metal for pole barns, which inevitably led to them carrying lumber for pole barns as well. From there, shingles were their next expansion. “About five or six years ago we bought a roll-former and roll formed our own metal roofing and siding,” Travis said.

Big growth in a small town

Once the duo began to roll-form metal, they quickly realized they’d need more space. As luck would have it, there was an abandoned factory just across town that offered them 66,000 square feet.

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“The building had been abandoned for eight years,” Travis said. “It took us six months to clean it up. We’d work at our old location, close at 5:00, then clean the new location until 9:00 nearly every day for six months.”

When the new facility was ready, the company moved to new location where they were able to keep manufacturing and showroom operations both under one roof. Once set up there, they moved from selling metal roofing and siding, to manufacturing it.

About four years ago, Travis and Kevin began manufacturing roof trusses. Last year, they started making their own floor trusses. Quickly, Kevin said, the big, abandoned factory building didn’t feel so big anymore.

There are a number of advantages of housing the entire business in an abandoned factory, Kevin said.

“All of our lumber is indoors 100% of the time,” he said. Of the 66,000 square feet of space, about 6,000 of that is devoted to a traditional showroom.

About 60% of the company’s sales go to pro contractors, and 40% is homeowner or retail, including a lot of homeowners and farmers who will come in for a pole barn, garage, or shop package that then gets referred to a pro customer to build.

Just make it

One thing that has served TK Building Supply well over the 11 years since Travis and Kevin started the company is their ability to ask the right questions and challenge each other to find more efficient ways to operate.

“Starting out at 23 years old, we didn’t have a lot of experience,” Travis said. “We just started doing it. We get our experience from listening to what customers say and what they like and adapting that as our model.” As a result, they often found themselves asking each other, “why not manufacture it here?” It worked for processes like roll-formed shingles, metal roofing and siding, and building roof and floor trusses. “We’ll do whatever makes the most sense,” Travis said. “We asked ourselves, ‘We sell a lot of metal roofing, how nice would it be if we could manufacture it here?’” As a result, the turnaround for those products are sometimes hours rather than days or weeks.

That same attitude is what led them to truss manufacturing. When a manufacturer they purchased from was backed up, they looked around at the space and materials they had available to them and gave it a try.

“We had the space, we had the willingness to learn some- thing new, and the confidence to know that we’d do whatever it took to make sure it worked,” Travis said.

Once Travis and Kevin figure out how something works and if it makes business sense to keep going, they expand operations. The process has grown the company from its original two “owner-employees” to a 12-person staff today.

“Every new thing we’ve done is Kevin and I starting it. So, one advantage has been our youth. When we started build- ing trusses, it was me and him. Our contractors really like that the two owners are here every day working. They like to know that when we say your trusses will be done Thursday and if it means we go out there and build them ourselves to make it happen, we will.”

“We don’t say ‘let me call the manufacturer,’” Kevin said. “We are the manufacturer.” Their drive to manufacture what they might otherwise spend more to buy has rocketed TK Building Supply’s revenues from $460,000 in the first year out, to $5.5 million in 2021, just 11 years later.

Customer-driven

But making products cheaper and closer isn’t the only way TK Building Supply has set themselves apart from the com- petition. Sometimes, it’s as simple as jobsite presentation.

“If a customer complained about something a competitor did, we adopt the opposite of that,” Travis said. “For instance, wrapping materials for delivery. We said we’ll do that because a competitor didn’t.”

The same goes for processes like delivering shingles to the roof where a builder needs them. They had never done it before, and as such didn’t have anyone at the company who would argue against doing it.

“We’re able to just listen to contractors and do it their way from the beginning. That’s a blessing in a world that’s changing too quickly,” Kevin said.

Kevin and Travis will both admit that not every piece of their DIY style of business operations has made perfect sense. For example, the company once served as a U-Haul rental facility. “That wasn’t a great decision,” Travis said. “It was more work for little money.”

Early on the company also obtained an auto dealer’s license and sold used cars. “It sounded like a good idea and then we tried it and realized it was a bad idea,” Kevin joked. “We’ve never let ‘we’ve never tried it’ from stopping us,” Travis added.

TK Building Supply

Close-knit company

Serving the area surrounding Windsor, Missouri, means working with builder customers who have projects in several large communities that are about 30 miles away.

“The longer we do this, the more we’re delivering,” Kevin said, indicating how word has spread as TK Building Supply has successfully served more customers.

As the company has grown, both the retail and manufacturing sides have expanded while facing the same labor challenges in most other areas of the country. Travis said they have been fortunate to bring in friends and family members who have been looking for jobs.

“Kevin’s brother works here that has been a very good fit. A good friend of ours since high school was a sales rep for a big box store and now is the manager for us. That has helped us out tremendously.”

Overall, the company has added about one employee a year over its 11-year existence and they’re still looking for a couple more. While there is definitely growth on the horizon for TK Building Supply, both owners say that growth will likely take place in its same location, without expansion or acquisition.

“I anticipate our truss department to grow—it’s doubled each year—I think we’ll do that again this year,” Travis said. “Every contractor we sell trusses to is asking about other products we sell as well,” Kevin added.

With unprecedented housing growth anticipated for the East Central Missouri region, Travis and Kevin feel they are well-suited to keep up with the demands of their grow- ing stable of builder customers. However, at just 34 years old, they’ve studied enough history to know it may not all be upside forever.

Purchasing a building materials supply business in 2010, means the two have only yet seen increases in revenues. As Travis put it, “all we’ve known is good times.”

“But that’s one advantage we’ve got,” Kevin added. “We haven’t failed. We aren’t terrified of a boom time like this because we fear a bad time will follow. We jumped feet first into this.”

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