The year was 1891 when John Stewart, a descendent of John Alexander, opened his first lumberyard with partners Tom Brittingham and Joe Hixon. A $5,000 loan from Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago helped launch the business.
Since arriving from Scotland in the 1870s, the Alexander family was immersed in the sawmill industry, and the transition to lumber retailing was the next, natural step.
John Alexander’s entrepreneurial spirit and the subsequent westward expansion of the railroad led to more than 100 small lumberyards under his control by the late 1920s.
In 1929, John Stewart bought out his partners and acquired the Brittingham and Hixon Lumber Co. yards in Wisconsin. Despite the beginning of the Great Depression, Stewart purchased 15 lumberyards in McLean County from his cousin, and also acquired additional yards from another associate.
When his father died in 1944, John Alexander, Jr., assumed full responsibility for the company. Under the day-to-day management of Otto Unteed from 1940 until his retirement in 1966, the company expanded its product lines, built showrooms and continued to serve local contractors and builders.
As the third family member in the line of succession, Walter Alexander had learned the business from his father and grandfather. Walter took over supervisory responsibility for the company, and served as president for 45 years until his retirement in 2014, when a search for a new president commenced. Walter passed away shortly after retirement.
In 2016, Alexander Lumber marked its 125th year in business. At the helm is President and CEO Russ Kathrein, who was named to the position in September 2014. His management team today consists of Rick Vancil, executive vice president, and three district managers, each responsible for a group of company yards.
There are currently a total of 19 retail yards under the Alexander Lumber umbrella in Illiniois, Wisconsin and Iowa. In addition, the company operates two truss plants, a countertop facility and a showroom/sales office.
Throughout its history, Alexander Lumber has looked to technology to help the company grow. In 2010, the company’s owners standardized operations on one solution and selected Epicor BisTrack.
“We have called BisTrack our ‘Lamborghini that we drive 25 miles per hour on Sunday’,” said Kathrein. “BisTrack offers an almost unlimited amount of information. It has helped us lower inventory costs, improve business efficiencies and increase margins, but I feel we have barely scratched the surface on what we can accomplish with this wonderful business solution. Once we get everyone in the company using BisTrack to its full potential, our company will be running like a finely tuned Italian sports car.”
Since arriving from Scotland in the 1870s, the Alexander family was immersed in the saw mill industry before transitioning to a lumber retailer.