Forty years ago, Robert L. Plummer and his wife Donna were high school teachers in St. Louis, Mo. Always the entrepreneurial type, when Robert decided to leave teaching and open his own lumberyard, he did so from scratch. He borrowed $5,000, and during a bitterly cold January he set up shop in a site that had been abandoned for over a decade. When he first hung out his shingle, Plummer didn’t have a customer for the first three days. And for the first three years, the building was heated by a potbelly stove in the middle of the store. He didn’t have forklifts, so he unloaded product by hand. To use the restroom, employees had to walk six blocks to the nearest gas station.
The most compelling success stories often come from businesses with humble beginnings. The story of R.P. Lumber’s rise in Illinois is no exception. What started with a modest single location has grown to a powerhouse chain of 65 full-service Midwest lumberyards.
“Nobody works harder than my dad,” said vice president Jason Plummer, Robert and Donna’s son. “He came from a great family with wonderful small town USA values, but they didn’t have much growing up. He went to college on an athletic scholarship, where he met my mom. He was the first person in his family to attend college. When he graduated college his family still had an outhouse, in 1972. No doubt my dad has a fire in his belly from what he went through growing up. When you grow up on the wrong side of the tracks I think you might have a little extra desire to prove some things to the world.”
Headquartered in Edwardsville, Ill., 20 minutes east of St. Louis, R.P. Lumber now employs more than 750 people throughout its 65 locations. While markets vary with each yard, overall, 70% of R.P.’s customers are pro builders. The remaining 30% are walk-in, DIY traffic.
“In some markets, there are three other lumberyards, three big boxes, and three specialty stores. In some other markets, we’re the local farm store, electrical supply, plumbing supply and everything,” Plummer said.
Full-service stores have served R.P. Lumber well over the past 40 years. In an area that stretches south from Chicago to the Kentucky border and west to Kansas City, revenue trends are up, Jason Plummer said.
A combined inside and outside sales model helps serve DIY and builder customers alike. “We are a team and our employees operate like a team,” Plummer said. While the smaller stores may have 10 employees, the largest have several times that many.
Best Service, Best Value
The motto on R.P. Lumber’s signage is more than just a logo, Plummer said. “Best Service, Best Value” is a commitment R.P. Lumber employees pursue every day. The motto solidifies the company’s commitment to provide customers with service and value that keep them coming back.
“We truly believe the motto and we also live it,” Plummer said. “We work extremely hard to keep our costs down so that we can provide products less expensively than our competitors. We invest significantly into the people we need to provide the best service. We are big believers in people and we truly have some of the absolute best employees in the industry.”