Thank you very much to Ward Lumber for hosting our December Business Show case. Another great and very interesting show case. Tricia Whitton and Paul Mintz hosted the show case with Jay Ward sharing some of his experience.
A brief recap of the last couple years at Ward Lumber was presented and where they are now. It was very interesting to learn how Ward Lumber managed through Covid, and successfully was able to grow. Contrary to advice received, Jay Ward shared how they shifted from “Just in Time Inventory” policy to “Just in Case”, doubling their inventory and having product available when needed during challenging supply times. While inventory has come down a bit since then, Ward Lumber still carries much higher inventory levels than in the past. That of course also causes challenges when there are price drops in commodities, and they carry inventory at higher price then what it cost them.
Since the initial boom of business in the spring of 2020 from the pandemic and everyone being stuck at home, growth continues due to new construction as well as increased retail traffic in the store compared to 2019. More people shopping local either due to the pandemic and then the rise in gas prices. They feel they are here for the community beyond building needs. They are open to bringing in new products and hearing what the community needs and wants are to stocking items.
The conversation shifted to the transformation to the Employee-owned Co-op. Tricia and Paul explained how they believe being an employee-owned company it makes them stronger and more competitive. During a challenging labor market with labor shortages, being employee owned can be a big plus to attract talent. It has also increased their focus on training and employee ownership engagement is high, improving productivity etc. They have also gotten a lot of feedback how customers feel more “pride” in shopping at Ward, and shop with them compared to competitors as they know their business keeps money in the community, unlike their competitors.
Jay Ward has announced his retirement date of December 2023, and an internal and external search for a new CEO is in the process of being launched. Jay will stay involved in an advisory position after retirement. Ward Lumber has a 7-person Board of Directors, all worker-owners, to whom the CEO reports. It is truly an employee run company.
It is very exciting to have a company like Ward Lumber in our community and we wish them the best of success as they continue in their venture as a worker-owned cooperative.