The folks at C&M Lumber of New Meadows, Id. (pop. 500 on a good day), have yet to launch a website. Phone service is often spotty; same for the Internet. I’d been warned to set my clock back by 20 years. So, when I finally reached Mark Peterson, co-owner along with his brother, Chris, I expected to hear the story of a mountain outpost selling sticks and nails to pioneers.
Turns out, the “pioneers” are city slickers, escaping the rat race, who are building second-home retreats that range from $500,000 to $1 million. Because of technology (when it works), they can choose anywhere on earth to live, so how about New Meadows, nicknamed “a home in heaven?”
“Last year was a very good year, and 2019 looks terrific, too,” allows Mark, who’s a third-generation owner, with generations four and five coming up in the ranks behind him. (By the way, C&M’s name was not chosen to represent Chris and Mark, who weren’t even born when the grands picked it to represent its market: Cambridge and New Meadows.)
Cambridge, 40 miles west, is where those grandparents operated Cambridge Lumber, which they built in 1931. They sold it to a cousin in 1962 to move to New Meadows to retire. But (aha!) they hung onto some of the inventory. Turns out, grandpa viewed retirement as a cuss word and set that inventory into a 900-sq. ft. building close to the crossroads of two of the state’s busiest highways. (“We’re in the middle of Idaho, two hours away from anywhere—a good site,” says Mark.)
The boys’ dad, a U of Idaho grad, worked for the FAA until its demanding regime of road travel got old. He moved back to New Meadows to follow in his father’s footsteps, eventually taking over to help out his mom.
New Meadows stands in the shadow of Mt. McCall with its legendary ski resort in the Boise National Forest, renowned for its abundant powder snow. Originally it was a farming, ag, timber and mining community. Then some of the large, family-owned cattle ranches got sold in blocks and subdivided into development sites. Tourism came into play, and discovered C&M was there, happy to help.
Chris and Mark purchased the operation in 1998. Twelve years ago, they moved it to a new location to take advantage of the highway’s expansion, now a quarter-mile away. “We now have 10 acres; we’re using three and will soon get to five. Formerly, customers had to park on the street. Now, for ease of shopping, there’s a parking lot.”
Both brothers are there “elbows on, every day.” But each has his area of expertise. For Chris, it’s computers, inventory, purchasing and receiving. For Mark, sales and customer service. Their staff of 20 each boasts a niche as well, but all are trained to be adept at jumping in wherever needed.
When it comes to clientele, the divide runs 50/50, contractors and retail shoppers. “We serve A to Z,” as Mark describes the reach, “and I enjoy the mix. Every sale counts, and deserves the same respect and attention. Our pros build everything from mansions to decks, add-ons, and pole barns. The walk-ins run the full gamut. We provide one-stop shopping: Lawn and garden, heating, paint, flooring and livestock needs to key-cutting, glass reglazing and pipe threading. Chicken feed to hot-tub chemicals and power tools. As one customer said to me, ‘Wow! A mini Home Depot in the mountains!’
“When we moved here, we had 25,000 sq. ft. We’ve since added a 10,000-sq. ft. covered warehouse. Contractors love it, and they like our personal service, guiding them in making strong, fundamental choices. We host vendor-sponsored events for them, too, like our upcoming LP function, for which 50 pros have already registered.
“Also,” he adds, “half our staff serves as volunteer EMS firefighters. So if you’re ever in need, it’s likely an employee of ours will show up at your door.” Mark himself serves as assistant fire chief, and Chris sits on the school board. “Our parents instilled community values in us, so we’re glad to help our schools, senior center, churches and library. And we’re involved in the town’s biggest event of the year, Meadows Valley Days.
“It’s held on Labor Day weekend, when the town of 500 expands to welcome 1,500 additional visitors. They enjoy everything from the pit barbecue to a crazy contest called Heartland Fiasco.” (Let’s just say that that particular mayhem involves chainsaws and axes.) At Christmas, C&M brings in Santa for photo ops, along with its annual Yule Tool holiday sale. At Easter, out hops the bunny, who oversees the egg hunt and hands out cake.
That kind of community spirit keeps drawing customers back; yet that has become a harder and harder challenge to surmount since the onset of smart phones. As Mark explains, “We’re going head-to-head with Amazon every day. Say, we’re selling something for $9.99. On Amazon it may be a dollar less and arrives the next day. Still, we provide a knowledgeable staff, and they can’t. If your toilet flush quits working, we’ll give you advice on installing a new one. And not one person on our staff will not share his cell phone number on a Saturday, so if something breaks down on a Sunday, they’ll come in and get you your part.”
The downside, as Mark is fully aware, is the area’s phone service (or not). And when it comes to social media, he reminds me to set the clock back 20 years. “We just started making inroads, and we plan to improve during 2019,” he promises.
Regardless, “business looks good. (We’re only 120 miles from Boise, the capitol.) If the U.S. does well, we do well, too. And up here, we experience all four seasons—three or four feet of snow in winter, when the temperature can drop to -30 or -40 for two weeks at a time. Then in summer, everybody needs AC,” he laughs.
Mark has one son and Chris boasts two. “We are the third generation and they are the fourth. The grandkids coming up represent the fifth, so the future looks good,” he reports with well-earned satisfaction. No need to re-set the clock.