This is A bro-mance now playing at a lumberyard near you—well, if you’re within viewing distance of Fargo, anyway: the same North Dakota town that lent its name to the iconic 1996 movie.
LumBros Solutions is actually located in Detroit Lakes, Mn., a bedroom community, pop. 8,500, about 50 minutes east. But their reach extends with profitable daily runs to Fargo. The area’s economy is driven–full speed ahead—by tourism, anchoring 421 lakes within 25 miles, says LumBros’ young owner, Zach Felt, who grew up here.
In naming his new company, he coined “LumBros” to honor his buddy at their previous place of employment who became his first (and only) associate in the launching the brave new venture. Zach then added the word ‘Solutions’ rather than ‘Supply’ to the company’s title to indicate the positive thrust of its customer service.
When Zach tells you he’s been in the industry 16 years, you assume he started in while watching Sesame Street. (His own kids are 6, 5 and 3.) Actually, he signed on after high school as a delivery driver for a nearby yard where a friend worked—lured, he says, by “cool gloves and a cool truck: You can’t beat that for a summer fling!” This is the Zach of flowing hair, a lip ring, and a brand-new commercial driver’s license.
After driving for a commercial contractor “to strengthen my game,” he advanced to yard foreman, estimator and a sales position (“about which I knew squat”), which included a one-day training session. “Pretty wild-assed,” he allows. But he was hooked. He’d go home and listen to lumber podcasts while he mowed the lawn (I’m not making this up) and his bedtime reading consisted of Marvin catalogs.
A couple of years later, he was contacted by the owner of a lumberyard who was about to retire, looking for a managing partner. “I talked to my wife—‘What if?’ I went to the bank; but then the man changed his mind, and I’d already quit my job.
“I decided, okay, I’ll buy a yard on my own. The bank already had my information, a home equity line of credit to help me buy windows, doors, siding, hardware. I found a nice hunk of property to rent across the highway from a golf course and a half-mile from the lakes. It had a big storage building on it. The owner had heard my story and called to see if I was interested. I couldn’t afford it, I told him, but he was willing to work with me (“We’ll finish the building to your liking”). I got it re-zoned commercial, and Marvin Windows gave me a verbal commitment. Marvin’s confidence gave me a foot in the door. It gave me street cred with other vendors: They knew we were legitimate.”
We? Well, that’s where the “bro” comes in. Zach had met Adam Edwards when both worked for Steel Wood Supply. Adam became LumBros’ first, and only, team member when it opened in May 2019. (They’ve recently hired a driver, and Zach’s wife now works afternoons after home-schooling the kids.) “Adam had been a delivery driver at Steel World—a snowboarder from Colorado, originally from England, with under-utilized capabilities: a beautiful brain under-used. An awesome young man. He’s learned estimating and now does a lot of the purchasing and sales support.
“My dream is to make this a fun, happy place to finish out our careers, all of us. And we’ll grow it.” Watch for it, exclaims Zach, a football fan: “The Vikings LumBros Stadium!” (Remember, readers: You read about those naming rights here first.)
Between Fargo and the lake cabin demand, business is exploding, despite Detroit Lakes’ abundant supply of existing lumberyards: three independents, a Builders First Source, a Menards. “We’re not here to upset the applecart and put our competitors out of business,” Zach makes clear. “We’re not going to poke the bear, steal customers. We’re the only 100% locally-owned yard, however, and the town has received us well. We’re fresh! We’re caring! We’re invested in the community.
“Our word-of-mouth has been hugely successful. For instance, a recent $800 window sale led to a $50,000 job. And we’re not afraid to lose money on a sale—to take care of our mistakes. The goal of a sale is to get the next one,” Zach declares.
“We supply everything from custom homes to decks and additions. Our niche is the homeowner who acts as his own General [contractor]. Plus, the huge lake cabin business keeps us going through the winter. Vacationers close up after Labor Day, so we can remodel them at our convenience. And we’re a bedroom community to Fargo, an I.T. hub, which brings projects our way.”
Right at the outset, Zach installed a POS register in order to easily bill credit cards—“no house accounts,” he’s adamant. “After all, you cannot leave a box store without paying.” No fax machine, either. (Remember those?) Instead, a computer that allows Zach to work from home. And—no uniforms.
“No khaki pants and logo polo shirt. We want team members to be free! If your team members” (Do not err and call them “employees,” as I thoughtlessly did, or you will receive a quick correction.) “If your team members are happy, you don’t have to worry about customer service.
“And our customer service is better than the boxes’—because we care. Maybe, due to growing pains, we weren’t always up to par on something. But people have been very understanding.”
Those customers are split evenly between contractors and DIYers: “You’d be surprised at how much walk-in traffic we have. And once they’re in here, they’re back with repeat business. They know we care.” And they tell their neighbors, Zach declares. “Our best marketing has been word-of-mouth.” Plus the entertaining videos on Facebook, with their cast of smiling family members.
Every day has not been a walk in the park, of course. Obstacles arise. “The biggest hurdle,” Zach admits, “is… me. I need to follow up on contacts to increase our customer base. And I need to be concerned about getting too big too quick. We’ve been very fortunate in a crazy first year that featured lumber quadrupling in price in six months and material shortages.
“I want all of our teammates to meet with our homeowners and contractors. We’re moving to pursue acquiring another teammate to overcome the idea that only I can run this—that I don’t need to wear all the hats.”
According to the company’s videos, the Felt family teammates-in-training, ages 6, 5 and 3, joined by Bro Adam Edwards’ toddler, are happy campers. And they’re probably listening to industry podcasts instead of lullabies. Or practicing throws for the LumBros Vikings Stadium.
– Does your yard have a unique story to share? Email Carla.