Danny Baumstark, 65, is about to retire as head of Hermann Lumber, the yard he owns, in Hermann, Mo., pop. 2,700. But not to worry: The succession plan has been in place for, oh, ever since his daughters were old enough to sweep out the driveway.
That’s right: The business—which includes a second yard and a concrete plant—will be in the hands of his three daughters—Megan Stiers, Chelsea Rohlfing, and Rachel Korman, who’ve known this would be their future, and geared up for it, for decades. They’ve all grown up in Hermann, a town anchoring Missouri’s wine country (not a misprint: the West Coast can’t have all the fun this industry involves). And grape-growing has grown tourism, Hermann’s most important industry.
The ladies will represent the third generation of family owners founded by a young kid who served as office manager at Klenk Lumber, and bought it in 1922 when its owner died. Megan Stiers and her sibs were born into a thriving operation where, she reveals, “I always knew I’d stay on. In college I pursued a business-management degree, in preparation. My sister Rachel studied business management, too, and Chelsea concentrated on communications. She worked for several other businesses, but was looking for a career change when an opening came up in our [second] store in New Haven. Now she’s back in Hermann, too, in the office.”
Megan’s been here over 20 years by now, achieving her OTJ training by rotating through every post from the contractors’ desk to the floor to the office. “Sure,” she laughs, “when I helped out on the contractors’ side, I’d get a little reaction for being a woman here when someone would call—that hesitation on the phone, that things were not normal—but it didn’t bother me. Rachel worked retail in front with no problem. But with me, on the contractors’ side, the questions would be more complex, the problems a little bigger, so I got more of that. But it’s always been fine,” she asserts.
As Danny’s family grew, so did the business. Looking to expand, in 1964 he bought a second store in New Haven, 15 miles to the east—a smaller (pop. 1,700) bedroom community. While the original store had (and maintains) a 50-50 split between pros and retail customers, the New Haven operation boasts a bigger contractor base—“outfits working on larger projects”—and not as much retail as in Hermann. The two stores are managed separately but maintain consistent outlooks and services; this also allows JIT transfer of products and bulk-buying opportunities.
Then, along came Ready Mix. Danny got himself a concrete plant by building it from scratch in the early ’60s, because, he points out, “there was a need for concrete in Hermann, and I grew up with concrete—foundation guys, contractors. We built highways, bridges, commercial stuff.”
Daughter Chelsea is “enthusiastic about it and helps run the show. She’s involved with management.” And, of course, the plant drives business to the lumberyards. Once a foundation is ordered, guess who gets first crack on the rest of the structure?
Oh, and there’s a sawmill, too—“my hobby,” says Danny. “I do custom orders for mantles, countertops….”
Hermann’s customer mix is 50/50—half pros, half walk-ins, “and I like it that way,” declares Megan: “a good balance of both.” And what attracts your contractors? “Good service and a fair price. We bend over backwards for them: Do what it takes to keep them happy, and we always follow through.”
What about the DIYers? “Same philosophy. They appreciate the knowledge of our staff—folks who’ll get them the parts they need, from paint to plumbing to lawn & garden. We do a lot of special orders, and spend time researching them, which people appreciate. Plus, we’ve been in the center of town since 1922. We’ll celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2022, and we’re planning to make it a big deal.
“Sure, there’s competition,” she continues. “Within 15 to 30 miles, there’s a Lowe’s in Jefferson City, and Menards—and they’re always a gauge as to how we’re doing. When it comes to advertising, we still do circulars—good, old-fashioned circulars—as we’ve been doing for years, and it gets our best results. We’ve also got a Facebook presence and are looking into amping it up—a great way to attract new customers if we do it right.”
The Hermann team of 25-28 staffers has been carefully selected to do it right, too. Longevity is a forte here, but new hires are needed, too, “and we’re very slow to hire. We’re looking for employees who will stay around, make their careers here. People who fit our culture.”
What characteristics matter? “We talk a lot about that. Folks with ambition and desire, not necessarily knowledge.” (Interjects Danny, “You can’t always just listen to what they’ll tell you. They can always tell a story….”) “We take a lot of time to train them to accomplish a job. They like it here because they’re treated fairly and paid well, including profit-sharing, which means that this is their business, too. Yet, “Megan acknowledges, “in a small town, good people can be hard to find. It’s been more challenging.”
These days, she finds herself more in the office than on the floor. “I’ve been here full-time since 2002, with increases in pressure and responsibility as the years fly by.” She’s weathered the bad times of a few years back and delivers the outlook ahead with confidence in “another very good year.”
“Though weather’s always a factor,” Danny adds.
Is another acquisition on the horizon? “We’ve definitely talked about it, but there’s always a risk we need to evaluate. Yet, there’s always the potential to grow, and there’s always room for improvement. Hermann, the town, thinks just about tourism, but on the other side, it’s growing a population of people who actually live here. We’re always on the lookout, especially with the advantage of the Ready Mix….”
Next generation? “There are 13 grandchildren between the four of us,” she recounts. “But the oldest is only 12, so it’s a little early to know.” Care to place any bets?