Looking To The Future At La Mesa Lumber

LA MESA -- Things were tough for all businesses at the height of the Great Recession that is now receding.

But it was particularly tough for family businesses that weren't just laying off employees, they were letting go people who had become virtual family members.

In La Mesa there is no business that falls into the "family" category more than La Mesa Lumber & Hardware.

In many ways, the lumber yard located along Spring Street and University Avenue since 1907, is a throwback to La Mesa's earliest days. Lumber brought in by rail would be dropped onto this yard and then was distributed out to build many of the homes that still dot the peaks and valleys of this Jewel of the Hills.

Carol Baxter (see photo above), the current General Manager, is the granddaughter of the man who brought the yard into the family in 1945 and the family has never given it up.

"The business has been good to my family and we intend to stay with it as long as it keeps providing us with work and support,'' Baxter said recently. "The family has always wanted to stay in the lumber business.''

The good news is that business has steadily improved from the dark days a few years back when employees first had to cut back hours and then two positions were eliminated. Home renovations have picked up dramatically and, Baxter says, the loyal builders who made it through the downturn have returned to La Mesa Lumber's yard with their business.

Still, the lumber business has, like many retail lines, undergone an almost paradigmatic shift in recent year. Big players like Home Depot and Lowe's have muscled many of the independent yards out of the way, using their big buying power to undercut the smaller companies on price.

La Mesa Lumber has leveraged its own deep roots in the community to respond to the big box stores with quality. Baxter says her firm works hard to identify the best mills and suppliers and to keep an inventory on hand that is superior to the bulk approach the big boxes use.

"We have loyal customers who know if they get it here it will be what they want,'' she said. "We can't compete on price with Home Depot -- though sometime we do undercut them -- but we can and do win on quality.''

When Baxter assumed leadership of the company she also knew La Mesa Lumber needed to diversify, to stock a range of hardware, saws and other tools that would allow their customers a better chance of getting what they need in one stop.

So while the exterior of La Mesa Lumber is a sort of timeless paean to the folksy lumber yards, inside is a well-thought out and merchandised selection of the hardware products their regular customers have asked for over the years.

Rick Johnson, a La Mesa home renovation contractor, has been a customer of La Mesa Lumber for more than three decades. He tells stories of builders renovating homes today that they build originally thirty years ago and having the same La Mesa Lumber truck and driver that delivered the original material showing up with the renovation supplies.

"It really is the kind of place we want to use for our work,'' Johnson said recently. "You know the people and they know you. You call in, tell them what you need and what you show up its ready for you. Makes your projects go way easier and that's why we are so loyal. It's not just about price.''

With such a large plot of land, so centrally located in La Mesa, Baxter and her predecessors have frequently been asked by developers and city planners if they have ever thought of selling the valuable land for other uses. In fact, they express a little fatigue at that question being asked of an on-going and successful business.

"We are still lumber people,'' she says. "The family has always wanted to stay in the lumber business and that's where we are. I don't see us selling in the near future.''

With the current upturn in the home renovation business, the register at La Mesa Lumber should continue ringing frequently for the near future as well.










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Tags: Carol Baxter, La Mesa Lumber, La Mesa Lumber & Hardware, La Mesa Today, La Mesa business, La Mesa news, hardware


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Comment by David Stanley on July 30, 2013 at 1:50pm

Years ago I noticed that my father in law, practically my father, shopped exclusively at the neighborhood stores in his village in Kansas. I asked him about this, pointing out substantial savings at larger stores providing the same products in greater supply. He told me he likes and prefers to shop "locally" because it supports his village and he has developed friends at the various stores and shops. I took his comments to heart and likewise do much of my shopping "locally". And, like him, have made many friends about my community. Prices may be higher and product lines smaller but generally I like the feeling of saying, "Hey. How's it going?" and talking abit before  actually shopping. Besides, my wee dog also has made quite a few friends about the village because of this as well.

Comment by McPherson Studios on July 30, 2013 at 7:54am

Hoorah for the entrepreneurial spirit of La Mesa Lumber... such a nice piece of sand in the boot of Washington ideologs who keep trying to squash our resolve! I will continue to support the "family" as a regular customer and keep sending in my friends...

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