Larry White, customer service, co-owner Tom Fowler and Princess, Bob Fowler, co-owner and Bob Young, yard supervisor, are ready to greet customers at Fowler Lumber in Louisiana, Mo.
Fowler Lumber Brims With Customer Service
By Clare Adrian
Louisiana, Mo.—Suggested directions to Fowler Lumber, located northeast of St. Louis, are as follows. From whatever your orientation, get yourself onto Highway 79, also known as Little Dixie Highway of the Great River Road, designated as one of our Nation's Scenic Byways. Just south of the Champ Clark Bridge, an inspiring detour is Riverfront Park for a panoramic view of the Mississippi River, set below the limestone bluffs that support the forests of the Lincoln Hills.
When you get to Georgia Street, stop off at the river for another serene river experience, unless the Clarksville and Western train happens along to break the silence. While you’re there, check out a stone column that designates the river levels during the 1973 and 1993 floods, erected according to Otis Fowler’s will, in memory of his wife and brother. Then head west on Georgia Street to the heart of the downtown Georgia Street Historic District, which the State Department of Natural Resources has described as “the most intact Victorian Streetscape in the state of Missouri.”
The Fowler Lumber storefront in the heart of the downtown Georgia Street Historic District.
This Louisiana, Mo., where Fowler’s current co-owners Tom and Bob Fowler grew up, is an historic and scenic small town feast for the eyes of anyone that enjoys a mighty river flowing beneath a rolling hills landscape, antebellum homes and Victorian era architecture.
Fowler Lumber was established at 601 Georgia Street in 1962. Business was booming at the time so Otis and Paul Fowler decided to break out on their own, both working at the time for LaCrosse, the only other lumber company in town. The original corner building at 6th and Georgia was a grocery store and then a Buick dealership before the Fowlers purchased the property.
The pair ran the business until Paul passed away 10 years later. His son, Tom, now president of the company, came back to work at the store with his uncle, in 1991. Tom earned a degree from Central Missouri State University in industrial safety and hygiene and had been working at the cement plant in the area. Brother Bob, company vice president, had moved a greater distance away to Pennsylvania, also working in a safety related field.
Indoor storage at Fowler Lumber keeps products and equipment out of the elements, and it’s where the firm stores saws, mouldings, ceiling tile and glass cutting room.
When Otis passed away, Tom took over as president, and Bob as vice president. That same year, the company surpassed his uncle’s goal of $1 million in sales. Now, carrying on the Fowler tradition, Tom has his own goal of doubling that amount. He’s not sure it’s attainable. He sees steady growth, but said, “This last winter was tough on everybody and put a damper on things. And with interest rates and the war, we’ll just have to wait and see. We’re hoping like everybody else.”
What the Fowlers have in their favor are location, product quality, service and a dedicated team of employees.
As to location, Fowler said, “As people come into town, we’re right there downtown, so we’re convenient. Just a few blocks from Highways 54 and 79, we get a lot of Illinois business.”
Quality may cost a little more yet Fowler insists on purchasing top grade lumber. “I think people would rather pay a little more for lumber than pay a contractor to pick through boards and have to bring half of them back,” he said.
Most of the 250,000 board feet of SPF lumber Fowler purchases on average per year for framing purpo
A colorfully striking mural adorns the sides of two Fowler storage units, as commissioned by Louisiana Mural Organization Inc.
ses is of the machine stress-rated strength. Treated lumber and Southern Yellow Pine is always No. 1 grade. Ninety percent of the lumber of Canadian origin is trucked in from Cedar Creek or Forest Products in St. Louis, or distributor Roberts & Dybdahl in Granite City, Illinois. Much of Fowler’s plywoods and paneling arrives from Quality Building Products in St. Louis.
In addition to wood products, the store stocks paint, plumbing, electrical, roofing—the general hardware materials needed by his Illinois and Missouri Pike County clientele, contractors and homeowners who are building new homes, remodeling, or adding anything from rooms, garages, decks, roofs to windows. Fowler said of the community, “There are not a lot of big contractors in the area, so many homeowners do the work themselves, getting brothers or cousins to help.”
The Fowlers are onhand to help out with take-offs on prints for homes, and estimates for projects such as decks, pole barns, room additions, window replacements, roofs or siding.
At this time, delivery service is free within a maximum 50-mile radius. A 1-and-2-ton Ford, and two GMC pickups do the job. Tom foresees a possible change in policy because of gas prices, already noticing a trend in suppliers adding a 1-to-5 percent delivery fee, which could carry over to customers in higher prices. “If we do that, they’ll probably balk. But they can understand the delivery fee or fuel surcharge.”
The main lumber storage unit is largely used for SPF that has been pulled for orders for customers, and for delivery trucks to be loaded from the bins.
To provide unparalleled customer service is an understated resolve at the company, perhaps more open-ended than for Fowler’s own good. Tom finds himself coming in after hours for customers who call him at home. “We try to bend over backwards for people, go the extra mile to satisfy their needs. I got called in on Easter Sunday once for four sheets of plywood. A couple of weekends ago came down to get a box of nails for a guy. Hopefully that means something to him. Or he may have thought, ‘Now I don’t have to drive to Quincy. He’ll do that for me.’ And I usually do.”
Custom cutting is often a standard practice. The 16-inch DeWalt radial arm saw was used to bevel a large volume of boards when the bridge portions of Highway 61 were refurbished, and an 8-inch DeWalt panel saw is used primarily for cutting plywood. Tom recalls being baffled when a woodworker asked him to cut boards to length for a workbench.
Fowler’s benevolence extends out into the community. After 9/11, he began giving veterans a 10 percent discount on anything they buy. What he gets in exchange are stories. He remarked, “A lot of veterans have never had a discount given to them ever in their life because they are veterans. One Clarksville vet was a general’s aide in Patton’s army during the Battle of the Bulge.”
Behind the Georgia Street store front are two storage sheds Otis Fowler had built—one 2000 square feet, the other 1000. A colorfully striking mural adorns one side on each. They were the first two of several commissioned by the Louisiana Mural Organization Inc., formed in 2000 to attract visitors and boost a faltering economy. At the same time Fowler accepted the request to have the murals painted—one of an eagle, the other of churches in the community. He also priced paint used for all subsequent murals to adorn the town, at 10 percent over cost.
A stone column that designates the river levels during the 1973 and 1993 floods was erected according to Otis Fowler’s will.
Of all the strengths of the company, Fowler attributes its success mainly to the dedication and convivial personalities of staff members. Larry White, in customer service, has been with the company for five years and secretary Diane Bowler, who does all the accounting, waits on customers, mixes paint, or cuts a board if need be, has been doing so for 30 years.
Last but not least, an important rapport builder with customers for the last year and a half, is a friendly little Beagle mascot and greeter named Princess.
The long hours the brothers put in make vacations of any length prohibitive. They enjoy fishing and hunting and manage to get away at times to enjoy the sports in the area’s many natural refuges. Bob still tends to bring the cell phone along though, lamented Tom.