At the corporate headquarters of LaCrosse Lumber, located in Louisiana, Mo., classic Greek architectural features are representative of a solid company that has endured since the late 19th century.
LACROSSE LUMBER: Serving The Industry Since 1873
By Clare Adrian
Louisiana, Mo.—Mention LaCrosse Lumber in Louisiana and the tendency is to associate it with the coastal southern State, or perhaps Lacrosse, Wisconsin. The latter is a closer guess, yet the precise location is Louisiana, Missouri, population roughly 4000, the same count as when the company first laid its millworks foundation in 1873. The site was chosen as the ideal river city for the operation during a time when population 4000 was a sign of boom, not bust.
Having acquired considerable standing Pine acreage, Civil War general, lumber baron, industrialist, and governor of Wisconsin at the time, C.C. Washburn, commissioned his brother-in-law, Gustavus Buffum to travel down river in search of a centrally located lumber distribution and shipping point with both river and rail access. Louisiana met all the criteria. Backed by Washburn and LaCrosse financiers, the mill was established north of the present-day headquarters, yards and retail store. Leadership changed hands over the years from owner Washburn to Buffum, to his wife, Roxanna and sons Charles and Frank Buffum, to Charles Jr., on to J.D. Burns, and today Charles Meyer. The St. Louis native had earned a degree in accounting from the University of Missouri and was employed at a CPA firm when, in 1976, he decided to make the
Doyle Wiskur moved up the executive LaCrosse ranks to his current vice president/general manager position.
move to LaCrosse, where he now presides as president of the company, as well as maintaining his role as treasurer.
Vice president and general manager Doyle Wiskur began his tenure with the company in 1975. After serving in the armed forces, he attended building materials mid-management classes at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo. He walked straight into an assistant manager position at the LaCrosse store in Centralia after graduation and has been with the company ever since. He transitioned quickly to manager first at the Wellsville store, then to Marshall, and in 2004, to his current position at the corporate office in Louisiana.
LaCrosse has transformed and expanded, since the early days, from mill to solely a retail chain. Currently, 12 yards are operated in Central and East Central Missouri, and four in West Central Illinois. At one time, the number was as high as 32, when horse-drawn carts were the means of transportation from landlocked towns just a few miles apart, devoid of river and rail access. As transportation improved, fewer yards were needed or, towns began to suffer the small town fate of so many subjected to “Big Box” expansion, where businesses leave and none move in.
Purchasing agent Tom McLeod orders lumber from wholesale distribution centers in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Though Louisiana is one such town, the company hub isn’t going anywhere. At the corner of North Main and Tennessee Street, the sturdy blond brick building that is the headquarters, with its classic Greek architectural features, the Ionic scroll-topped columns and decorative frieze, is representative of a solid company that has endured since the late 19th century.
Across the street to the east is storage and catty-corner from the corporate offices is the retail store. Behind both are storage yards and beyond those, a rail line, running along the bank of the Mississippi River. Above it and continuing Highway 54 from the north into Illinois is the Champ Clark Bridge, which, intersecting with Highway 79 in Louisiana, is all that’s needed to entice business out of town and into the Lowe’s and Home Depot in Quincy, Ill.
Fortunately, Bowling Green, 12 miles west, where LaCrosse has revamped a former Kroger store into a new facility on four acres, is a growing community. The new Highway 61 from Hannibal opened Bowling Green up to traffic. “Instead of coming down 79 through Louisiana the way they used to, if they’re in a hurry, they’re going to travel Highway 61,” said Wiskur.
In spite of all the change, the population in Louisiana is stable, and LaCrosse’s yard is holding its own. The historic town is a noted landmark for its antebellum homes and downtown buildings as some of the most well-sustained Victorian architecture in the state. “At the same time that some business crosses the river, some is funneled into town,” Wiskur said. “With three
Easily accessible dimensional and 1-inch lumber bins make it faster to pull individual loose pieces of lumber for order delivery.
highways coming through town, if they want to find us, they won’t have a problem.”
Trucks travel those highways to the Louisiana LaCrosse yards, from distribution centers in St. Louis and Kansas City, such as Wholesalers Forest Products, Cedar Creek, Roberts & Dybdahl, Weyerhauser, EA Nielson and Trees Unlimited, transporting at least 200,000 board feet of SPF and Yellow Pine, and from a company named Schaller Hardwoods for close to 15,000 board feet of hardwood per year for cabinetry. Through affiliation with DoIt Best and Orgill Brothers hardware buying groups, LaCrosse purchases additional lumber when appropriate. Overall, the company purchases 4 million boardfeet-plus of lumber per year to fill orders for all their different sized yards.
Likewise, LaCrosse trucks, mostly Ford and Chevy, travel the highways to deliver lumber. The Louisiana store serves customers within a 30+ mile radius to consumer and professional builders for new construction, renovations, remodel and fix up projects.
Most of the locations have at least two forklifts, either Hyster, Caterpillar, or Mitsubishi, to load trucks with customer orders from the storage yards.
Draftsman Daryle Wallace creates computerized CAD blueprint takeoffs for all 16 yards.
Protecting materials from the elements are several buildings: a “stick lumber” unit measuring 30x120 feet, a 100x60 foot storage building, and another 300x30 foot building for metals, plywoods, sidings, and other miscellany. In the lower lot closer to the river, a 40x100 square foot bulk storage area is designated for units of lumbers, plywoods and shingles. The showroom is relatively small in the Louisiana location—1200 square feet—whereas some of the newer or remodeled showrooms measure up to 6,000 square feet, as in Bowling Green and Columbia.
A company goal is to expand by adding a few more yards, said Wiskur, but not in the immediate future. “The city of Havana, Illinois, needed our old downtown store location for the riverfront so we’re building a new yard from the ground up. We’re also looking to remodeling the Louisiana location someday, a facelift inside and out, and expanding the hardware area.”
In addition to delivery, other facets of the company’s customer services include custom mixing of paint, material takeoffs, construction estimates advice to homeowners on what works and what won’t, generally helping out in whatever way that is needed, said Wiskur.
The Louisiana LaCrosse store is situated across the street diagonally from corporate headquarters.
Draftsman Daryle Wallace creates computerized CAD blueprint takeoffs for all 16 yards in his office in the block building across the street from the corporate offices. It’s big enough for storage and office supplies too, because originally, in the 1950s, it was built to house an early computer, which required the entire space. “Those first ones didn’t pan out for the lumber industry,” recalled Wiskur. “It took us a long time to want to get back into the mode of computers.” Most yards are now on computerized inventory systems. Previously, knowledgeable management kept track of what was needed by knowing what was on hand and the demands coming up. With or without computers, said Wiskur, the individual manager dictates what and how much he stocks. “We don’t get too much involved. We let the managers run their business. And that’s what keeps them there year after year. Joe Schuckenbrock has been manager of the store across the street for 25 years, and almost everybody in the corporate office has been there for 15 to 20 years or more.”
The strength of the company is the employee population, remarked Wiskur. “They have the knowledge of what people are after. The longer you stay in business and the more you pay attention, the more knowledge you’re going to have about what customers need. A lot of the big boxes can’t do that. They just have people. They don’t have the years of knowledge we have with our long term employees.”
Bookkeeper Kate Murry and Store Manager Joe Schuckenbrock greet customers with knowledge of the trade - and a smile.
LaCrosse Lumber purchases over 4 million board feet of lumber annually.