Treated lumber is lined up in front of the long construction lumber shed at Norrenbern’s Lumber & Hardware Co., Afton, Mo. Norrenbern’s offers Cedar, treated Yellow Pine, Radiata and Ponderosa Pine.
NORRENBERNS LUMBER & HARDWARE CO.: Independent And In It For The Long Haul
By Clare Adrian
Afton, Mo.–Small contractors doing business in the South St. Louis County area of Missouri, hustling from the job site to make a quick purchase have a handful of independent lumberyards to choose from if they want to avoid the ubiquitous Big Box stores. When in the Afton neck of those woods, many stop in to Norrenberns Lumber & Hardware Co. for “service about as good as it gets.”
“If they’re small and still in business, independents should pat themselves on the back for not caving in,” said manager, Steve Bruce. “A lot of them just don't want to do it anymore and I'm sad every time one closes.”
Bruce doesn’t intend to be one of them and with a reputation for top quality lumber, knowledgeable, friendly people to assist, and prompt, reliable delivery service, there’s no need to.
The Norrenberns sign welcomes customers to the Shrewsbury location.
A team of eight, including ownership, take pride in expediting service to customers that come in to pick up their own lumber, get it loaded, and out. “We stay on top of things and they get personal service. No machine answers the phone. You might see anyone of us at the counter waiting on you, outside loading or delivering to you.”
An indication of the soundness of the operation is a look at how much lumber Bruce purchases from just one of his suppliers, not even his biggest. In 2X4 Spruce and Yellow Pine, he goes through 536,000 board feet, and in boards, 112,000.
Other species contractors purchase for additions, decks, remodels and some new houses, are Cedar, treated Yellow Pine, clear Fir, Radiata and Ponderosa Pine, OSB, plywood, and a bit of poplar and oak.
Bruce's modus operandi has continued to serve Norrenberns well, from the current location since 2002, when MetroLink, a light rail transit system in the Greater St. Louis area of Missouri and Illinois, scooted the business out of the original location in Shrewsbury by right of eminent domain in anticipation of an eight-mile long extension. The $550.3 million project, funded 100 percent locally from a sales tax, managed to squeeze out a payment to Norrenberns, enough to cover 1/3 of the costs to move and 3/4 of the traded property, not to mention the added financial burden of hiring a lawyer. Bruce isn’t complaining. “We were lucky to find a place. They paid what they considered fair. It will take time to work out of debt.”
Yard man Bob Buckner, ripping lumber for a customer, as is customary on Saturdays, when homeowners frequent the store for their specialized projects.
Some advantages of the previous location are missed, yet the new one touts its own, most notably more visibility. Though lacking an entrance on the main road, the 6,000-square-foot store, vastly larger than the previous at 900 square feet, backs onto it. Other buildings include a 100 X 150- foot drive-through for clears and plywood, another 32 X 260 for construction lumber, a 5 X 125 lean-to shed, a 30 X 40 barn, and sundry trailers. “We take advantage of anything we can,” said Bruce, of the well-functioning yard, spread out on 3-1/2 acres, where two Hyster forklifts suffice to move materials around.
Customers that need wood cut are readily accommodated. Norrenberns is equipped for custom cutting with a Milwaukee panel saw, Dewalt radial arm, and a Delta table saw. “We’re ready to do whatever it takes to please them,” said Bruce. Many customers do their own quick pick ups, and many orders are delivered on one of three Ford flatbeds, or an additional one ton Chevy van.
The original yard stood since 1946. Bruce’s father, Robert Bruce, had worked for Herman Norrenberns since the early 50’s and purchased the business in 1972 when Norrenberns retired. Steve worked right out of high school, taking a brief hiatus to work for UPS for a few years and has been running the family business along with his brother Jim since their father passed away in 1999. Steve is pleased to have his son Patrick on the job with him every day, on and off the job since high school and now after college, and likely to maintain the business upon Steve’s retirement. He doesn’t expect to see his daughters working in the field though. Daughter Kerry is finishing her studies of the classics toward a library science degree, and Casey is currently working in politics after having graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor of arts in sociology.
The drive through shed shelters finished plywood, finished lumber and dry wall.
Bruce has been content with his chosen path and with business growth. “I don’t want it to be too big; it’s going good, though we can always use a little more business.” The economy slid business over to the slow side, just as Bruce had hired extra help. Rather than let anyone go, each person takes a day off without pay and is glad to do it. “You get to know people, working with them every day,” said Bruce. “We get together over at one of the guys’ houses, watch the Daytona 500 or something, drink a couple beers, all one family.”
Bruce is confident things will turn around economically, perhaps in over a year. “They always do,” he said. To contact Norrenberns, call 314- 843-0700.
Norrenbern owner Steve Bruce is pleased to have his son, Patrick, on the job with him every day, here waiting on a customer on a busy Saturday.
Steve Bruce and brother-in-law Matt O’Brien, stepping in to the conversation with longtime customer, Dave Winklemeyer.