Hope, Idaho–Jamie Emmer comes from an impressive line of lumbermen. One hundred years ago, his grandfather, J.W. Emmer, founded a successful wholesale lumber company in Minneapolis after graduating from Business College in 1910. The firm – Lumber Marketing Services (LMS) – survived and thrived through various economic ebbs and flows, and was later run by James Emmer Sr., Jamie’s father, who dedicated himself to working in the lumber business. Like his father, J.W., James too was forced to deal with the ups and downs of a fluctuating market.
Up next was Jamie Emmer, a third generation lumberman who – before getting his feet wet in the industry – already knew firsthand about its cyclical nature. Perhaps that’s why now, as president and owner of Lumber Marketing Services, located here, Emmer is faring pretty well through the current recession.
“When the market started to turn, I simply got back to the basics, which means doing more active marketing than I was back when the economy was booming,” said Emmer, the sole employee at the wholesale lumber firm. “I’m seeing the fruits of those efforts, and as a result of the work I’m doing now to build the business, I expect even better years when we all do come out of this downturn.”
Domestically, the firm uses a variety of Softwoods, including Western Red Cedar, Port Orford Cedar, Douglas Fir, Englemann Spruce, Lodgepole Pine and Idaho White Pine, plus produces paneling, flooring, siding, beams and timbers.
Emmer, who handles company sales and the purchase of raw materials, buys about 2 million board feet of lumber annually from sawmills in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and South America. A distributor of specialty wood products, Lumber Marketing Services also handles imported South American hardwoods, as well as imported decking and flooring.
Emmer purchases about 2 million board feet of lumber annually from sawmills in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia for his 4-acre yard and warehouse.
The customers that Emmer is courting these days are located in the Rocky Mountain West area, although the firm does ship nationwide. Those clients are typically retail or distribution yards that are independently owned. To help those customers manage in the difficult economy, Emmer said he’s breaking larger loads into smaller units, and also providing a higher level of customer service. “I’m balancing smaller, faster inventories against customer needs, and it isn’t always easy,” explained Emmer. “The time lines are shorter, and the inventory is smaller.” That’s where Lumber Marketing Services’ size comes in particularly valuable. “When you’re small, you can adapt more readily,” he said, comparing his company to a speedboat circling quickly around barges in a harbor. “By the time larger companies can actually make a decision, it’s often too late.”
With an office location and a 4- acre yard/warehouse in Hope, Lumber Marketing Services was founded in 1990 by Emmer. His foray into the lumber industry took place in 1972 in Minneapolis, where Emmer worked for a wholesale distribution company. Upon graduating from college in 1977 he was promoted to assistant warehouse manager in a new Montana facility. Emmer ran a retail lumberyard in Montana in the early 1980s, and then worked as a mill sales manager for a mill in Newport, Wash., and a Cedar remanufacturer in Spokane, Wash., until 1990.
Then the entrepreneurial bug bit Emmer, who – armed with wholesale, retail, mill and remanufacturing experience – felt that he was well prepared to go into business for himself. “Having been deeply involved with all of those different aspects of the industry,” he explained, “I was able to create a niche for myself based on everything I liked about those four types of distribution.”
As an environmental physics major in college, Emmer developed a passion for green and recovery type products, two decades before it became popular. He also developed recovery programs for mills, and created a network of distribution that is sensitive to truly sustainable forestry, not just the rubber stamp agency status quo.
Like many startups, Lumber Marketing Services began in its founder’s home, with Emmer serving as an independent sales representative for various small sawmills in the area. “These were mills that I was buying from when I was in the remanufacturing business,” recalled Emmer. “I had developed a trust with them, and had been buying their products for so long that they came to me to sell their goods on the open market. The transition was pretty smooth.”
From the hayloft of his barn, and with $200 in startup funds, Emmer took small positions in low-grade items with extended terms. Low grade Cedar was the first “big mover,” he said, and was sold through the networks of distribution yards, friends, relatives and acquaintances that Emmer had formed during his years in the community. Later, he would add high-grade products to Lumber Marketing Services’ lineup. “We’ve stuck with either the very high end or low end of the market,” said Emmer, “all the while staying out of the crowded big box/lumberyard arena.”
LMS purchases Western Red Cedar, Port Orford Cedar, Douglas Fir, Englemann Spruce, Lodgepole and Idaho White Pine.
A master-level ski racer and a dedicated triathlete who has been swimming, biking and running his way to success in the sport for several years, Emmer said his “hands on” approach has proven invaluable over the last 20 years, and particularly in today’s tough economy. “People know that they can call and talk to me, and not an operator, a machine or an assistant,” said Emmer. “They appreciate the low overhead aspect of my business, and they’re buying from the same guy who sources the product and loads it on their trucks.”
“My level of involvement gives a whole new definition to the term ‘hands on’”, said Emmer, who handles all of the payables, receivables, buying and selling, unloading and re-loading. Unlike those before him, this third generation lumberman’s office is in a remote area of northern Idaho.
“I sit about 100 yards from a grizzly recovery habitat overlooking 1,200-foot-deep Lake Pend Oreille,” said Emmer, who isn’t yet sure if a fourth generation will follow in his footsteps (he has four daughters, none of whom have shown an interest in the business yet), is looking forward to the economic recovery and the rewards that it will bring for those firms that weather the storm.
“When the years were good, I was basically just an order taker,” he said. “Like most other people in the industry, I’ve had to get back into the trenches and it’s paying great dividends that I’m sure will increase as the economy comes around.”
Emmer also serves as an elder in a growing church in Sandpoint, Idaho, and has been teaching bible study classes at a Montana school for at risk teenage girls for several years. Emmer added, “I believe that when it is all said and done, the most lasting legacy and satisfaction we will achieve, is the gift of serving others.”