FOSTER LUMBER—Serving Customers To The Fullest Extent
By Bridget McCrea
Vallejo, Calif.—Ever since Foster Lumber opened its doors in 1920 the company has been focused on exceeding customer expectations, even if it means going out of its way to get the job done. “Customers can ask us to do anything,” said Dave Jones, president of the firm, which has locations in Vallejo and Fairfield, Calif. “This company was built on the formation of long-term partnerships with customers. If we can do it, we’ll get it done.”
With 25 employees, Foster Lumber carries a wide range of lumber, including Douglas Fir; a Redwood line (for fencing, decking, interior trim and siding); Pine boards; dimensional, treated lumber; OSB; plywood; some domestic and exotic hardwoods; and a line of molding, trim, doors and windows. It also sells reinforced steel and roofing products, sheetrock and concrete.
One of Foster Lumber’s mainstays is #2 and better Douglas Fir, which is standard framing material in California. The firm stocks that particular species in 1x2 through 6x12. In dimensional lumber, the company stocks #2 and better treated, Douglas Fir in sizes 2x4 through 6x12. Other products include edge- and end - glued Radiata Pine that’s treated with preservative and then pre-primed for customers, and a full line of Redwood lumber in multiple grades and in sizes ranging from 1x2 through 8x8.
Vallejo Contractor and sales manager Bob Wheat (left) shown here with customers.
Until the last few years, Foster Lumber procured 80 percent of its green Douglas Fir from Northern California. The company uses about 3.4 million board feet of lumber and 1.9 million square feet of panel products annually, with the majority of that lumber originating in Central and Southern Oregon, and purchased from sawmills, distributors and plywood plants.
The economic recession hasn’t made that proposition any easier for Foster Lumber, a full-service, fully stocked lumber company whose corporate motto is, “What you want, Where you want it, When you need it.” Aside from the fact that customers are more discerning and frugal than ever, Foster Lumber’s main yard happens to be located in the city of Vallejo – the largest city in the U.S. to have declared itself officially bankrupt.
The city filed for bankruptcy in 2008, blaming exorbitant salaries and benefits for Vallejo firefighters and police officers for its woes. The stigma attached with such a widespread financial failure has taken its toll on local businesses, and on the city’s ability to attract investment dollars. To combat the challenge, Foster Lumber has turned to a customer-centric mission that has kept the company going strong for nearly 100 years.
“We’ve fine-tuned our services in order to provide even greater value to our customers, whether they are based locally, or in other parts of the state,” said Jones. “We’ve decided to get even better at what we do best: giving the customers exactly what they want, when they want it.”
The firm stocks Douglas Fir in 1x2 through 6x12. In dimensional lumber, the company stocks #2 and better treated, Douglas Fir in sizes 2x4 through 6x12. Other products include edge- and end-glued Radiata Pine that’s treated with preservative and then pre-primed for customers, and a full line of Redwood lumber in multiple grades and in sizes ranging from 1x2 through 8x8.
Foster Lumber’s customers include small to mid-sized contractors located in Solano, Contra Costa, Sonoma and Napa Counties. Most are high-end homebuilders and commercial contractors, while the rest are in the industrial, government and wine industries. About 20 percent of its business comprises walk-in sales and the rest is delivered on company trucks to customers throughout the 4- county region. “We do sell to customers outside of the area on occasion,” said Jones, “but our key customers are upper-end, custom residential and commercial contractors in our region.”
Since inception, Foster Lumber has been committed to providing superior customer service to those long-term clients. Founded by Gilbert D. Foster in 1920 at the corner of Napa and Maryland Streets in Vallejo, the firm’s original operation was started as a planing mill, and was soon transformed into a retail lumber business. In 1946, brothers Jim (Dave’s father) and Cecil Jones (Dave’s uncle) purchased Foster Lumber from Gilbert Foster.
In 1960 a new yard was built in Fairfield, and in 1961, land was purchased in Vallejo for a new yard and store, where employees with an average of 30 years of experience in the industry continue to exceed customer expectations on a daily basis. “We have the most talented and experienced crew that we’ve ever had in sales and in the yard right now,” said Jones. “And we’re doing what we can to keep all of them, despite the economic downturn.”
Foster’s lumber is grown on 100 percent solar energy.
Past-president and a current member of the Lumber Association of California and Nevada, and past-president of the International Order of Hoo-Hoo (a fraternal society for men involved in the lumber business), Jones said his company frequently gives back to the community that it has served for nearly 100 years. “We’re involved in all sorts of fundraisers, and active with our local chambers of commerce,” said Jones, whose firm also sponsored a little league baseball team for more than 40 years. “Cy Young award-winning N.Y. Yankee’s pitcher, CC Sabathia, played on Foster’s team when he was a kid growing up in Vallejo.”
Unsure of exactly how the economic situation will play out over the next year, Jones said he and his team are going to stick with Foster Lumber’s long-standing commitment to helping its customers become more efficient, and more profitable. “We’re going to keep our heads down and take care of customers; and hopefully they will take care of us,” said Jones. “Over the years, we’ve learned that offering our customers quality merchandise at fair prices – and backing it all up with the best service – makes for a bright future.” For more information visit www.fosterlumber.com.
One of Foster Lumber’s customers Bruce Tucker, Tucker Construction photographed here with Bob Wheat.