Small Businesses

Wilson Lumber Wins Big

For most of his adult life, Robb Wilson, president of Wilson Lumber, has read through the glossy pages of ProSales magazine the way some read through People.

And if ProSales is the People magazine of the lumber industry, their annual Dealer of the Year awards are equivalent to People’s annual Sexiest People Alive feature. While Robb and the rest of the Wilson Lumber team had a pipe dream of one day getting the ProSales’ top honor, they never really saw it as an attainable goal.

That is, until 2018, when the magazine called them up and told them they’d won.

“I don’t know that it ever dawned on me that we … could actually win it,” Robb said.

“I can’t say that it never crossed my mind, ‘Man, that would be so cool to win,’ but I also can’t say that I focused on winning it as the final goal. What we do, we do because it’s the best practice or the right thing to do, not necessarily to win the award.”

In a lot of ways, it’s that nose-to-the-grindstone mentality that got Wilson Lumber nominated in the first place. People have noticed Wilson Lumber still operates on principle, honesty and all those old-fashioned values that have long since gone astray for other companies.

Trade publications are a different beast from the grocery-line checkout literature the average person flips through. Instead of relaying celebrity gossip or to-die-for recipes followed immediately by weight loss tips,  trade magazines set the tone for particular industries. They boost business by telling a niche market who the top dogs are. For Wilson Lumber, the award means recognition from anyone in the lumber industry.

There were plenty of other successful companies vying for the accolade, but Wilson’s devotion to company culture — something ProSales editors said a lot of companies talk about but very few execute — sets them apart.

Why Wilson?

There are a lot of reasons Wilson Lumber stands out in Huntsville. The family-owned company has been here for more than 70 years. It’s a third-generation company that has been handed down from father-to-son-to-son. The Wilsons are pretty well-known in certain circles. They give back to the community through their work with the special needs community, Habitat for Humanity and Lincoln Village.

However awesome, none of those things make them a contender for this award. This isn’t even based on annual sales, although that doesn’t really hurt during the judging process.

Part of the appeal for Wilson Lumber comes from their dedication to customer service. If you’ve ever tried to order home repair stuff online, you know you have to be extra careful lest you wind up with something that won’t fit through your front door. Wilson Lumber’s model is to make sure every order includes exactly what the customer needs — nothing more and nothing less.

“I would say that we place value on the fact that we’re a high-touch business, that we are a relationship business, that we hopefully possess the knowledge to keep you from making (a mistake in an) order the first time around,” Robb said. “That’s where we’re always aiming: How can we make a process that’s not inherently easy, easy. How can we fill in the gap for our customer who doesn’t always know exactly what they want … That’s what we’re always studying and trying to get better at.”

That’s another reason Wilson Lumber stood out among the competition — they’re always studying. Whether it’s a book that will help them reorganize their meetings or production structure, the company is always growing. In the past year, they focused on making sure every employee knew exactly what they were responsible for, how to do their job, and what was expected of them.

Ah, if only every employer could be that clear.

Notes From An Outsider

Craig Webb, editor-in-chief of ProSales, left his Washington D.C. office for a few days to come visit their award winner and see just what all the fuss was about. Did these guys really measure up to their nominations? Were they really that nice and that ethical? Was the Alabama-Auburn divide really that big of a deal in this part of the country? He had to find out for sure.

In short, he learned that the answer was yes: They do measure up; they are that nice; their ethics are that strong, and the Iron Bowl is that big of a deal.

In addition to achieving that elusive company culture, Wilson Lumber has made strides in implementing lean manufacturing techniques — ways to be more efficient — in the lumber industry.

They have a “huge amount of stuff that’s worth emulating,” Craig said.

Still, as always, it goes back to faith and family for Wilson Lumber.

“Most people don’t talk about having a Christ-like atmosphere … whereas at Wilson, they embrace it,” Craig said.

We love the work Wilson Lumber has done in Huntsville, and we know you do, too. Be sure to stop by their showroom or call them for your next home improvement project to show your support.

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