When their landmark enterprise burned down 15 months ago, a career of dealing fairly and going the extra mile with both customers and competitors stood Lumberworld owners Dave Flaig and Clive Piercy in good stead.
So did their faith.
Customers not only remained loyal when Lumberworld reopened for business; but contractors who’d been shopping at the Victoria, BC store for decades also helped with the installation of temporary buildings.
And a competitor provided lumber.
Though much of the firm’s lumber was untouched by the fire, it became untouchable for several days while the fire department sequestered the site for its investigation. (Arson is suspected, and police said they are still looking for a “person of interest.”)
Enter Home Lumber. Operated by the Jawl family, Home had cooperated with Lumberworld for years, each firm filling orders for the other when one firm’s inventory drew a blank.
“They let us have their lumber at cost,” said Flaig, “which was phenomenal. They even offered to deliver it for us.”
Lumberworld was able to maintain customer and business continuity — but it was a close shave. Business records kept on disk and onsite were damaged beyond retrieval in the blaze. But five months of struggling with their business software to deliver archiving to offsite storage happened to end the very night of the fire.
“That night, for the first time, we got a complete archive,” said Flaig. Records are one thing, he added, but “the backbone of the company is the staff.”
The company provided as much cleanup work as it could for its staff, and managed to retain two thirds of its 50-plus workforce.
The inside retail staff had to find other work, said Flaig regretfully, but at least the company helped with that. Others quit in frustration over working in crammed, temporary buildings, or outside in all kinds of weather.
Different parts of the new inventory have been divvied up into four steel shipping containers turned into departments, and a U-hut has been erected onsite.
The contractors who were the mainstay of the business responded in Lumberworld’s hour of need.
“They loaned us trucks with equipment, and said to bring them back when we were done,” said Flaig. Some provided crews to install temporary facilities. “Some of the contractors came themselves and worked.” And all for free.
Flaig said he figures people will pull together in times of disaster. It also couldn’t have hurt, he said, that Lumberworld’s approach has always been to “treat customers ethically and to go beyond the call of duty” for them.
But to keep them as customers, he knew he had to continue to deliver competitive prices, and the same plentiful stock of the bewilderingly wide range of materials that go into house construction. “Contractors don’t want to have to go to four or five different places,” he said.
Lumberworld and its staff seem to have succeeded. While its revenues have diminished overall, the contractor side of its sales has increased — not merely as share of total sales, but in absolute terms. Lumberworld, said Flaig, “actually has more business from contractors than before.”
It helped, he admitted, that Victoria is in the midst of a construction boom. “I wouldn’t want to have had to face this if the economy were going the other way,” he said.
The boom has its downside too, he noted, since Lumberworld must join the increasingly long line of those who need development and construction services. These are currently in short supply, and Flaig said the shortage could add three month’s delay to plans to rebuild the operation.
Those plans are now being developed in detail for the Saanich building department. Though Saanich’s long term vision for the area includes a lumber operation and mixed use, including residential, Lumberworld’s plan will initially stick to rebuilding itself.
In the meantime, the owners are looking for another location; but Flaig admitted alternatives are scarce, especially in a central location. He has urged Saanich municipal politicians to consider the important role a building supply operation would play in the event of a disaster. “We use any argument we can,” he chuckled.
Flaig also credited his son Jarrett with setting up a fireproof phone system and a camera surveillance system which captured the suspected perpetrator on tape, as well as his own staff leaving well before the fire started. Jarrett is part of Lumberworld’s “long term plans to rebuild,” said Flaig.
Flaig admitted he was in business in the first place “because I like a challenge” — and the fire “is a major one.”
Flaig credited his faith for enabling him to keep Lumberworld going, where other fire-struck lumberyards have collapsed. Both he and partner Piercy are religious men.
“Absolutely without a doubt, we couldn’t have done it without the Lord,” he said. “That gave us the strength to go on.”