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Klumb Lumber roots grow deeper with the third generation on board

Jackson — Homegrown Klumb Lumber Company looks forward to $180 million in sales this year, an impressive figure, but CEO C.E. “Buddy” Klumb Jr. would like to see his children double that figure over the next 20 years.

“If we don’t, I don’t think we’ll do justice to the value we want to create in the business,” said Klumb, who has served as CEO of the Jackson-based company for nearly 50 years.

“There’s an old saying, ‘If you’re not growing, you’re dying.’”

Klumb runs the business with the company’s third generation — Vicki O’Neill, 36, Roy Klumb, 46, Steve Funchess, 45, and Laura Corso, 45 — plus other family members.

“It’s a great business to be in,” said O’Neill, who came aboard in 1992. “It’s a real gentlemen’s business. There’s a lot of honor, and people do what they say when they say they’re going to do it.”

Together the Klumb family manages distribution yards in Gulfport, Tyler, Texas, Loxley, Ala., and Covington, Ga., which were all startups, and one more in Greeneville, Tenn., which was an acquisition. The Gulfport yard did not take too much abuse from Hurricane Katrina, but a lot of employees did. Still, they were able to start shipping two weeks after the storm and are now fully operational.

Klumb Lumber is a wholesale distributor of lumber and forest products — mainly specialty products like cedar for siding, moulding and other decorative trim, and treated lumber used for trim boards and other building uses. The company started out as a wholesaler of Southern pine exclusively, but has gradually added lumber from the Pacific Northwest like Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and cedar as that type of wood has become more popular with dealers. Still, Klumb remains true to the Southern pine.

“That’s what our company was founded on, and it represents more than half or more of what we sell,” said Klumb.
Klumb Lumber was founded in Crystal Springs in 1945 by Klumb’s father, known as Roy Klumb, but the family’s timber history goes back yet another generation. Roy Klumb’s father, Buddy Klumb’s grandfather, moved from Wisconsin to Jackson in 1899, lived in downtown Jackson on Pearl Street and spent most of his time on the job in the woods as a timber buyer.

His son, Roy, got his start in the business in 1910 as a sales manager for a company called Finkbine Lumber Company. He worked at other companies, then started Klumb Lumber as a one-man, direct mail shipping operation in Crystal Springs. Roy Klumb passed away in the late 1950s. After his death, Buddy Klumb moved the business to Jackson where there were more workers to hire.

Over the years, Klumb’s business has trended away from direct mail shipments to stocking distribution. Customers like the just-in-time deliveries and they don’t have to keep as much inventory. Klumb stocks the products in warehouses and ships it to lumber retailers in less-than truckload quantities.

“We’ll sell it by the piece if that’s how the customer wants it. If they want 50 pieces of beaded ceiling, we can box it up and truck it out,” said O’Neill.

The company’s Jackson location still handles direct mail shipping for customers across the entire Eastern U.S., but stocking makes up 70% to 80% of the business. These customers stretch from east Texas to the Atlantic, and up to Tennessee.

Klumb Lumber deals with all sizes of lumber retailers, but has not made a big push to go after the business of the big boxes like Home Depot and Lowe’s. “That’s a specialized marketing strategy to reach those people…and we saw we had to make a choice,” said Klumb.

The company has been exporting Southern pine lumber to the Caribbean since 1970 when Buddy Klumb took an interest in the exporting business. Klumb Lumber imports as well — buying pine from European countries including Germany, Austria, Sweden and Finland, and the South American countries of Brazil, Chile and Argentina. The company isn’t buying exotic wood from the Amazon; in fact, in Brazil they grow the same trees as Mississippi.

Now 78, Klumb is ready to semi-retire, and that means finding a successor and hoping that his grandchildren will take the company into the fourth generation. He is also looking for more acquisitions, which he believes will boost the company’s sales.

O’Neill said she never thought much about entering the family business growing up, but fell in love with it after doing inside sales while going to college. With 180 employees, Klumb Lumber is smaller than a lot of its competitors, and that’s exactly what she likes about it — the family environment versus the corporate bureaucracy.

“When I think of our competition, I picture a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of following the rule books,” she said. “We’re creative, and we’re out there every day coming up with interesting things to do. It’s a team effort.”

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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