No stranger to natural disasters, dealer Edd La Mar has had to rebuild twice in his 36 years in business up in north-central Washington on the shores of Lake Chelan, where a wildfire took out his Chelan store last August. In 1996, an unexpectedly large snowfall flattened the main store in Manson, burying all the stock beneath four feet of snow. Each time, La Mar has taken the opportunity to expand. This Cascade Mountain valley area is home, and he’s not going anywhere.
It was one of those fires that grew quick and fast and really hot. [Firefighters were] unable to control it. I was in town, but we had gotten all our help out of there earlier and told them to go home. It happened in the evening. The wind shifted and instead of going away from Chelan, it went toward it.
The wind was so strong it took down a couple of cement sheds next to our building. It blew the fire right over our lumberyard. If a bomber hadn’t come in and dropped those two loads of retardant, I don’t think the town would be here. We have had so many years of dry weather. You do the best you can and hope for the best.
We are in the process of rebuilding the store; it’s going to be bigger, and more like the Manson store. We will have more showroom space and more covered storage there. Covered storage is such a big deal here because of the sun [Chelan averages 300 days of sun annually], which can warp the boards. We should have it finished in late spring or early summer of this year, the Lord willing.
My family has been in construction since I was a kid. I had a good friend that had a lumberyard in Chelan (pop. 3,890) and I went to work for him with the idea I could buy in. I worked for him for four years, amassed a little money, and then I said, 'I’m ready.' They said they had changed their minds, so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go open up my own lumberyard.’
I decided to go to Manson (pop. 1,468, seven miles northwest of Chelan) because it was cheaper there. I wanted to be close to town but didn’t want to break the bank with buying the property. I bought an acre horse pasture in 1979; now it’s about 1-3/4 acres.
Words of Advice
Two people gave me advice when I started this business: my banker, who told me to stay on top of accounts receivable, and my accountant, who said, ‘If you’re going to tap the till, do it early, because if you do it later on, the IRS is going to get on you.' The accountant’s advice sort of rankled [my wife] Sharon, because we weren’t the sort of people who would do that.
It’s a big tourist area here, along with some agriculture, mainly apples, and a growing number of wineries. It’s a second-home type of place, and we have a lot of custom home building. Working with these contractors, it’s a pretty good deal for us. We do a lot of packages: doors, windows, and framing. We stay away from doing the whole house package—that takes a lot of specialized people, and trying to draw the people who can do those jobs to this area is tough.
I think most of our competition here realizes that, and does the same as we do. The competition--locally it’s Marson and Marson, ProBuild, and Wenatchee Valley Lumber--is not as cutthroat here as it is in other places. I won’t let myself get that way.
I’m 75, and semi-retired now. I go in about four days a week. Ever since my wife died, it’s given me something to do. Our motto is, ‘Where customers become friends.’ I like helping people, and developing a good relationship with them. It gives me satisfaction to be able to do that every day.