The lumber business was not on Buzz Miller’s radar back when he was majoring in science at Texas A&M and contemplating a career in medicine. But marriage in his senior year to the daughter of Allen & Allen’s owner, former pro football player Pat Knight, helped change his career path. Knight made his young son-in-law an offer to join the company, and Miller says: “It was hard to turn down Pat.” Miller’s been there 38 years now, 16 of them at the helm.
Where It Began: I was from Wichita Falls, up north, where it’s either too hot or too cold; I didn’t want to go back there, and my wife wanted to go back to San Antonio. Since I didn’t know whether I could get into medical school, I started in the warehouse at Allen & Allen. Then I went into outside sales, working from San Antonio to Laredo. Then I went to manager and sales manager, and then to president after Mr. Knight’s death.
Finding a Niche: We don’t get involved with tract houses, but with custom homes, $1 million and up. You don’t see us delivering house packages. We do the specialty stuff. I don’t know of another yard down here that has its own mill. We do a lot of restoration work on old homes. We run profiles for other yards if they need a custom pattern. If you have a big outdoor kitchen, we’ll do the wood ceilings and beams and sell you all your cabinet pull-outs, built-ins, and decorative hardware. We carry more of the high-end lines of hardware, like Stone Forest and Rocky Mountain.
Designer Inspiration: People coming here [to the showroom], they get a lot of good ideas for their homes. They can look at knobs and pulls, the jewelry of the home. That’s our specialty. The women and decorators love us; the husbands hate us. I have a lot of friends who say, ‘I’m not letting my wife down there; she gets ideas.’ We have the reputation that if you can’t find it anywhere else, go to Allen & Allen.
Running a Tight Ship: Our diversification helped us during the recession, but it was tough. We had 118 or 120 employees, and we got down to 65 or 66. We did have to make changes. We are probably right at 70 staff right now. In the good old days, you just threw people at a problem. Now we do more with less, and we have invested heavily in technology. Retention is a big deal for us. You have to go through a lot of people to find the right fit.
About That Nickname: I stuck my hand into a honeysuckle vine on the fence to get a baseball, and came out holding a wasp’s nest. I had the wasps all over me, and supposedly I made a sort of buzzing sound. Or so my aunt says. I was about 4 or 5.--As told to Kate Tyndall