While some dealers think that today’s college students don’t want a career in LBM, that isn’t the case for all of them. Virginia Fritsche grew up working summers at Tart Lumber in Sterling, Va., a business her mother owns and where her father serves as president. By the time Fritsche was college bound, she had dreams of becoming an animator, but soon realized art wasn’t a good fit and decided to study business management.
“When I called [my parents] and said management would be better, they were really quiet about it. But inside, they were jumping up and down,” she says with a grin. “When I switched [my major], I knew I wanted to come back and work at the family yard.”
Fritsche graduated from Clemson University in 2015 with a management degree focused in information systems. Now, Fritsche works full time in Tart’s design center, where—among other tasks—she works with hardware and ordering custom-made items for clients from Tart’s mill shop. She says her project management class is the most helpful for her daily tasks. “You have five, 10, maybe 15 customers at a time and you’re looking for who you’ve heard from and gotten back to and making sure nobody falls between the cracks.”
Though working at Tart Lumber has had its learning curves, she enjoys LBM. “I really like that it’s going to be an industry for a long time,” she says. “We just have to make sure that we continue to build. It’s adapting to the changes in the market without losing our integrity in the sense that people want things quick, for half the price, and custom built. You really have to stand behind the quality of work our industry is performing.”
To attract millennials, Fritsche feels certain perceptions of LBM need to change. “People are always surprised I’m a woman in the building industry,” she says. “We’re not a male industry. We’re a male-dominated industry.”
“When I talk to people and say I work at a lumberyard, they expect me to say I’m pulling loads of lumber,” she adds. “It’s not just selling wood.” One option to stress, she believes, is the availability of office jobs. “People go into college saying ‘I don’t want a desk job,’ and come out saying ‘I want a desk job.’”
For her future, Fritsche plans to pursue an MBA and work for another LBM company before returning to Tart. “I might still focus my MBA in information systems to better apply it to my job. I always have ideas about how to make Tart Lumber a little more efficient.”