Eric Fritch grew up around wood, thanks to his father, who started Fritch Forest Products. But it was only after 18 months' work as an engineer at Boeing that Fritch decided to get back into wood. He started Chinook Lumber 21 years ago and has built it into a five-unit organization with 85 employees and nearly $25 million in sales. Now 47, he also runs Fritch Forest Products, dabbles in other investments, and recently moved up to first vice president of the Western Building Material Association. Fritch is known for spotting and exploiting niches, such as being a rare Western timber operation that mills cottonwood.
Watching the Numbers: "For the Chinook side, I've turned things over to Joost Douwes, the general manager, vice president, and minority owner. I've got Internet access [to the numbers]. I look at the reports about once a week. I'm more of a big-picture person, trends and issues. I'm actively interested in banking relationships, real estate and property, equipment acquisitions."
What Matters Most. "I still look at the profit and loss statement before the balance sheet. I'll look more at the bottom line first and then the top line. If I can do a profit on $1,000 in sales rather than doing $100 million and losing money, I'm happy."
Thinking Big: "I do a lot of periodical reading, like The Economist, for broader economic data. I try to keep track of worldwide issues–currency swings, commodity prices, metals and agricultural commodities–to see where things are going because it's such a global market."
Banking on Relationships. "I look at a bank as simply a vendor of money. It's just another supplier. The other [key for me] is just working with the bank on a regular, consistent basis and explaining what's going on. I have as much concern for their well being as they probably do [for mine]."