David Haag of Spahn and Rose Lumber Company in Montecello, Iowa.
Narayan Mahon David Haag of Spahn and Rose Lumber Company in Montecello, Iowa.

People in farm country know all about multitasking, and Dave Haag is no exception. Besides spending 31 years in the lumber business, he also has just retired after 26 years' service in the town's fire department. Here's how he manages operations in this eastern Iowa community of 3,800.

Getting Started This time of year, I try to get in to work about 6 a.m. I'll open the doors, make coffee, make popcorn–my guys love popcorn, so I always make a little popcorn for them. Then I will look at the daily collection reports, sales reports, gross profit by item, stuff like that. We do a little bit of everything: We mix paint, sell hardware, lumber. I'm basically the sales force here. That's the nature of the beast in a small town.

Equipping the Farm Yard We do a lot of hog confinement buildings, we do some beef confinement, we did a lot of shops last year. There's a lot of money in the ag sector right now.

And Inside Farm Houses? [We do] a little bit of remodeling and repair, but that isn't as big as it used to be on the farm. It's not that there are not as many farms as there used to be, just not as many farmers. The amount of ground has been consolidated into fewer hands.

When Nature Calls Shingles have been a big thing for us here as of late. We had a big hailstorm go through here two years ago and it seems like everybody and their brother had to re-roof their house.

Burning Questions You see a lot more lightweight construction. [By working in lumber,] you could key in on some of those things that could be a problem for you in the fire department with trusses, I-joists, beams. Things aren't like the solid wood construction of years past, where it would take a lot longer to burn through.

How To Find Workers In a small town, you meet people and you will say, "That person might be good for my business at some point." You just keep that in the back of your head.

My Yardsticks No. 1 is sales. You've got to have sales to cover your overhead. No. 2 is your gross margin. And the last of that triangle is expense. You've got to keep your expenses in check. I look at it as the longevity of the people I have working with me. I like to hire good people and I like to keep them around because it makes my job so much easier.