There's scant glory in leading local public institutions, but lumberyard executives nationwide answer the call each November by standing for election to various offices. Frankie Blanton is a good example. He spent 16 years on the Horry (pronounced o-REE) County Board of Education, six of them as chairman. He has devoted the past several years to the Loris Healthcare System board and recently joined the local electricity authority. That's on top of running a three-unit LBM operation that serves South Carolina's "Grand Strand" (Myrtle Beach and environs) and upcountry along the North Carolina border. Here's how he gets the job done.

Frankie Blanton Photo: Harry Taylor Photography The Basics. "I look daily at my gross margins. I never felt comfortable having everything on the same system, so I estimate my inventory every month. The computer people said I was crazy to do that. We take our daily numbers and import them into the general ledger. We look at basic sales, what we feel we have to maintain to survive. I also look at what [benefits] my family and I get out of it, the intangibles."

Marginal Thinking. "Margins in this type of business have been low for many years. You have to come out at 21% margin for us to exist. ?The only reason we've been able to survive in the last 10 years is that we were able to put inventory in at low prices. You've got to have capital to be able to do that."

Monthly Reports. "The biggest thing I notice is when some items completely drop off."

Why Serve? "If you help other people, you'll be rewarded. I still spend 40 hours a week in the office."

What Electric Board Service Taught Me. "I'm learning a lot about global warming. ?We're going to change the light bulbs in the store to more energy-efficient ones. And the biggest thing we're trying to save on is putting delivery packages together. I try to make sure we set our cooling system to 80 degrees at night, and occasionally we'll open the doors in the store and let the breeze blow through."

–Craig Webb