It was a great-grandfather's service as a county judge that inspired Judge Nottingham's first name, as well as the names of his grandfather and father who brought him to north Florida's lumber business. Nottingham's grandfather arrived in 1926 at the Jacksonville branch of Carolina Portland Cement. The plant burned down that very day. The store recovered, Nottingham's grandfather eventually became manager, and over the years the focus shifted to wood. Nottingham and his brother bought Carolina from their father in 1989. New-home builders generate about three-quarters of its business, which focuses on sales of framing lumber, doors and trim, and special orders to the custom millwork shop. Here's how Nottingham guides this yard through Florida's housing slump.

Gather intelligence. "I talk to builders all the time. I have lunch every Friday with one of the gurus in town, a retired guy who stays plugged in, knows developers, and does bank presentations and such."

Sweat the details. "I like to look at the transactions for the day, focusing on gross profits. I look for things that are out of whack, little things I can tweak to keep gross profits up. ... Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves."

Track business. "I use a spreadsheet with current income and expenses as well as the previous five months. I don't do year-earlier comparisons, because business doesn't vary much [seasonally] in this climate. I stay in the now."