It takes more than a picture to get a true portrait of Tim Stine. He's a quadriplegic, yes, but he also is an executive at a 12-store, roughly $150 million operation, a former two-term state legislator, and a past president of the Mid-South Building Material Dealers Association. Here's Stine from a few more perspectives.
Background. I was born Oct. 26, 1956, and grew up in Sulphur. My father's and mother's family were all from west Calcasieu Parish. J.W. Stine started the business when he came back from World War II. He was a B-26 pilot. He already had two brothers by then. I'm the youngest of seven, six of them boys. We six run the business.
In college I worked for someone else. Then I worked at a concrete company for a few years. I went to work for them because I got paid more money from them than I could get at Stine hauling lumber. My brothers hired me back around 1979.
Our Markets. We're mostly rural. When The Home Depot and Lowe's entered the market, a lot of lumber dealers went directly to pros. We kept the retail side and developed both and go after both. Today we have 12 stores. Six are in our new format, which has anywhere from a 45,000- to 85,000-square-foot showroom including the garden center and 30,000-square-foot drive-thru lumberyard. Our seventh store in form we'll be going into at the end of this month in Sulphur. We're about 40% pro and the rest consumer. In most of our markets we are No. 1 or No 2 in terms of servicing the pros.
Tracking Dollars. I look at financial yardsticks on a long-term, monthly and daily basis. Long-term, we do five-year plans and show those to the bank. Monthly, I watch gross profit dollars, because it's those numbers that pay operating expense. On a daily side I watch sales. Our IT department has come up with something where we get texts at noon, 5 p.m. and 8:30 at night showing what our sales are. If all of us or some of us are in a meeting, it gets funny because we're watching the clock and you can see us all looking at it. Whether it's good or bad, whatever conversation we're having we're leaning over and saying "Did you see this?" I used to turn my phone off at night but now keep it on because I want to get that 8:30 p.m. text. We also get a report with sales for each department and margin for each.
One time at noon we had a $4 million sale at one of our stores and I knew it was a mispunch. When you get that kind of news at noon three days in a row showing you over or underperformed, you want to react to that.
Watch the Plans. We also keep track of how many house plans that we're holding onto. That tells us the potential for business. We're holding onto them because the builder or consumer hasn't pulled the trigger. We have a thing called the Stine Loop that our pro sales coordinator developed. We want to sell not just the outside but everything on the inside too–the electrical, the appliances, the cabinets, the flooring, you name it. That Stine Loop pulls it together for that. You don't wait to sell the windows until when the framing is done. You do it when the package is in hand. We track every job to see if we quoted the windows, the cabinets, the appliance, and did we lose it and if so, to who. It's a great package. Our people meet every Thursday morning and check on leads.
The BP Effect. It's not the oil spill that hurt us; it's the moratorium of offshore drilling that's been the killer. It's affected all the employees and the folks on shore, and the oil and gas industry has 300,000 employees in this state. [In response,] we've done a great job on expense control. My brothers have just really attacked it.
Be Prepared. When it comes to disasters, we move on it fast. We've gone into markets where we don't have a store yet and pull up with tractor trailers and sell generators and water. We did that in Baton Rouge market when Hurricane Gustav came through [in 2008]. With Katrina, we were the last retailer to close. We were the first to open, and that was just on generator power. We've gotten to where if we know a hurricane is coming in, we've already got trucks rolling.
Hurricane Rita [in 2005] was a really trying time for us. It hit us dead on. We couldn't get into our corporate office for three weeks. On our computer system, we developed a backup system stored on personal computers. So we'd get the stores up and running and on generator power we'd power these backup systems. And because we had these drive-thru yards, if the store was wrecked my brothers staged everything from the showroom out in the drive-thru. Because the phone lines were still on we were able to get a cabling company that wanted generators. We said we'd provide generators if they could hook us up to take credit cards. We had lines of customers a mile long. And the money logistics were hard. We had to do a lot of traveling to make sure it stayed safe at banks at night. We'd be leaving Lake Charles to go to the bank and it was pitch-black out.
Incentive to Invest. After Katrina, we redid our five year plan. In the GO Zone [short for Gulf Opportunity Zone, the federal designated areas devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita] they offered advanced depreciation for buildings. If you built a $4 million store, you get to write off $2 million in taxes. So we developed a five-year plan going forward where we built five brand-new stores, two of them in new markets. Now we're at the end of the five-year period.
Political Past. I was in the state House from 1988 to 1996. I served two four-year terms. Before that, I was on the city council 2 years prior.
My Take on Politics. I understand how the committee system and laws go through the system. I know what works to influence them. It's not just money. It's getting phone calls in. There's an efficient way and a long way. I can remember sitting at my desk and we were constantly getting these messages from constituents to say "vote yes" or "vote no." I'd try to read through every bill, but there were some issues I couldn't get to. I would stack these notes up based on the house bill and then I'd separate the yeses and nos. And that helps sway a decision. It's easy: You just call the legislative switchboard and ask to leave a message. It's something that I encourage dealers to do. Not only should you get yourself to call but they also should have others do, but always leave your home number, not your store number. Otherwise, they'll think it all came from a store.
My Disability. I was injured in a diving accident on July 4, 1981. I tell people "That's our country's Independence Day and my Dependence Day." It was a C6 complete spinal injury, so I'm a quadriplegic. My fingers are paralyzed. The only thing I can do with my wrist is cock it back and cock it forward. If you cock your wrist back your fingers contract, so I can hold some things. But I can't wiggle my fingers. I have a good bit of my biceps but not my triceps so I can't raise my arms over my head. [Editor's note: For more details on functionality after a C6 injury, see http://www.apparelyzed.com/support/functionality/c6.html.]
Getting Around. I need assistance to get in and out of bed, undressing and undressing; I can't handle a zipper. For showers and stuff I hire a nurse's aide. I'm in a motorized chair. They were real clunkers at first, constantly breaking down.
My father rigged a van so I could drive. One day I was sitting there and my dad came over and he said "Try it." And I started doing it. At the time it was so hard for the muscles. Slowly he'd ride with me and I built those muscles up to where he'd not ride with me but be following me. That completely changed my life. I used to get those big Ford vans. Now I use a minivan where they have a ramp that comes down. I pull into the driver's area. There's no chair under the steering wheel and it locks. And I drive with hand controls.
Vital Supporters. If it weren't for my five brothers and my sister, and my wife Jane, I don't know. They're champions.When I talk about my condition, I talk about the power of relying on God. I used to be depressed and say "Why did God do this to me?" I'm Catholic, and a priest came to me and said you should play to the best of your abilities. That helped. The other help has been the serenity prayer–accepting the things I can't control and having the courage to do the things I can change.
In the Office. I use a normal phone. I can push buttons with the outer knuckle of my hand. I can type. I peck on the keyboard, and have gotten quite fast with it.
Obstacle Course. There were times I couldn't get into a building. I'd have to go through the freight elevator or people would carry me in. Back in my political days, in 1986 when I ran for city council, there were places where I couldn't get to the driveway because there wasn't a curb. I'd take one of my nephews, who were 4-5-6 years old and have them come with me. I'd have them knock on the door and I'd be out on the street. They nephew point to the road and I'd holler "I'm Tim Stine, I'm running for city council." It worked.
Stine Lumber's Future. We just finished our five-year plan. I think we're poised for growth. We've doubled our square footage. In 2009, not only did we open two brand new locations but we put a computer system in all our locations in one day. Though we've done a great job expanding and expense control. In the future, we hope to do a better job in our merchandising mix, leveraging technology to do expense control. It's amazing how taxing opening new stores are. We really hope to squeeze out more savings on dollars. We've done the hard work. Now we're ready to take this forward.
Tim Stine's Future. I'm finally having grandchildren. Our youngest is going into college. My oldest son has two grandkids and lives in Austin. I've been snow skiing again and whitewater rafting and I've been sailing. I'd love to try to scuba dive but that's going to take me and my wife to say "Are we ready for that?" We do a lot of swimming. I've even been horseback riding.
When I got out of the legislature I was concerned about my health. I'll work at my computer in the morning while eating and I'll work until 6 p.m., but I always take an hour to go to the health club. I tell people that when I'm at lunch, I'm eating iron.
Your Future. When you're building and thinking about modifying a home, at some time everybody in the world is going to be disabled, so you might as well plan for that. Why not plan for a three foot door rather than a two-foot door?