Monday, February 8, 2016

what a visit to Lumber Logs is like

Many of you already know - and maybe some of you will never know - but I want to describe the atmosphere at Lumber Logs on one of our retail Saturday mornings. Why not? Pictures of cool wood will always show up on this blog, but a building full of woodworkers enjoying themselves deserves its own post. Hopefully you will add your own thoughts in the comments.

Retailing lumber is a second job for both Joe and Tom; this is why we are only open for retail four hours per month (first and third Saturdays, 9 - 11 am). The effect of this bottleneck of opportunity is that the building fills with woodworkers of all types during those hours. This has been a fascinating study for me, as interesting as discovering sycamore or osage.

Let me just list a few observations:

  • Most visitors are males. Maybe 80-90% of our buyers are guys, but women and children and controlled pets are all welcome and make it all more fun. Our neighbors are an iron works, a trucking company, and a brickyard, so expect a testosterone laced industrial environment. We do not have a coffee machine, climate control, a restroom or running water. We do have a wood stove in winter and fan in the summer. I come home dirty after every visit.
  • Most people are happy to be there. I am likely not the only guy who rarely enjoys "shopping", but when the environment is a building full of my favorite material, then "shopping" becomes this experience full of imagination and hope and promise. (Maybe my wife feels the same way in a shoe store?) Finding the wood I need is easily one of my favorite woodworking steps because I haven't yet screwed anything up! Perhaps others feel this too since the building is full of happy people who share a love of this material.
  • People are understanding and patient. This strikes me as extraordinary (perhaps because I am often not particularly patient), but when there is a backlog of buyers waiting to have their selections scaled and priced, without exception these people show admirable flexibility. What happens next is really interesting.
  • Once somebody has met their particular need, they are free to engage others. And they do. Discussions about design, finishing, and teenage children flow naturally and without any posturing. A guy helps another with a large slab. Another shares an experience with an unfamiliar wood species. Ineptitude gets mentioned on occasion and it is always with laughter. Mistakes sound like fun; I'll have to try that.  
  • Most people find what they want. If they came looking for 2000 bf of black locust for their deck, then they will go away disappointed, but for a smaller scale project we have the goods. I am especially encouraged when somebody tries a new species they have not used before. The diversity that grows around here and thus that we stock should excite any worker of wood. Our local forest is an exceptional resource. Tell us about your project and we can suggest something that may surprise you. If we do not have what you want, say so and maybe we can improve. We have been cutting thicker oak as a result of multiple requests even though drying it is a challenge. Since our entire business is composed of Joe and Tom, if you get one of our ears you can affect what we do.
  • Not once in 12 years has anyone complained about us rounding all transactions to the nearest dollar. I wonder when pennies will go out of circulation.
  • Lumber haulers come in all shapes and sizes. We are especially impressed by the driver of a two-seater convertible who buys 100 bf of wood, the old dilapidated pickup with duct tape connecting rusty panels (for sale; this could be yours!), the jaguar driver, and the 16' trailer owner who buys one board. My story of 300 bf in and on a Subaru seems to encourage those who feel challenged with bulk.
  • Not even counting the business side of the experience, I always come away energized by the people who visit. This is not my universal reaction to crowds of people, so there is something special about woodworkers that I must like. These people are genuine optimistic doers. They understand challenge, failure, success, and making something that others treasure. They usually work alone but obviously get along with others. This combination of self reliance and sociability in a welcoming environment must be the formula for happiness, or at least temporary joy. At least, it seems to work that way. There is a natural and unforced woodworker's scene in St. Louis. Come experience it.

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