Star Lumber and Supply Co.

Star Lumber and Supply founder Earl Goebel had a sense that the city of Wichita, Kan., was ready for growth at the time he first set up shop in 1939. As most of the city’s development up to that point was in or near its downtown area, Goebel defied conventional wisdom by establishing his lumberyard on its outskirts.

Goebel was proven correct as the city expanded in the years following his company’s founding. Many of the residential developers and builders looked to Star Lumber and Supply for building materials, making the company one of the largest of its kind in the state of Kansas. 

Star Lumber and Supply today has multiple locations in Wichita including a distribution yard, outlet location and showroom. The company also operates locations in Manhattan, Kan., and Oklahoma City.

The company sells various sizes of lumber panels as well as windows, doors and trim. In addition to its primary building materials division, Star Lumber and Supply also operates a flooring division that sells and installs residential and commercial flooring. The company also operates a structural components division that manufactures and supplies trusses for its diverse customer base.

Careful Growth

As it prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2014, Star Lumber continues to have growth on its mind as it applies the business lessons it learned from Goebel to a post-recession economy. 

“We’re carefully evaluating our growth options. Like a lot of people from 2000 to 2008, we jumped and grew every place we could dream of growing in, and not all of it good,” says Patrick Goebel, grandson of Earl Goebel and the company’s president. “As a result, from 2008 to 2012 we were in a massive contraction, with the market forcing us to step back and ask what it is we do well and what we can continue to do.”

In the last few years, Star Lumber and Supply has seen growth in new multifamily and commercial construction projects. Historically, the company specialized in supplying materials for remodeling and single-family residential work.

One way the company has addressed the changes in its markets is through changing its sales focus. “In our stores, we’ve gone from having cash registers up front to having counters, since most of our customers are project-oriented and need more than to pick something up and leave,” Goebel says, noting the company also closed a few locations that served a purely retail purpose. “We’ve doubled our efforts when it comes to projects and recognized that we’re not really a hardware store at all.”

Star Lumber and Supply also sought to increase its efficiency and service level. “We have gone from offering 25,000 to 30,000 SKUs to 7,500,” Goebel says. “Big-box stores are aimed more at the mass market, while we’re more focused on professionals.”

Providing Value

Star Lumber and Supply emphasizes total value to its customers, not just cost. “Value is an equation of cost plus service, and we believe you have to balance those out,” Goebel says. “We make sure we provide a level of product quality our customers are willing to pay for, and that might be slightly higher than others.”

One service Star Lumber and Supply pays particularly close attention to is delivery. The company closely monitors its on-time and in-full delivery rates and has a return policy that includes free material pickup. “We don’t just provide studs, we get them to the project damage-free and at high quality, and we will pick them up when the customer wants to return them,” Goebel says.

Suppliers also play an important role in the company’s ability to delivery quality products and service. Star Lumber and Supply conducts annual planning meetings with all of its suppliers, and regularly follows up on the goals set during those meetings. “We consider our suppliers an extension of ourselves and try to include them in our plans and understand what’s important to them,” he adds. “We’ve found that planning with them and aligning their goals with ours has made us successful.”

Giving Back

Star Lumber and Supply’s sense of community has remained strong throughout its 75 years in business. Goebel attributes this quality to the company's family ownership and deep roots in the Wichita area. 

The family established the Goebel Family Star Lumber Supply Charitable Trust to distribute funds to community organizations. Eight percent of the company's pre-tax net income is placed directly into the fund, which is administered by a board of directors consisting of employees and Goebel family members. In addition to the trust fund, the company directly contributes two percent of its income to other organizations.

“I'm the third generation now involved in the company, and we have the fourth generation now coming up,” he says. “We felt it was important that we give back.”

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