by Jim Mulligan
At 7:20 on a crisp, clear Saturday morning in January, just as the sun began to makes its presence known east of the Sierras, three pick-up trucks sat idling, keeping the occupants toasty warm in the parking lot of one of the oldest businesses in Reedley. At 7:23 the lights inside Reedley Lumber Co. popped on in sections, indicating to the outside world, namely the aforementioned men huddling in the warmth of their vehicles, that the day was officially beginning. At 7:26 the doors were unlocked, and like moths to a flame, the gentlemen who had been so patiently waiting, exited the comfort of their trucks and made a beeline for the entrance.
Since 1921 – yes, that’s ninety-nine years ago – Reedley Lumber Co. has been the go-to location for builders, contractors, handy-people, and honey-doers looking for quality products for their projects, large and small. After spending the morning as a proverbial fly on the wall, listening and watching the varied interactions of customers and employees, it became readily apparent that folks were coming in for much more than the quality products they needed. In fact, their original storefront unabashedly proclaimed the motto that this author ventures to say still drives their success: Service, Satisfaction, Right Price.
Reedley Lumber Co. is and always has been a family owned and operated business. E. Paul Ruth, at ninety-one years of age, is retired from daily management of the business, but is still President of the company, acting in a supportive, advisory role to the big-picture management aspects of the operation. The Ruth family opened the doors of Reedley Lumber Co. back in 1921, a year that most of us today can only appreciate through books and movies. Reedley had been incorporated just eight years prior, and its center, downtown G Street between 10th and 12th Streets respectively, was fairly well established, boasting a variety of local businesses that provided goods and services to the surrounding community. On a busy morning, one could expect each side of the street to be lined with cars and pick-ups, all black, parked on the newly-paved main street of town. Reedley Lumber Co. was situated just south-east of the main action in downtown, right where is it located today.
A young Midwest transplant, who followed his college sweetheart to the area in the 1970s, would eventually take the helm of the business and steer it into the twenty-first century. Chuck Bohn, now a full partner in the business and general manager of day-to-day operations since 1994, got his start with Reedley Lumber Co. working out in the yard, helping customers load lumber, back in 1977 after relocating to Reedley from Kansas; he made $3.50 per hour, a full buck above the minimum wage at the time. Chuck’s easy-going, people-oriented management style has carried on the customer service-minded tradition of the Ruth family and earned him the admiration and respect of the twenty-seven full and part-time employees that currently work for the company. Twenty-four-year veteran employee Ray Rangel summed up the sentiment echoed by many employees when he said, “Chuck is good to people.”
In the last twenty-five years, Reedley Lumber Co. has worked hard to expand its goods and services in order to keep up with local demand and meet the needs of the community. They’ve added their Reedley Window Center location just around the corner on Dinuba Avenue. They also have the Remodeling Center just across from them on G Street. And, wow, has paint mixing come a long way; they have the latest computer controlled paint mixing system and scanner that allows them to create any color that you may need to match. Yet the focus is still on giving the customer what they want when they want it. Sure, you can head north or south and try to save a couple bucks, if that, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the kind of service you get right here in Reedley.
Chuck’s stewardship of the Ruth family tradition permeates the atmosphere and influences the interactions that take place as customers come in to the store for nails, pipe fittings, paint, and every other wood and hardware product known to man, all throughout the day. After those three early birds finished their shopping that Saturday morning in the beginning of our story, a steady stream of contractors and do-it-yourselfers filed in to grab the necessary supplies for their Saturday job; yet, the supplies they needed seemed to be only part of the reason for their visit. John came in for finishing nails and a chat about the recent NFL playoff games. Luis needed ten gallons of paint mixed, which Ray happily tinted up while fielding questions and giving advice to Mary and Al; Ray asked how Al’s dad was doing, which elicited a detailed account of his dad’s recent medical issues. Steve came in needing some advice about a roofing project he’d been working on, to which Ray responded with sound advice. Steve stayed awhile to shoot the breeze and updated Erica on the antics of his cat. Shelby was stationed up front, greeting customers as they arrived and giving directions to those who needed to pick something up quickly. Andy and Andres, relative newcomers to the Reedley Lumber crew at ten and four years respectively, made quick work of loading materials and assisting customers in the yard with lumber questions. When asked why he gets his paint at Reedley Lumber, Luis remarked, “They have great products here, but they also give me great service.”
While everyone arrived in search of the products they needed, most notable about the interactions during the morning was that the vast majority of customers were greeted by name, they stayed a few minutes, kibitzed about the weather and news, vented a little, caught up on some local gossip, and shared some recent family tribulations. There was truly a sense of community that can only exist when a business recognizes that its customers are real people, navigating the ups and downs of their own lives, who need both nails and a willing ear. For the last ninety-nine years, Reedley Lumber has gone above and beyond selling lumber and hardware, and it appears they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.