What Makes Our Family Business Special
The Hale family and this business is steeped in tradition for choosing to make a difference in their community and with their customers. Our family run lumberyard celebrated 125 years in business in 2010. We hold a long history and have a lot at stake in Whitewater’s downtown. Some family run operations struggle to survive with just two family members. This fourth generation lumberyard has not only survived but it’s flourishing with nine.
The company is run today by Chris Hale with help from his father and previous owner, Geoff, mother Jacki, and uncle Jackson. Chris’s two brothers Mike, and Mac are both active on a day to day basis.
When Geoff was still in charge, Whitewater’s Main Street community was just getting it’s start. Geoff was elected to their original Board of Directors. He was instrumental in making the fund raising requirement happen. He also played a significant role in the application process and formal presentation in front of them at the Department of Commerce. Complete with a truck load of old lumber and logging tool props, he shared the storied history of Home Lumber Company. When Geoff finished his closing argument he was congratulated on giving the best Main Street presentation they had ever seen.
Initially as a design committee member, his committee also surrendered the finest set of design guide-lines that has ever been submitted to Commerce which included a great community history. Design is a challenging committee but when the guidelines were finished, Geoff was looking for a bigger fish to fry. He knew the most pressing issues for their downtown were vacancies, turn over, retention and recruitment. Geoff moved to their Economic Restructuring Committee. Rolling up their sleeves, the committee made recruitment calls and mailed out over 3,000 business recruitment pieces. They placed hundreds of business development phone calls and emails and experienced over $7.6 million in new downtown private investments. With the help of other committee members they created over 102 new jobs, 28 new businesses and helped organize over 13 downtown promotional events. In their short history with Main Street, they have garnered an average of three state level awards from the Department of Commerce every year. All this done in 4 short years. Geoff is now the current president of Downtown Whitewater Inc.
Chris’s great-great-great grandfather, Jack Preston Hale, was born in Melbourne, England in 1836. His nickname was Darby. At the age of 89 Darby was a working carpenter who boasted that in his time he made his “thousand coffins.” Keeping with tradition Darby’s craft was passed on to his son, and so forth to Grandfather Jack Hale, who migrated from England to Whitewater, WI in the early 1900’s.
Jack had a long history of construction in the Whitewater community and was famous for crafting the very best built homes, barns, and churches in the area. Jack had a passion for true craftsmanship and taught all who worked with him, including our grandfather Don Hale, how to build it right the first time. This was the direct effect. The torch of Jack’s influence would be passed on to his grand children Jackson, Nancy & Mareta, along with his great-grandchildren Christopher, Michael and MacKenzie.
Sawdust is in the family’s veins and now runs clear through 6 generations. All of our 50+ employees are treated like family and boast over 600 years of collective experience in the building business. After leaving to pursue another career path, 22% of our current staff have actually returned to our family atmosphere for the long haul.
In the heart of old Growth Timber, Whitewater was one of many sawmill towns. Our sawmills power was generated by the dam, which created Trippe Lake spilling into Cravath Lake. The source of the clear white water above the dam lay just upstream in the kettle moraine flowing from the second largest concentration of artesian springs in the world. Below the dam, lay the land soon to become our original business footprint.
From it’s inception in 1885 the firm specialized in lumber and coal as well as baled hay and straw which serviced the transportation means of the time. The company has seen many changes since the time when lumber was delivered by horse and wagon. Those changes have included a move from one downtown location to another. With limited space to grow and rumors of highway 12 alterations in 1966, my father elected to move the operation 4 blocks west into the abandoned deteriorating Doyne and Rayne Lumber buildings on Whitewater Street. He might have moved to the outskirts of town to build new, but instead kept his stake in the downtown vowing to rekindle new life into the wood structures which lay vacant for many years. Roots and a sense of commitment to the downtown brought us to our current location. The buildings were repaired, reroofed, repainted, and restocked to the rafters in short order.
Just days before the 1967 grand opening, the lumber yard was completely engulfed by fire. A spectacular blaze, it was one of the largest in Whitewater’s history. Over 20 rail cars of lumber and all of the buildings were destroyed. Through community effort the debris was removed, with local residents pitching in to form a mile long convoy to the local land fill. The event would remind one of the community support for George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Local contractors donated their time, trucks, bulldozers and loading machines while local women supplied a food wagon to keep the crew going. Through the generous support of the community, the cleanup would long be remembered as the largest of it’s kind in city history with the site cleared, leveled and graded in a single day. The property was rebuilt with metal structures and a 2,000 sq. ft. store in 1967.
In 1982 we increased our commitment to downtown by launching a new 10,000 sq. ft. store along with the 15″ drive through lumber concept in Wisconsin. Home Lumber has always been willing to blaze new trails. In 1996, we launched one of the first Internet grocery carts. By 2003, we were recognized by Money Magazine as the best place to buy power tools. A tradition of innovation and responding to customer needs has led to patenting and manufacturing the largest assortment of solar, line, and low voltage deck lighting products in the world. We have a locally owned product with a world market. We not only claim fame to award winning products, we also have some award winning staff. Our stand alone state-of-the-art Kitchen and Bath Design Works store is has claimed two national champion Kitchen and Bath designers. Kris Klewin won 1st place in a national competition in 2008 and 2009. Her associate Beth Gnatzig took 2nd place in the competition in 2009. This competition has never had a 1st place winner 2 years in a row from the same store and never a 1st and 2nd place in the same year.
We have a cracker jack sales team including one jewel of a design – drafting employee. Stefanie Stibbs, earning enough respect from one of our biggest builders to design his latest 3 million dollar spec. home from scratch, which he built four stories down a cliff to Lauderdale Lake.
We regularly seek the advice and council of our staff. Our entire team is empowered and challenged to “make it happen” on a daily basis. We’re actively building our organization from the bottom up instead of the top down. We hire and fire attitude on the spot. We have never been afraid to hire the right people whether or not we need the help. The right people will always take us where we want to go. We practice open book management. When this financial sharing process was initiated we replaced the Christmas bonus with a lucrative profit sharing opportunity for our team. We share back with each and every employee whether part time or full, even if they just started, 15% of our net income before taxes, based on the individuals percent of cost to total payroll. This is a full blown team opportunity. The profits of all divisions are combined together then shared back to all 42 employees. The higher profits produced by Home Tops, Nantucket, and Aurora are blended with our lumber yard. This strategy offers a bigger incentive for the entire team. There is a difference between getting on the bus and staying on the bus. We have the very best riders hanging onto their seat for the trip of a lifetime, some for the second time around.