The next time you stroll into Starbucks for your favorite brew, enjoy a meal at Panera Bread or relax at a Marriott Hotel, take a look around at the woodwork. That’s right; there’s something special about the flooring, wall cladding, and wood accents that you’ll find in these locations and others throughout the world. Mountain Lumber Company in Waynesboro, Virginia, is the something special. They provide custom flooring, walls, tables, beams, and more to everyone from Disney to Whole Foods, with 100% of the materials sourced in the United States and nearly all of the reclaimed materials coming from local barns and old buildings.
The story of Mountain Lumber Company began with a scavenger hunt. In 1974, William Drake was searching for some rare American Chestnut wood. His journey brought him to West Virginia, where he realized there was a treasure trove of abandoned wood left behind from barns and old structures. Where some might have just seen a woodpile, Drake saw an opportunity. From his discovery in West Virginia, Mountain Lumber Company was born. Now, Bill Stone, CEO of Mountain Lumber Company, oversees the meticulous search and selection of reclaimed wood that’s de-nailed, sawed, and kiln-dried by experienced craftsmen for use in high-end residential and commercial projects.
At the forefront of the Mountain Lumber Company is a connection with conservation. As Stone explains, “We were founded on the premise of reusing materials that were headed for a landfill, and a big chunk of our work is still reclaimed material. As far as the new lumber that we use, one of the nice things in the United States is how forests have been managed. If you go back and you look at the history in this country, you can see that the total land under forest canopy declined into the fifties, sixties, and seventies, and then folks started paying attention. That resource has started to climb back in terms of getting this back to where we were in terms of forest coverage, and that’s great. Fundamentally, lumber’s a pretty sustainable product. It’s a plant. So we do our best to source responsibly, to purchase things that are, hopefully, closer to us, so we’re not sending trucks all over the place and so on and so forth. Conservation is definitely something that’s been a part of our fabric since we started in 1974.”
Originally, Mountain Lumber Company was located in West Virginia, but they settled on Waynesboro in The Shenandoah Valley after searching for a place to relocate. As Stone recalls, the decision ended up being an easy one. “We’re lucky that this is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the country. It’s basically a temperate rainforest. There are only two on earth. There’s one here, and there’s one in Russia that has the diversity of species. And frankly, from a wood perspective, arguably this is one of the best places in the world because we have the fir trees, hemlocks, and evergreens that you find in places like California, plus pines, oak, maple, hickory, ash, and walnut – pretty much everything. A lot of folks probably aren’t even aware that in their yard around here, they’ve got a cherry tree and a walnut tree. You see walnut trees everywhere around here. So we really are fortunate to be in this part of the country, and it’s why there’s such a lumber presence in this part of the world,” Stone explains.
Like most industries, the pandemic had a significant impact on Mountain Lumber Company but with a twist. Lumber demand and prices have skyrocketed during the last 18 months. Stone attributes loggers not being able to work during the pandemic, the volatility of international tariffs, and an increased interest in home renovations for the uptick in prices. When asked when he predicts prices will stabilize, Stone offers, “I think it’s starting to loosen a little. I don’t know when it goes back to where it was, and I’m frankly not entirely sure pricing comes back down, even as availability becomes better because I think a lot of people in the lumber business are saying, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s time to reset where our prices are.’ I’ve heard that from a lot of folks. So, we’ll see. I think the supply will start coming back this fall and winter.”
Being a business leader or an entrepreneur isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic, but Stone is passionate about his stance on his decision to make “the leap.” As he explains, “I went from corporate America way back when, and I bought my little company, and you’ve got to have that willingness to take some risks, and some people just aren’t programmed that way. My viewpoint is that if you can work for yourself, you’ll never go back to working for anybody else again. That’s all. Everyone I know who I went to business school with who left banks and consulting firms in corporate America, say, ‘I’ll never do it again, ever.’
So it’s definitely worth doing. You have to be able to take the risk. If you have an idea, I would suggest talking to as many business leaders as you can, find a good attorney, find a good accountant and just talk to them. Beyond that, if you’re passionate about it, be really good at it because that helps and just get out there. It’s not hard to start a company. It’s not hard to get a little bit of funding either through the state or what have you, but do a lot of planning. Have a plan, have a financial plan and, and just talk to a lot of people who’ve done it before and be willing to take some pretty difficult feedback sometimes. Sometimes you think you have the best idea in the world and 15 people in a row tell you it’s not going to work and they’re not always right. But definitely listen to those who have gone before, I would say. But it is. It’s a phenomenal way to live. It’s absolutely wonderful if you can pull it off.”
To learn more about Mountain Lumber Company, check out the Waynesboro at Work podcast! Find the Waynesboro at Work podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Breaker, PocketCasts, and Anchor.