KAMIAH Busy is just another day for Jacobs Lumber Co., and owners Keith and Kimberly Jacobs are multitasking in the midst of it: training an employee on the cash register, fielding questions, and quite often greeting people with “They getting you fixed up?”
“Our customers are loyal to us, and we’re loyal to them,” Keith said. At its core, the Jacobs’ business model is that of the old mom and pop store where the community comes first. It’s more than dollars and sense, according to the Jacobs.
“There are deep relationships with these people around here,” Keith said. They know customers by name from their continued patronage, or from socializing with them in their kids’ school sports, at local events, or having taught generations of their family. “They give to you and you give back to them.”
Jacobs Lumber Co., Inc., started in Kooskia in 1997, but the tradition of selling hardware and building supplies at this spot in Kamiah goes back decades to when it was Lumberman’s, and before that, Bi-Rite Lumber Co.
“I started here at 14 when it was Bi-Rite,” Keith said, in 1974, two years after the business was built. “I worked here for quite some time, sweeping the floors,” he added laughing; that was 41 years ago. Keith and Kimberly met in 1987 where she was working at a next-door restaurant.
“The Roadrunner,” Kimberly remembered, adding with a smile, “that was a long time ago.”
The pair married a year later, and right back from the honeymoon, Kimberly went to work for Dr. McCall as a dental assistant. Keith continued to work at Bi-Rite until it sold out to Lumberman’s in 1993, at which point they moved to the Sunnyside, Wash., area and started up a lumber yard there for Keith’s previous employer. In 1997, the couple bought the Tru-Value hardware store in Kooskia, then soon after in 2000, they acquired the Lumberman’s yard in Kamiah.
As business increased, so did the need for space. They soon expanded into the restaurant property next door.
“And, as you can see, we’re in the midst of redoing all sides, inside and outside, of the store,” Keith said. “We’re in this for the long run.” The store is currently encountering a complete reset.
Jacobs Lumber Co. employs about 15 people, part- and full-time. They sell plumbing, electrical and building supplies, paint, home and garden, cabinetry and moldings, along with a mix of things you wouldn’t expect in a lumber yard. And according to the Jacobs, they offer those “old mom and pop” store services including glass cutting, replacing screens and selling nails by the pound.
How has their business changed in the past decade-and-a-half-plus? “Drastically,” Keith said. “Obviously, our volume is substantially higher. And our market area has grown. We sell a lot now to people from Orofino, Grangeville, the Harpster area. This area, this is our base, this is home.”
Growth comes, in part, he said, from those relocating from California, Washington and Oregon. “You can see with the real estate market here there’s not an overabundance of ‘for sale’ signs, so everything is getting scooped up.” So those relocating to the area are building new homes, helped by the low costs for construction here than elsewhere in the West, “and they’re obviously getting more bang for their buck.”
Another change is that of a new point-of-sale computer system. Keith has always dragged his feet on the idea of going totally computer. Kimberly said, “He is old school. He likes to touch every invoice. It just got to be too much paper handling. We are finally in this century.”
So, what has changed in the construction materials retail business? Among the transitions is a local emphasis toward residential composite siding as opposed to wood, according to Keith, “especially with the fires,” referring to 2015’s disastrous season where 75-plus structures were destroyed at Kamiah. Builders and homeowners are utilizing products in home construction that will better withstand future wildfires.
One obstacle the Jacobs run into is lumber supply.
“All the lumber we buy is local,” Keith said. “We’ve lost several mills and that really makes it a little more difficult. We won’t sell Canadian lumber. The people who support us are local loggers, and we’re only going to sell the local product. And that’s difficult: Konkolville is closed down, we’ve had Blue North go down. The only local timber we have access to is Kamiah Mills, and we have some access through other vendors to get Idaho Forest Products lumber.”
Why is that important? Kimberly explains it from the point of view of the locals; they’re checking out the arriving trucks and if they’re seeing lumber wraps from Canada, “that’s not good in logging country,” she said.
Since its start, the Jacobs business has been a family affair. Their three children – Slade, and twin girls Blake and Brook – have come in to work with them since they were in kindergarten, and they’ve also worked in the store.
“One thing about family members is they can’t quit you,” Keith laughed. “No matter how tough it gets, they’re here to stay.” On the plus side, the shared work experience drew them together as a family, and they received a thorough understanding of the business. “They’ve been treated like adults, and they received a good work ethic from that,” Kimberly added.
Blake and Brook are pursuing law degrees at Gonzaga and University of Nevada Las Vegas, respectively; but Slade received his BS degree at the University of Idaho in renewable materials – “He’s the first to get that degree from U of I,” Kimberly said — and for the past three years has been working the business toward taking it over.
“I kinda do what he tells me; he’s a hard worker,” Keith smiles, adding that Slade has the couple’s focus toward service to his community, and also supporting the home team.
But with the transition to Slade, the Jacobs aren’t planning to pull away from the customer floor. “We’ll still work when he needs us,” Kimberly said, as Slade will have need of service staff, especially during the busy building season.
“This area has steadily grown for every year we’ve been in business,” Kimberly said, as it’s a beautiful place to live where you can raise a family without many worries. For Keith, the future of Jacobs Lumber looks to continue well into the future.
“There are a lot of good people around here. As long as you’re providing them with the service and prices they need, they’re loyal,” he said.