Mill Creek Lumber Remains at Top of Industry
By EMILY RAMSEY
ADAPTING TO CHANGE: Jeff Dunn, middle, president and CEO of Mill Creek Lumber and Supply Company, stands with his father, Jim Dunn, right, chairman of the board of directors, and Jim Cavanaugh, president, at one of Mill Creek’s lumberyards.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
After 80 years in business, adapting to industry changes and customer needs has allowed Mill Creek Lumber and Supply Company to remain a staple within Oklahoma and beyond.
Mill Creek began as a lumber company in the midst of the Great Depression in 1934. “In the first year of business, there was only one home under construction,” remembers Jim Dunn, chairman of the board of directors and son of company founder L.E. “Pete” Dunn.
Pete kept the company moving forward, though, until more profitable times came. Those days came most noticeably during the post-war years, when there was a tremendous undersupply of housing, says Jim.
However, eventually supply had caught up with demand, and companies then needed to set themselves apart from their competition and effectively market themselves to builders and customers.
It was when Mill Creek was endeavoring to meet that need that Jim joined the company; it was also a time when the company was readying for a number of other industry changes.
“When Jim came on board, the first forklift had just been purchased in the ‘50s,” notes President and Jeff Dunn, Jim’s son. “Computers weren’t yet around. Jim made a lot of changes to a then-lethargic company.”
Jim went on to develop the first sales team, institute a set of comprehensive employee benefits and create Wood Systems in 1985, with the focus on manufacturing and installation of millwork. Mill Creek has done commercial woodworking projects both locally and nationally and has seen Wood Systems become an integral and profitable portion of the company.
He went on to begin Mill Creek Carpet and Tile in 1991. “We are continually looking for ways to add value to our product channel,” says Jim. “When certain markets decline, you need other areas to supplement.”
Adding carpet and tile to its areas of market share helped to diversify the company; yet, Jim was smart in his approach to the industry.
“We actively decided to not take on the big box retailers but to start as a niche player in the carpet and tile industry,” says Jim.
While the larger national chains often focus on the do-it-yourself customer, Mill Creek mostly targets customers who are looking for a comfortable showroom where they will receive one-on-one attention and have access to “all the options available in carpet and tile,” says Jeff. “If it’s out there, we have it.”
Mill Creek Carpet and Tile is now the 18th largest national carpet and tile retailer, with 20 retail locations.
When Jim joined the company in 1969, sales revenues were $1.5 million; when Jeff joined in 2002, sales revenues had jumped to $175 million.
“Now, we are the 27th largest lumber supply company in the country,” notes Jim.
While the Dunns have always endeavored to innovate and keep the company in line with current demand, the housing downturn that started in 2008, Jeff admits, caused him to take a hard look at ways to make operations more efficient.
Besides streamlining certain corporate operations, “we are increasing capacity and investing in Mill Creek’s production capabilities,” says Jeff. “We are going to spend $3 million next year on trucks, forklifts and capex,” twice the company’s revenue amount as when Jim first joined the company.
Yet, Mill Creek doesn’t stop at investment in its equipment; company executives realize the importance of attraction and retention of quality employees, a truth driven home during the Great Recession.
A culture of respect and love has been fostered within Mill Creek over the years and has helped to create a lengthy list of long-time employees who are all very proud of Mill Creek’s history and culture.
Jim was recently congratulated by a customer on Mill Creek’s 80th anniversary.
“I asked him how he heard that, and he said, ‘Your employee told me,’” Jim recounts.
As Mill Creek prepares for the next decade, Jeff’s plan is to maintain hold on its three markets and grow additional areas and, hopefully, keep Mill Creek in the family.
“A friend asked me the other day what my exit plan is from the business,” says Jeff. “My 14-year-old son leaned over and said, ‘Dad, I’m your exit strategy.’”