Tim Berry will tell you: It helps to have some mighty thick bark if you’re in the lumber business.
Starting small and soldiering on through financial downturns, including a major recession, and competition from well-financed national chains such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, Berry now oversees a multistore enterprise.
A small yard that started 31 years ago evolved into Berco Redwood Inc. at 4560 Auburn Blvd. in Sacramento. In 2008, Berry Lumber Inc. opened just up the street at 4607 Auburn Blvd. Just last month, Berco Redwood opened in Roseville.
Berry says that growth was the result of the efforts of many people: multiple mentors, company managers, employees and close family members.
Berry’s 78-year-old father, Chuck, is a regular worker on Auburn Boulevard, assisting in myriad tasks. And his 34-year-old son, Chris, works out of the new Roseville yard. The Roseville operation is planning dual grand-opening events – one on Friday geared to contractors, builders and other customers, and a Saturday “Community Day” for the public.
Tim Berry, 57, is essentially president of the enterprise. Asked if he ever imagined overseeing a multistore operation, he laughs and says, “I had no idea. In the beginning, I was just trying to survive.”
In the late 1970s, Tim Berry was learning the local ropes working for a fledgling fence company out of a garage in Foothill Farms. He called it “an irreplaceable education.”
The current company was founded in 1982. Tim Berry credits his father-in-law, Jim Thompson, as a valuable provider of financial and business-savvy support, and it was Chuck Berry who spotted the original Berco Redwood site on Auburn Boulevard.
Early on, Berry said, he relied heavily on Julian Marzo – who remains his general manager – as they operated out of a trailer office and handled customer orders at all hours.
“Sometimes, we were making deliveries late at night,” Marzo recalled.
The business grew by word of mouth and contacts with contractors, builders and suppliers. To hold its own against lumberyard competitors large and small, Berco developed a line of custom-made products – fencing, railing, decks, lattices, garden doors and gazebos to name just a few. Berry said that strategy served the company well as it grew amid sometimes rocky economic times in the 1990s.
In 2008, the opportunity arose to acquire a 4-acre, drive-through lumberyard within a stone’s throw of Berco Redwood on Auburn Boulevard. Berry jumped at the chance to buy a more traditional yard serving both contractors and homeowners.
But the timing proved problematic, as housing starts plunged, and homeowners cut back on property upgrades – gut punches for the lumber products and services industry.
“It didn’t happen to us right away,” Marzo recalled. “We had some business built up and were going along OK for a while. But then, later on, it was a rough go.”
Things picked up enough in the post-recession period to prompt the opening of Berco Redwood in Roseville, in a spot once occupied by a Lumberjack outlet. Tim Berry says it combines the best of Berco Redwood and Berry Lumber in Sacramento.
Berry said he hopes Berco in Roseville will meet customer demand in prime housing areas of Roseville, Rocklin, Granite Bay and south Placer County. Berry said the time also was right to give his son Chris more responsibility in the family business.
Even when Chris Berry was attending American River College years ago, he sensed that his future would be in the family business. Like his father, he learned the lumberyard game from ground zero, often doing the most basic tasks.
“I’d been around it all my life. I was driving a forklift before I was driving a car,” he said. “I had a senior year of ‘Redwood College.’”
Berco Redwood in Roseville is a snapshot of the modern lumberyard. Stacks of cut and sheeted lumber are precisely piled five-high down long, wide rows. Trucks regularly roll in, taking on lumber to be used throughout the region. Samples of custom-made redwood products line the shop walls, including large redwood doors that swing silently on hinges. Hundreds of boxes of nails, screws and other hardware are meticulously labeled and stacked on shop aisles.
The company is reaching out to a new generation through social media and its websites, which feature photo galleries of its custom work.
Privately held, Berco/Berry does not disclose sales or revenue figures, but Marzo says the company has provided hundreds of millions of board-feet of lumber over 31 years.
More than a dozen product categories are Berco-designed and -manufactured. Redwood is a specialty, and Berco handles subcategories including cedar, Douglas fir, hardwood and pressure-treated lumber. Metal can be incorporated into its various wood designs. The company also touts shingles, landscape lighting, plywood, roofing and siding.
Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert, believes that the local company’s diversified approach is a plus.
“It’s no different in California. When the housing industry … and economy get a cold, lumber businesses can get pneumonia,” Schaub said. “So, if you’re offering more products than the other guy to carry you through the lean times, that’s a good plan.
“I also think you have to remember that it’s California, with large urban centers. It’s not like times went bad in the high desert. Sure, California’s real estate market and economy historically bounce up and down, but history also shows that they always rebound. The population supports housing growth. People still want to improve their properties when money is less tight. (Berco) appears to be offering a good variety of things, from smaller home improvements to big projects.”
Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.