aka . . . If You Love Your Local Lumber Yard, They’ll Likely Love You Right Back

National Lumber Baltimore True Value RetailerOK … I am going to give you a little break from all of this Remodeling Show coverage.

Some of the most notable connections I made at the Show were not actually at the Remodeling Show. The two for today occurred while we were in fact in “transit.”

Loyalty Is Love by Beverly KoehnOn the final full day of the Show, I had the pleasure to share a set of seats on a bus with a young lady named Beverly Koehn.  It turned out that she is a consultant, a speaker, and an author. She had just finished presenting her seminar “Human Tech: High Touch.” (I did not attend.)

Though still quite ratcheted up on the adrenaline from presenting, it was pretty dang clear that she is probably pretty passionate about what she does. And at the end of a 15 or so minute conversation, she handed me a signed copy of her most recent book.  It is entitled, “Loyalty is Love :: How to Hold Clients Close for Life.

I have given the book a (light) “paging.” And while I haven’t made it too deeply in, I do have a working premise. Beverly suggests, “The way to win customer/client affection (for life) is through their hearts.”

I’m Just Gonna Say It . . . I Love My Local Lumber Yard

National Lumber Baltimore sign on outbuildingNational Lumber is located about 18 minutes from my house here in Baltimore. (Just for diplomacy: HD clocks in at about 12, Lowe’s at about 15, another Baltimore fav (sorry Kev) at about 30. The nearest 84 Lumber is now about 32 minutes away.)  National Lumber‘s 5-acre yard sits on a stretch of US Route 40 named Pulaski Highway. Two warehouses and a mill compromise approx. 100,000 square feet. Their main building contains a retail space equaling about 10,000 sf.  At this location since 1971, I remember visiting with my grandfather. (Ironic — the company’s tagline reads, “Your Great-Granddad was a Satisfied Customer.”)

Kevin Fruman National Lumber

National Lumber sits immediately between our home (last two) in Lauraville and our rental property (formally two) in Canton/Fells Point. While I had been known to pop in from time to time for a little light hardware, some caulk ,or a screw or two, my affection for them has grown more rapidly in recent years. When shopping cedar shakes, German Lap siding, trim and specialty doors, I have foregone all others. They have been, and are now, my go-to.

So . . . you ask, why exactly JB do you love National Lumber?  Well . . . because . . . well . . . you know . . . I get the sense that they love me too. Kevin Fruman, my usual contact, takes my calls, he does his research, and he is always prompt with his follow-ups.  In fact, he recently returned a voice mail to say only that he wouldn’t have time to talk until “later in the day.”

I am known to stop by the “Contractor’s Desk” on Saturdays. And while the service of his crew is spot on, I usually ask directly for Kevin. I can usually spot him before he spots me. There he is at left just through the plexiglass sitting at a computer in the back office. Dollar for donuts, and no matter what he is doing, he’ll look up and say . . . “Hey JB.”


I Heart JB @BuildingMoxie

Kevin actually knitted this in my honor (not really, and please don’t think about disseminating this image without permission)


To Get Love, You Have to Give Love

National Lumber Baltimore True ValueI had the opportunity for a quick chat with Kevin and his brother Neal the other day. They make up the 5th generation of this family-run operation. Together with dad, Arnold (grandfather, Leonard, passed in 2008 at the age of 91), National Lumber is entering their 93rd year.  Kevin, of course, is quick to point out that this in fact is one of the things that makes them unique. He says, “We have 34 full-time employees, but you will always find one of us (an owner) here.”

He credits their longevity on a number of additional factors. One part, Kevin says, is their location. While I frequently find the store active with folks from walk-in (they are a True Value retailer), Kevin says being near major thoroughfares benefits them most directly, in their delivery business. He says, “A huge part of what we do comes from what we load onto our trucks.” They have several full-time drivers on staff.

Kevin Leonard Arnold Neal Fruman National Lumber Baltimore

Kevin talks of the delicate balance between always doing the right thing for their customers, but also being loyal to their vendors (whom he refers to as partners). As I pointed out my own recent visit to the Remodeling Show/Deck Expo and commenting on the number of deck fastener systems that were represented, he agreed that there are — quote “so many products.”

He continues, “It’s one of the things that sets us apart, JB.” He always peppers a conversation with my name, and I figure I am not the only one he does that with. Continuing he says, “Sometimes it’s like a scavenger hunt, but it is our openness and our willingness to look at everything that makes us different.”

Always conscious too of the continuous education of his teams, he highlights weekly training sessions on products with manufacturers. He reminds me that they, of course, are only as good as their people.

Crediting his father and grandfather for keeping money in business, they boast a full-service mill and have an inside kitchen design team. They are an Armstrong Cabinets retailer, Andersen Windows partner, a Trex decking, Azek trim, and Festool supplier. Deliveries over $250 are free, but they are often willing to work with clients to help accommodate their needs.

Bottom line — Kevin says, “You have to always look out for your customer.”

You can find them on Facebook, there. Thanks out to Kevin and Neal for, well, always taking the time.


Back briefly to Beverly’s book:  I believe she would say that customer loyalty is built from real acts of caring, i.e. love. These relationships are born from (not-so-showy, but constant) displays of integrity and trust. And while I do still feel under-qualified to comment fully on the material in Beverly’s book, it did get me to thinking. Maybe there is a little something to this whole “relationship” thing and maybe, just maybe, it is probably a little something of a two-way street?

Cheers and thanks for reading.  I really hope to get some quality, alone time with her book.  (Thank you again Beverly!) ~jb

4 thoughts on “Building Moxie Archive: I Heart My Local Lumber Yard :: National Lumber

  1. JB…Great post! When I was in my remodeling company and had to do the purchasing I always used my local lumber yard! Yep I loved em! They took care of me and my customers loved them when we came in for selections! They became an extension of our company, and because of the relationships we formed they took pride in everything they did for us, took care of our clients even if we were not there as if we were!

    “Maybe there is a little something to this whole “relationship” thing and maybe . . . just maybe” Oh there is something to this JB….I do this everyday when speaking with clients, setting up the relationship from the begining and then following through the entire remodel experience. Clients feel like they are more than just a paycheck to you and tell everyone how great it is to work with you forever as long as you maintain the relationship!

    Great stuff…ready to hear more about the show since i couldn’t attend this year! :(


  2. And….I think that National Lumber two locations ago was on or near Boston Street in Canton, almost next door to where your great grandfather (Jozef) lived in the 3000 block. I also can remember as a young boy with your grandfather (John, Sr.) on Saturday mornings walking there (from the 800 block of Luzerne, before we had a car) to pick up a few piece of lumber for that days project. Also, my memory may not be precise, but ask Kevin if he has seen Bruce Himelfarb lately.
    John Bartkowiak, Jr.

  3. well you know how many times I have heard it said in the last few years … “your client is your best advertisement… Just Like a walking billboard.” and caring about your client . . . just makes good sense….especially true in the age of social media, which proves that “niceities” exchanged in seemingly meaningless interactions can actually go a long way.

    Truth is here — I had been meaning to do a post on NL for while — I think the history of the shop is fascinating enough… (and it’s not like they are overly lovey — just that they give me attention.) As I mentioned small encounters at the #rmshow did give this post just a little more inertia and immediacy.

    Thanks for sharing your story Coleen and I hope everything has been great up in NJ. And Happy Halloween out to you. ~jb

  4. Elliot Street I learned (off of Boston)… and thanks of course Dad (BMoxie’s resident East Baltimore historian) for the great memories . . and of course the first time I have heard you tell of this.

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