He lived by the motto ‘Always Tell the Truth and Cheat No Man Out of a Penny’
Pictured L to R: Hugh Adams, Nels Lynas, & Bud Graham
Take a step back in time for a moment. It’s August 6, 1900, in Cuba, Kan.. Imagine receiving a telegram asking you to “come at once” to Miltonvale, Kan.. When 21-year-old Clarence “Bud” Graham received that message, he didn’t question it (that we know of). Bud simply went. That decision set the path for his career and his family’s future.
You see, the telegram was sent by E. Fullerton of Chicago Lumber & Coal Company, which had locations in Cuba and Miltonvale. It is also the company Bud was employed by in Cuba, and he certainly must have made a good impression. Mr. Fullerton appointed Bud manager of the Miltonvale lumberyard. Twenty years later, Bud and a group of 12 investors bought the company and changed the name to Miltonvale Lumber & Coal Company. Bud, who was the principal stockholder, bought out the other investors and became the sole owner by 1947.
More than 120 years after Bud received that telegram calling him to Miltonvale, the third and fourth generations – Steve Graham and his sons, Matt and Blake – own and operate the family business. Bud’s motto, “Always tell the truth and cheat no man out of a penny” continues to be a guiding principle.
“In a small town, we depend on repeat business,” Matt explained. “We are very fortunate to have so many good customers. I have known many of the contractors we do business with for at least 30 years now. It feels like many [customers] have become an extension of our family.”
Of course, business looks a bit different than it did in 1900. Most notably, natural gas and propane made the need for coal obsolete. Then, Matt’s grandpa, Bill (Bud’s son), added a full line of paint and building supplies. In 2008, with Steve at the helm, the company’s main office relocated from the original brick building to a larger space across the street. The modern building provides more room for offices, more inventory and a variety of samples. Today, the lumberyard has grown to 14 buildings, and the Graham family keeps a variety of building materials on hand including lumber, tools and insulation. Fencing materials also make up a considerable portion of their sales.
Matt shared, too, that there have been many changes in the lumber industry as well.
“The last couple of years have been very stressful in our industry,” Matt said. “This is the first time I have really had to deal with serious allocations and not been able to get products at any cost.”
He added, “When I get discouraged, I try to remember the stories my grandpa Bill would tell. He said during World War I, Bud had an employee that would travel to their different yards and rip boards the long way by hand. You didn’t get to order a tally to your specifications, you were just glad to have anything at all. You tried to make what you needed from what you had. Today, I am also glad we have forklifts. I hear unloading train cars of lumber, cement and coal by hand were not fun jobs.”
As for the day-to-day operations, “You will mostly find Blake and I on a phone call or working with a customer,” Matt shared. “Steve is still the first to arrive and last to leave. I believe he enjoys getting out and visiting job sites more now than he was able to in the past.”
If you’re wondering about plans for expansion, or if there is any interest from Blake or Matt’s children in carrying on the family business, Matt put it this way.
“I believe we will see even more change in the next 10 years than we have the last. We still have my grandpa Bill’s first calculator. He paid $400 for it in the 60’s. Before then, all math problems were done by hand. Now, our point-of-sale system makes every calculation for us. This is where the fifth generation is already helping out. They may not remember when all the phones had a cord attached to the wall or what a fax machine does, but they are familiar with today’s technology. Most afternoons and Saturdays you will find one of Blake or I’s kids helping in some way. Every Graham has gotten their start stocking shelves.”
While there have been many changes in the lumber industry, Matt also observed how their communication needs have changed – they have been Twin Valley customers since 1970 – from a simple telephone line to hosted voice services, streaming TV, fiber internet service and cloud backup storage services.
“I have an old Miltonvale Lumber yardstick hanging in my office with the phone number 74 on it,” he said. “We have been thankful customers of Twin Valley since the Fosters’ beginnings in Miltonvale. The services they provide not only our business, but also our families, are as good as we could ask for.”
Matt continued, “We are able to utilize today’s technology in a way that many small, rural lumberyards only wish they could. It’s not just while I am sitting at my desk, either. Having fiber internet in my home is so valuable too. With the upgrade ISG Technology (part of the Twin Valley Family of Companies) mapped out for us, I can work from home just like I am sitting in my office. We all know how valuable that has been the last couple of years.”
If Matt had to choose which of Twin Valley’s services is most beneficial, well, that’s a hard question to answer.
“All the services Twin Valley provides have an important place in our business. Without the fiber internet, we wouldn’t be able to use the point-of-sale system we have. Phones are a necessity as most contractors will always choose to call rather than text or email. Backup storage is so valuable as we would be lost without our history, and streaming TV sure makes missing those games to work a little easier.”
Matt also added the customer service they receive is “better service than we can get anywhere else” adding that Twin Valley does so at a fair price. He appreciates the long-standing relationship that Miltonvale Lumber has had with Twin Valley.
“It’s not too often two families get to do business for 50+ years,” Matt said. “Our business will never be Twin Valley’s biggest customer, but I feel as though that is how we are treated.”
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