OROFINO — Will Crockett doesn’t measure his success by how much money he makes in a single transaction.
As the owner of a north central Idaho family chain that sells hardware, tools, lumber and paint, he works to save his customers time or money or both.
He believes if he does that, people will frequent his stores, Orofino Builders Supply, Orofino Design Center, Grangeville Builders and Clearwater Builders in Kamiah, instead of seeking out online bargains.
“Every single item that’s available (in these stores is) likely available on Amazon.com,” he said. “We have to provide a convenient shopping experience that offers real-time solutions for our customers.”
The purchases made at Crockett’s stores do more than contribute to his business’ bottom line. They also help keep the communities they serve financially stable. The four sites employ 43 people, and Crockett recently opened a new Orofino location in a portion of a former King’s variety store.
Keeping the business strong involves identifying and meeting quickly shifting customer needs. Last week, for example, a building contractor was two floor joists short of finishing a job. Crockett didn’t have them in stock. But he telephoned every lumber yard in Lewiston to find them, then charged the contractor only what he paid for the materials.
“It saved (the contractor) at least a day,” Crockett said. “That’s the reason that (our customers) have the loyalty they do.”
Business Profile talked with Crockett about online competitors, the new Orofino store, the labor shortage, what his business’ role was after the 2015 forest fires and the dynamics of running a family business.
Business Profile: What more can you share about how you compete against online retailers?
Will Crockett: There’s still many consumers who need to touch and feel the products they are looking for. They want to evaluate between multiple different products and price points. Traditional retailers like ourselves certainly do still offer that. We offer it locally, which is a huge part of our strategy.
We’ve been here for four generations, and we have so many alumni from Orofino High School working in our ranks. This company is providing jobs for the community for young people to stay here. For us to be able to do that, we do need the community support. It has to be more than just being local. We have to be priced competitively. Our service has to be just a little bit better than the competition — or a lot better. We have to go the extra mile.
BP: Part of your strategy involves having a depth of inventory for homebuilding contractors and do-it-yourselfers, who represent a large share of your business. How would you describe what you sell?
WC: We have added new categories in our lawn and garden departments and in our nursery, as well as with Husqvarna power equipment. We do installations of fiberglass insulation, doors, windows, cabinetry, lighting, window coverings, countertops and floor coverings with our employees or third-party contractors. Installed sales has really grown our business.
There are a couple holes. We don’t offer plumbing and electrical yet. But I do believe at some point it could be necessary. We don’t have 10,000 housing starts a year in Clearwater County. If we get 50 starts, we need to get as much out of every one that we can.
BP: What effect did King’s departure have on the community, and how have you responded?
WC: It was a surprise and a shock when King’s announced that they were liquidating. It was not a positive thing for our community. To this day, I feel there’s a vacuum that’s been left from their departure. They were really strong at gifts. They were pretty darn successful at seasonal Christmas decorations. It’s not something the competition has done really well since they’ve been gone. Shopko’s recent departure has left an even bigger void in our community.Vacant buildings do nobody any good.
We’ve been able to breath life back into this (former King’s) building.We’re turning this part of the Riverside area into a community center along with the help of adjacent businesses such as Barney’s Harvest Foods, Family Dollar and the new location that Hells Canyon Pharmacy will be adding in upcoming months.
We also hired King’s manager, Laura Wolverton, from the Orofino store, as our lawn and garden department manager. And we hired Brad Olson from the Grangeville King’s as our Grangeville store manager.
BP: How does this location compare with your former Orofino location that is now your design center?
WC: We have two acres of paved lot with a brand new 16,000-square-foot, drive-in lumber yard. We have more room for all of our inventory and enough space to have shopping carts. The previous store had been largely operated status quo since 1970. It was a tight experience for shopping. Parking was a nightmare. We went from 10 parking spaces to 70 plus. Our previous location was kind of sandwiched between the railroad tracks and a state highway. It was the self-proclaimed longest lumberyard in the country at a quarter-mile long. It was a very, very long, narrow operation. It would tend to bottleneck quite easily. It worked very, very well for many, many years, but we’d outgrown it.
BP: How does the national labor shortage play out in your business?
WC: You call right now, and most of the contractors have work lined up for a year. Subcontractors are even harder to get, specifically plumbing and electrical contractors. There simply aren’t enough in our area. We are very fortunate to have the ones that we have. It gets tight, especially during the busy summer months, and results in less work getting done.
BP: Your business was really involved in the region’s response to the forest fires that hit in 2015. What was the overall impact on your company?
WC: There was definitely a fair amount of rebuilding. We benefited from that. But the net effect was negative on our business and everyone up here. They occurred in August and September. Those are our busiest months. The weather is dry and warm. People want to finish before hunting season and winter arrives.
During the forest fires, our business came to a screaming halt. Our focus changed from a commerce focus to rallying around the families in our community.
BP: You began working in your parents’ business when you were a child. What is it like to be back owning it as an adult?
WC: I started sweeping floors and filling nail bins. All through junior high and high school, I came here every day after school. I did whatever needed to be done. There was even a period of time when I was coming back covering some weekdays when I was in college because we had an injury to our yard manager. Most people get off work at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Our conversations around the dinner table when I was a child carried on from business at the store. So there was no escaping it. It’s a total commitment.
As an adult, I’m doing things a little differently. My wife is a a fifth-grade teacher at Orofino Elementary. I don’t like to talk about this business at home. I need the relief. That was important for our dynamic that we set long ago for our marriage.
BP: Who else from your family is involved in the business?
WC: My brother, Anthony Crockett, is a full-time employee. His wife, Stephanie Crockett runs the Orofino Design Center. My mother, Leila Crockett, does the books.
BP: Your son Declan, 11, assembled lawn mowers and wheelbarrows. Your daughter, Savannah, 7, has led a class where children selected and potted plants for their mothers for Mother’s Day. She already has aspirations of assuming her grandmother’s responsibilities. What do you see as their role in the business in the future?
WC: It remains to be seen. They will choose their own path. They certainly have the intelligence and ability to do this and continue it for a fifth generation if they so choose.
Williams may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2261.
Bio: Will Crockett
Business: Orofino Builders Supply
Job title: President and sole owner
Education: Graduate of Orofino High School; Bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Idaho
Career history: Worked as an auditor at BMC West for five years, ending in 2005 to join his family’s business. Purchased the business in 2010.
Family: Married to Rebecca, a fifth-grade teacher at Orofino Elementary School. They have two children, Declan, 11, and Savannah, 7.
Hobbies: Coaching his children in little league sports. Spending time at a family cabin in the Grangemont area in rural Clearwater County.
About Orofino Builders Supply: The company has four locations, Orofino Builders Supply at 165 Riverside Ave. in Orofino, along U.S. Highway 12; Orofino Design Center, 830 Michigan Ave. in Orofino; Grangeville Builders, 703 W. South First St., Grangeville; and Clearwater Builders at 102 Trenary Road in Kamiah. All of the stores are affiliated with Do-It-Best, a buying cooperative for independent hardware and lumber stores. The business has been in the Crockett family since 1928 when Will Crockett’s great-grandfather purchased an interest in an Orofino store that was then called J M Bryant.