STITES — Dionne Wells once asked a client of her business, Pleasant Valley Log Homes, where she liked to sit when she had time to relax.
Wells was concerned because when she looked at plans for the customer’s house she noticed the best view was from the windows above the kitchen sink. She figured the woman probably wanted to watch the river when she was sitting in a comfortable chair, not doing dishes.
Wells’ hunch proved to be right. She contacted her husband and Pleasant Valley Homes co-owner, Terry Sanford, who had designed the house. He rearranged the rooms so the master bedroom and living room overlooked the water.
“I wanted to get her view right,” Wells said. “And I have to understand something about her and her habits. Not everybody is the same.”
How they cooperated to meet that customer’s needs is an example of how their different talents have helped them make Pleasant Valley Log Homes a prosperous business.
“One without the other, I guarantee you none of this would be here,” said their oldest daughter, Tera Wells Sanford, 23.
The husband-and-wife team founded the venture not long after Tera was born. They started out as insulation installers and evolved to meet market needs as they gained skills.
Sanford took jobs on crews constructing stick-built homes on the side. That led to constructing log homes from kits made by other companies on building sites. Then Pleasant Valley Log Homes shifted to what it does now — manufacturing its own log home packages.
Business Profile talked with Dionne Wells, Terry Sanford and Tera Wells Sanford about the origin of Pleasant Valley Log Homes, how the business has changed over the years and the roles each family member plays in the business.
Business Profile: Right after you were married, you lived in New Meadows. What made you decide to return to Stites?
Dionne Wells: (Terry) worked for a log home company lathing logs. They closed that site, and then they moved their business to Boise. We had the choice to move to Boise or not. Of course, being the woodsy type person that he is, he didn’t want to go to the big city. We moved back to the Stites area where we were raised.
BP: You had a business before you founded Pleasant Valley Log Homes. What was that?
Terry Sanford: When we returned to Stites, it was winter and there really weren’t a lot of jobs.
Dionne: We started an insulation business, and he did construction contracting on the side. I would help go install insulation. He learned building, stick framing and log home construction.
BP: You opened Pleasant Valley Log Homes in 1999. How did that differ from the insulation business?
Terry: We were a log home general contractor.
Tera Wells Sanford: We did one home at a time at that point.
BP: You acquired a sawmill in 2009. How did that change the business?
Dionne: We bought a Brand X sawmill that’s just a hand one that you walk behind and you pull it.
Instead of ordering packages from other log home companies, we would get a load of logs and create a log home.
Tera: We had a mill site, and we would mill the logs. We would pre-assemble them, disassemble them and reassemble them on the home site.
Terry: A lot of what I was doing then was handcrafting everything. The reason we started that was, after 2008, we lost a lot of log home suppliers. A lot of the products were hard to come by, because people just flat went out of business in the economy. Being here, a lot of people in the recession rushed out of the cities to move into the rural areas. There was still a little bit of work here. Somehow by the grace of God, we managed to keep working through all the rough times, mostly because of our reputation and being in a small area.
BP: What role did logging in other places play in what the business did at that stage?
Tera: Some of the logging got shut down in other states. We ended up supplying other log home companies in Oregon and Montana and different areas. We would sell them logs, partially processed logs and finished logs for homes. That kept us going, and it kept them going as well.
We ended up making friends with a lot of different log home companies over the years and kind of helping each other out and creating relationships with people all over the nation.
Dionne: Because we wholesale, instead of looking at the other people as competition, we look at it as “How can we help you? What can we help you get done so you can get your customer taken care of?” If another log home company can only make one or two (styles) of homes, and a customer comes in and they want a different (style), instead of losing their customer, we help them retain their customer by wholesaling. We’ll cut the custom things that they need and ship to that other log home company, and then they will sell it to their customer.
BP: You added a hydraulic mill in 2015. How did that help grow the business?
Tera: That’s when our production capacity increased and we moved here. We started making packages and shipping our homes all over the nation instead of constructing them on site.
Terry: The packages include all the wood for the walls and roofs of houses as well as the subfloor and decks.
BP: About that time you created your signature product. What can you share about that?
Terry: This is something we created from dead standing lodgepole pine. We sawed three sides flat and hand peeled the outside so that one side retained its natural curved shape. Everybody was crazy about this. But the issue was the production of it was slow.
The machines weren’t built to feed a natural product through with an irregular face. I asked our mechanic if there was a way to do this with the machines. He thought about it and thought about it until we took the machine apart and customized it. It used to take us about two weeks to create a log home package in that style. Now we can do the same thing in about a day.
When we originally started the business, our idea was to take the dead standing lodgepole pine out of the forest, removing the fire danger and turn it into homes to last for generations, promoting the healthy forest. But that’s getting harder and harder because of red tape, even though there are plenty of those dead standing lodgepole pine trees in the woods. Obtaining logs is almost a full-time job in itself.
Tera: You are still getting the rustic look. It’s half the price of handcrafting. We’re still handcrafting posts and accent pieces for these homes so they are getting the best of both worlds as much as they possibly can.
BP: Aside from this product, what else makes you stand out in the market?
Terry: A lot of people have called us out of desperation, hoping we could do things that nobody could or would do. We’ve done some really unique things, like an octagon for a Navajo nation ritual center. Two years ago, Disneyland contacted one of my wholesalers, and we built log benches to go in a gazebo at the park.
The technical jobs such as complicated roofs are where we really shine because we have the experience to do it.
BP: This year you have promoted the business more than in the past. What form did that marketing take?
Terry: We got out and did some home shows. That generated a lot of new work. We did some cold calls. I would just call up people who were qualified and tell them what we do. I would ask them how I could help them. That was highly productive.
Tera: We have cut and sold flooring and beams separately. We have even made wood parts for musical instruments. The sawmill is just a sawmill. It’s not just for log homes.
BP: One of Pleasant Valley Log Homes’ other strengths is that everyone in the immediate family works in the company. How is the labor divided?
Terry: I am the lead designer. I figure out how to create what the customer has in their mind out of logs and direct the employees exactly how to produce it.
Dionne: I handle the finances, insurance, budgeting and interest rates, different things that don’t have anything to do with the daily work here. I have a home office, and sometimes when I’m working, Terry or someone else from the business will call. I am the log home help center.
Tera: I do sales, bid the houses, take photographs and handle our online presence, including our website. I can run the equipment, peel a log or whatever needs done. My oldest brother, Sawyer, (21 years old) runs heavy equipment, is the head welder and a Timber Products Inspection certified log grader. He is a great mechanic. He can handle anything that goes wrong. My younger brother, Sheldon, 14, runs an automated log sorting machine and peels logs. My sister, Syringa, 10, works in the office and is a sawdust shoveler.
BP: Keeping the family involved is something you plan to do as you grow the business in the future. Why do you believe that makes you stronger?
Dionne: A lot of the reason why people come and buy log homes from us is because they have someone to talk to who is not a high-pressure salesperson. We’re real people. We really try to understand what they want and build them their dream, not just shove off what we want to sell at that moment on them. They’re from little tiny cabins to log home castles. Your dream can be itty bitty or it can be really huge.
It’s one of the biggest expenses a person will have. It’s something people plan for years, if not all their lives. It’s their lifelong dream, and you want to take a lot of care in order to really get that right.
Williams may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2261.