Maintaining a successful business can be a challenge, even under the most ideal conditions.
Keeping one not only afloat, but thriving and adapting throughout the changes of an entire century? That’s an achievement few can boast.
Begun by Emit Wilson Stewart in 1921 as E.W. Stewart Lumber Company, the company first operated as a sawmill.
“Back then, sawmills were mobile,” says Sales Manager Jonathan Halliburton. “Sawmills went where the logs were.”
Up through the 1970s, Stewart built homes. Around that time, the company began to change its business strategy.
“Coming out of the 70s, we went to exclusively servicing contractors. We are open to the public, but our main focus is on residential construction in Middle Tennessee,” says Halliburton. “We basically do framing lumber, millwork, windows, doors, roofing, siding, for professional contractors.”
DIY customers make up a percentage of business as well.
Over the decades, Stewart Builder Supply has become something of a community institution. With additional locations in Brentwood and Hopkinsville, Ky., they serve all of Middle Tennessee.
The business is still owned by the Stewart family.
Navigating Great Depression, recessions
As one can imagine, a century of business isn’t always easy.
“We worked through the Great Depression, through various recessions, and housing declines. And, of course, pandemics, wars, and everything else. And made it through that,” Halliburton said.
The most recent of these challenges, COVID-19, had an unexpected outcome for Stewart Builder Supply.
“While a lot of businesses were devastated, the building supply industry and the housing market really had a boom,” Halliburton said. “(We tried) to make sure our employees were safe. We never closed. We actually hired additional employees.”
“During COVID, we felt the economy may be adversely affected, but it turns out the housing market continued to gain steam,” Halliburton added. “ In our case, it was a challenge. (Keeping) our employees safe, and still supply our customers.”
When asked about the secret of the company’s longevity, Halliburton doesn’t hesitate.
“I would say our people. The leadership team, and as well as our employees, with being very much a family atmosphere,” Halliburton said. “It is a family business. We’ve got a lot of long-tenured employees.”
Just last month, Operation Manager Stanley Spann retired after working with the company for 43 years. He started working for the company when he was 19.
In fact, there are several employees that have been with the company for 20, 30, and 40 years.
“I always tell people, a 2×4 is a 2×4,” Halliburton said. “It’s no different than what you would find at (the competition). But how you sell that 2×4, and how you service the customer that buys that 2×4, is really what sets us apart. That’s what we always try to instill in our employees, and our customers.”
A century on, that advice seems to have paid off.