Scroll through the blog posts and stories below to learn more about Hamilton student and alumni experiences in this industry. Finally, meet with your career advisor and explore the Career Center curriculum to learn how to network with alumni to discuss your interests and learn more about their work.
Business Career Blog
Lumber Business in the Digital Age
By Kevin Coppola '07
October 31, 2022
I have only ever worked for one company. As a young teen, I began stocking shelves at Len-Co Lumber, the business my grandfather co-founded in 1958. I also worked on their sales force over the summer while attending Hamilton. Despite this, I did not originally plan to return to the lumber business after graduation.
Early on at Hamilton, I was convinced that I would attend law school. But the further I progressed through my political science and law studies courses, the more it became clear that I would not find fulfillment in a legal profession. At that point, I did not have a definitive post-graduate plan. Instead, I enjoyed exploring courses in economics, classical studies, and Italian. This fueled a myriad of career aspirations, from working for a professional baseball team to studying ancient Sicilian ruins.
In 2007, a change in ownership at Len-Co Lumber and the onset of the great recession brought an opportunity for Len-Co to expand into a suburban market. Following graduation that year, I accepted a position to manage the new satellite location.
The transition to management was challenging as I felt tremendous responsibility for ensuring the success of the expansion. I took on roles beyond what one might typically expect of a business manager. Faced with an empty warehouse, I started off painting walls, building check-out counters, and unloading inventory. Once we opened to the public, I began cutting and loading materials for customers and continued in product sales. Performing these duties well required putting in 60+ hours and working six days per week over several years.
The experience proved invaluable; it allowed me to gain knowledge in various aspects of the industry and better relate to our employees and customers. The long hours also paid off as Len-Co’s new location not only survived the recession, but became profitable. A third location opened five years later. In 2016, I was appointed a company officer, shareholder, and board treasurer, gaining more authority over the future direction of Len-Co.
Fast forward to 2020: COVID-19 lockdowns threatened a complete shutdown of our operations. In western New York, construction sites were abandoned, supply chains disintegrated, and material prices skyrocketed, making it nearly impossible to service customers. We scrambled to purchase materials in large quantities to retain product inventory and remain price competitive. We also looked for ways to expand our customer and supplier base on a national level.
Although Len-Co has sold building materials through our retail website for several years, we recently established a wholesale brokering division. This allows lumber mills and wholesalers from across the country to buy and sell products in a digital marketplace. Unfortunately, many “old school” suppliers in the industry were hesitant or even resistant to enter such a market. These suppliers did not trust digital transactions and viewed the venture as a threat to their traditional business model. To help build confidence in our platform, Len-Co contracted with technology start-ups who streamline customer communication, payments, and shipment tracking. We also continued to foster our relationships with mill owners and wholesalers. We have since partnered with several such businesses and are thrilled to see our digital brokering division expand.
Based on my experience from Hamilton into the lumber industry, I would recommend the following to current students and recent graduates:
- For those struggling to identify a specific career path, don’t be discouraged if your original plan doesn’t end up being “the” plan. In every field, there is room for innovation, creativity, and progress.
- Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Be willing to take on arduous or seemingly menial tasks. They will ultimately help you better understand your team and operations.
- Know that difficult times will come. View those seasons as an opportunity. Through adversity, I experienced my greatest growth, both personally and professionally.