MARYVILLE, Mo. — With individuals stopping by to pick up parts for personal projects and trucks bringing in supplies, a typical day at Bearcat Lumber is busy.
Owner John Nelson said he noticed an increase in building projects when the first economic relief checks arrived last year.
Despite product delays and price increases, there continues to be a steady number of people building houses and decks.
“It’s business as usual,” Nelson said. “It’s just people have to be more understanding about when they’re going to get product.”
Nelson has adequate labor for his business, but the story is different for his suppliers. He recalled waiting two months this past spring for chipboard because a company in Alabama did not have a trucker to make the delivery.
“If you come in and wanted windows for your house today, we’re probably going to tell you it’s going to be as much as 20 weeks,” Nelson said, adding that the process used to take a maximum of two weeks.
Lumber also is hard to come by. There has been major flooding in Canada, a large producer of lumber. The flooding washed out railroads, making it difficult to do logging.
“It seems like every day we have a challenge trying to get a certain product,” Nelson said.
Along with delays, large and unpredictable price increases have affected the way Bearcat Lumber operates.
“Generally before (the pandemic) hit, if the market moved five bucks, 10 bucks, that was a noticeable change,” Nelson said.
Last week, prices for two-by-fours and two-by-sixes increased by $65. Prices have even risen by $100 within two or three days.
“It makes it difficult to hold a number for somebody unless you’ve acquired the material,” Nelson said.
If he gives someone a bid, it might be out of date in two days because of changes in supply costs. Before the pandemic, the business used to cover price changes for up to 30 days.
The pandemic also has caused major contractors to change the way they conduct business. Before contractors even lay the foundation for houses, they order windows and other items, so they will have them in time.
“You have to make your decisions way ahead of time, and not change your mind,” Nelson said.
Nelson has tried to anticipate contractors’ requests and keep items they may need in stock, so he can have a set price for materials.
“We’ve tried hard to make it where (contractors) could go out and get business,” Nelson said. “I feel it’s built some additional loyalty with builders — that you’ll go out and stick your neck out in the market to hold a number for them for a short period of time, so they can get work.”
Most of Bearcat Lumber’s business comes from contractors based within Nodaway County. However, Nelson said he and his employees treat each customer with the same amount of respect. Throughout the pandemic, Bearcat Lumber has upheld this value.
“We work with individuals as best we can, same as we do the builders,” Nelson said. “We don’t do preferential treatment.”
Referencing his own personal battle with the virus, Nelson said he was thankful not to have contracted COVID-19 at the same time as any of his employees, because that scenario would have severely disrupted business.
Nelson was hospitalized for three weeks while combating the illness, but business at Bearcat Lumber did not slow down, and Nelson did not stop working. During his hospitalization, Nelson called suppliers, made orders and took notes in the margins of the newspapers he read.
“What else are you going to do? You’re just laying there,” Nelson said.
Months later, the lumber business continues to remain at full speed, and the special order file is three times as full as it usually is. Despite supply delays and price increases, business is as busy as it has ever been.