“Every piece of wood has a story” is a key theme at Windfall Lumber, the Tumwater company that turns old timber and former building parts into high-quality, polished furnishings and eye-catching accents for commercial businesses all across the U.S.
Specifically, take a close look at the woodwork the next time you step into your local Starbucks or Whole Foods, or visit the campuses of University of Washington, Washington State University, or Amazon corporate buildings in Seattle’s Lake Union area. These are just a few of Windfall’s continuing customers for the company’s reclaimed timber products — meaning that the coffee bar where you’re sitting, or the table on which you’re eating, or the intriguing decor along the wall of the room once might have been wood downed in a recent regional windstorm, a deconstructed South Sound warehouse, or one of the Port of Olympia’s old shipping pallets.
“Being a domestic manufacturer of ‘green’ products has been such a big poster theme for this era, and one that has really worked out to help us,” said company president Scott Royer. “Without it, would we have been successful? Yes, without a doubt. But would we have been as successful? I don’t know — because going green and buying local have been so important for businesses, it’s really fallen right into place for us.”
Sustainability has been part of the core marketing strategy since the company’s startup in 1997, when the original owners brainstormed buying a wood mizer mill to salvage downed timber after the December 1996 ice storm. Since then, the hook has been to turn salvaged and reclaimed wood back into commercial building materials, furniture and decor. Everything is locally sourced from this region and milled, dried, designed and finished at the company’s Tumwater manufacturing facility.
However, like all businesses that have emerged from the recession all the better for the experience, the Windfall Lumber story has a few intriguing turns that resulted in a leaner, more effective operational strategy.
Royer, a former software executive who bought Windfall Lumber in 2001, saw the company’s sustainability strategy as a viable one for the future, albeit originally for the residential market at the time. Then in 2008, nine months after Windfall constructed its Tumwater plant, came the housing industry crash. That led Royer and his team to completely reinvent the whole system for the commercial market throughout 2009 and 2010.
And today in the South Sound, Windfall Lumber innovations like colored and textured wall cladding, wood-panel casework covering, and end-grain butcher-block countertops and tables can be seen at local educational institutions like Clover Park Technical College, and businesses like Vic’s Pizzeria in West Olympia, three Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. sites, South Sound Bank, and Lucky Lunchbox in downtown Olympia.
In fact, Lunchbox owner Jim Butigan said that he connected with Windfall on the design project for his site because of the company’s high-quality work at Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. next door. Now his space has a beautifully polished countertop created of reclaimed wood, as well as eye-catching wall cladding created from a local school’s reclaimed gym floor, which has been nearly as much a conversation point as the food.
“We thought it would be a great way to connect with a local business stylistically, and to also have our own look,” Butigan said. “And from a business standpoint, the idea of using reclaimed items from local sites is part of our mission.”
Going green and local is also the mindset of Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. as that company has expanded throughout central South Sound. All three locations now have furnishings and decor accents by Windfall, including a bar-front created from another reclaimed school gym floor and furnishings made from repurposed Ft. Lewis barracks materials. Co-owner Sam Schroeder said that his business chose Windfall because of the quality and the character of the wood it uses, in addition to the opportunity to partner with a local, green and sustainable-minded business.
“We always prefer to use reclaimed or reused products, and Windfall has been a treasure here in the South Sound,” Schroeder said. “It’s pretty special to have such a resource right here in our neighborhood, and to be able to say we have things they’ve created are right here in our stores is very cool.”
What’s ahead for Windfall Lumber now is a push to delve more deeply into the domestic market, said Royer. With a focus on local and sustainable measures, the company isn’t interested in alternative sourcing from countries like Brazil or Indonesia. The next challenge is simply figuring out how to fund that growth, as well as future project and equipment investments.
“I’m hearing from my colleagues in the business that it can be tougher to be pulling out of the recession because you have to finance the next growth,” said Royer. “You have to convince people that the recession is gone, and your numbers are strong, and you’re a worthwhile risk. So we’re going to great lengths to get everybody up to speed right now, so we can make those next steps for the business.”