Feature, Operations, Sales & Marketing, V5I5

Shed Trade Show Visionaries

The trade show is a cornerstone for doing business in almost any market, and the shed-building industry is no exception.

Builders, dealers, and suppliers and vendors have found trade shows vital for meeting face-to-face and making deals that impact future shed-building and sales efforts.

It takes vision and effort to start up, organize, and conduct trade shows, and the shed-building industry has been fortunate in having two such visionaries—lumber providers Tom Merkert, lumber trader for Capital Forest Products, and Mo Lunsford, chairman of the board for Union Grove Lumber—bring the industry together at such events over the past couple decades.

Shed Builder Magazine is proud to share a little about these industry leaders in their own words.

What is your background? How did you get into lumber?

MERKERT: I graduated from college in 1988 and responded to an ad in our local paper for sales in the lumber industry. August of that year, I started my job with Capital Forest Products, and I have remained with CFP for the past 31 years.

LUNSFORD: I began selling lumber in 1989 through a business relationship with Ace Hardware, a retail hardware store that we established and I managed in 1986. At the time, I sold retail lumber through our do-it-yourself style lumber yard to the local community. 

I was able to sell larger quantities to a local gazebo manufacturer, which transformed into something much bigger once the word got out to his friends at church, who were also using lumber. What began as a pickup truck, turned into tractor-trailer, and then rail cars.

How did you get involved in the shed-building industry?

LUNSFORD: There was an Amish community near our hometown and at the time, one family was building gazebos and a few sheds. That individual liked some of the lumber I was carrying at the hardware store and asked for bigger volumes. 

He got one load and loved it. Ordered a second load, loved it. Started telling his neighbors, friends, and family about my lumber, service, and my prices—they were barn builders—and it transformed from there. 

For many years, I did the buying, selling, invoicing, and even delivering—and I enjoyed every second. As it grew, I continued to add people and added locations for better distribution.

MERKERT: I started in sales with CFP for wholesale lumber and realized a market in the shed industry was expanding 30 years ago. My customers in the shed industry have been loyal and honest. Over these years our relationships have developed from a customer base to personal friendships. These relationships have offered me an enjoyable career, which I still feel privileged they continue until this day.

Tell a little about your business today overall and in terms of sheds.

MERKERT: Over 31 years, the shed industry has changed dramatically from style, building materials, and product—from basic to elaborate, from greenhouse style to garden sheds. Garden sheds would be the most developed and in demand shed overall from what we have seen in the industry. 

The product development has changed significantly, such as MiraTec and PVC trim boards, European studs, architectural shingles, to name a few. Customer demand has required better quality, low maintenance products.

LUNSFORD: Union Grove Lumber has stayed true to the customers we serve and the families we employee. While our business has definitely transformed into something much larger than we began with, we have made a conscious effort to stay humble, honest, and full of integrity. My goal has always been to make sure our customers are happy and to service every customer equally. 

We only service the shed industry throughout all 50 states and Canada, yet each customer we serve receives individualized attention from the moment they call with a question to the time the load is delivered. We also pride ourselves in “grocery list” orders—a term I coined back in the ’90s—allowing customers to choose just one unit of each item it takes to build a barn to fill out a truck. This method allows small builders to receive discounted, full-truck pricing, without having to actually buy a full truck of a single product.

What inspired you to start a shed show?

LUNSFORD: The show began more like a customer appreciation day in the ’90s. We held it at our offices, had some manufacturers/mills come, and we would do an oyster soup and fish fry. It was very low key but an exciting day. 

It transformed in 2000 to a larger, more traditional type show that allowed for more 1-on-1 interaction with the builder and the mills I represented. We actually took it on the road back in 2001, and I called it the North American Shed Show. My goal was help expand the shed industry by allowing builders meet other builders, meet the mills, and have an open dialogue among everyone for the greater good of the industry. 

MERKERT: As wholesalers, Capital Forest Products has attended trade shows for years, and it has been so beneficial. I realized the shed industry was lacking in trade shows and could benefit as well from meeting vendors and seeing all the new products. 

CPF started the ISM Expo (International Shed Manufacturing Expo) in 2011, and up until 2014 the location was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The first shed show we had 50 vendors, and it has grown to over 70 vendors this past year. 

We have a range of vendors representing everything from sawmills, to paint companies, RTO, and trailer manufacturers, just to name a few.

What inspired both of you to partner and do The Big Shed Show?

MERKERT: Union Grove and I have partnered over the years involving different segments of the shed industry, and we wanted to bring a new dimension for the shed manufacturers.

LUNSFORD: Tom and I have been comrades in the industry for many years. We service many of the same customers, in many different ways. Back in the beginning, we were hosting two shows, serving the same folks, with the same vendors. 

Early on we agreed to have our respective shows in different years, allowing us not to overlap each other’s dates. After doing this for several years, we got together and decided to combine our resources, save our customers some travel fees, and do one big show. We think that the one show, every other year, is frequent enough to make it exciting and chock full of new products and services. 

We decided to come together in 2017 and it’s proved beneficial. We make a great team, and the industry has accepted the transition with positive results. 

What do you think the future of the lumber market and shed building holds?

LUNSFORD: Great things! That’s what the industry holds. The industry is growing, the market is not even close to being remotely penetrated, there is room for more manufacturing, and the economy is booming. Trees are being planted three-fold; lumber is a replenishable commodity that will serve our country for a multitude of generations to come. 

I’m excited to be a part of the continued journey. My greatest friends are from this industry, and I’m eager to see them all succeed.

MERKERT: Toward the close of 2018, in 31 years of dealing with several lumber markets, we experienced one of the most volatile lumber markets ever. Well into 2019 we were still dealing with the fallout of such a market.  I believe this fall we will see the market improve to more normal trading levels.  

I see no reason for the shed industry to not continue in the pattern of positive growth. When there’s a downturn in the housing market, history has shown continued stability with moderate growth.

What’s in your future?

MERKERT: The lumber industry has taught me several life lessons. I’ve continued to enjoy this career for the past 31 years and anticipate continuing in the years to come. I figure, why stop doing what you have enjoyed?

LUNSFORD: Well, I am still trading lumber, albeit much less than I was 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, but Erica and Josh (Goodnight), whom I sold the company to, are carrying on my legacy nicely. I’m proud of what they’re doing to continue the upward trajectory for Union Grove Lumber. They’ve got a great team behind them and our customers trust them. It’s great. 

So, when I’m not in the office I am enjoying my family friends, traveling, and playing music. Speaking of the music, it has been in my bones—it’s my heritage. Piano, guitar, banjo, just music in general, and lumber buying. It’s what I do and it’s what I’ve enjoyed for many years. My plan is simple, to continue as I’ve always done, just at a slower pace.

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