J&M Lumber in Baker was an idea conceived out of sheer necessity when Ben and Monty Slagter experienced difficulty-getting materials in Baker, to set their new manufactured home.
J&M Lumber … doing business the old fashioned way
By Sherry Vogel
J&M Lumber in Baker was an idea conceived out of sheer necessity when Ben and Monty Slagter experienced difficulty-getting materials in Baker, to set their new manufactured home. They found themselves frustrated that there was nobody from Baker selling lumber in town.
Around this same time, their son Jon, who was living in Portland, was contemplating a career change and move back to Montana. He had experience in the lumber and construction business so one thought led to another and in the course of a month Monty and Jon would decide to open a lumber business in Baker. The two families went into business as partners.
It seemed an opportune time to open a lumberyard business because the only existing lumberyard was aging and didn’t offer service on a daily basis. An offer was made to purchase the existing lumber business, but the owner was not interested in selling.
The Slagters found a suitable property on the east edge of Baker. It had been the prior site of Susa Lumber a number of years before. In April of 2003 the existing building was purchased and after some renovation J&M Lumber was opened on May 1, 2003.
The business derived its name from a combination of two letters; capital J stood for son Jon and M for his mother Monty as the two went into business as partners. Jon’s wife Nikki found employment as a nurse at a local medical facility and Monty’s husband Ben continued trucking until the new lumber yard proved to be self-supporting.
J&M Lumber was built on the concepts that relationships with the customer and quality service would set them apart from the competition.
The fledgling business started selling basic building materials needed to build homes and barns. As time passed, their product lines expanded. Through trial and error, and by listening to their customer’s needs, J&M Lumber began selling everything that is required to build an entire house, from top to bottom and inside to out. They also go the extra mile to fill special product requests from area contractors.
In 2005, the business expanded its storage space when the Slagters built a pole barn to house the lumber inventory.
This addition was badly needed to keep the lumber stock out of the weather.
During the course of 14 years in business the company’s product inventory has grown and changed as suppliers have come and gone.
J&M is proud to be an independent dealer. They have set themselves apart from the competition because of purchasing flexibility. They are able to offer many quality products that have proven to perform well in the local environment, as well as tried and true brands, that customers have been happy with for years.
Just as the company has expanded product lines they have also added additional staff as the business has grown.
In the beginning, Monty and Jon were the only two employees, often accompanied by Jon and Nikki’s two young children Robbie (5) and Megan (3).
As the company grew, more family employees were added to the payroll. At the end of the first year additional help was needed in the yard so Quincy, Ben and Monty’s younger son, joined the team. His good nature and ready smile added a new element to the atmosphere. He became a service and materials specialist, receiving department manager and lead delivery person.
After the third year, Ben retired off his truck to join the team full time. His woodworking skills prove to be an asset in providing custom made wood parts for older homes in town.
The following year in 2007, Jon’s wife Nikki became a full time employee, filling in wherever needed, in the office or the yard.
With the store fully staffed, J&M Lumber set its sights on a new side venture. The oil field industry in Baker was booming causing a housing shortage. They saw this as an opportunity to stimulate work in the area’s construction industry and formulated a plan to build affordable housing, using all local contractors from start to finish.
J&M Lumber invested in a number of building lots on the east side of Baker. They successfully constructed two spec houses using 100% local area contractors. When the oil market slowed in 2014 their building efforts came to a halt. They currently have plans to build two more houses when the housing market is once again viable.
In accordance with their original business concept and as their motto implies, J&M has worked to build healthy relationships with their customers.
By doing business the old fashioned way, they have been successful in developing good rapport with local contractors, businesses and residents.
In fall of 2016, owner Monty experienced a medical emergency and the entire family left town to be by her side. Local contractors came to the family’s aid by manning the store so it did not have to close in their absence. Monty is beyond thankful for all the love she was shown during this time.
This was not the first time the Baker community came to their support. Nikki recalls the incident when Jon and Robbie were in a snowmobile accident in 2005, when Robbie was seriously injured. The local community rallied behind them then as well.
Nikki Slagter stated, “We have received unbelievable community support and we reciprocate as much as possible by giving back to the community.”
She shared, “We were proud to offer free materials to area residents who were patching up roofs and windows after the devastation caused by the tornado and severe hail storms in June/July of 2016. We offered plywood and roof underlayment to anyone who needed it. We gave out 197 sheets of OSB in two hours.”
J&M employees joined local contractors who drove around and helped those residents that were physically unable to get their damages covered or were unable to cover their windows because they were out of town at the time of the storms.
In addition, throughout the years the company has hosted an annual customer appreciation BBQ on the first Saturday in May, to commemorate their business anniversary date. J&M provides a free lunch and offers chances to win door prizes and take advantage of exceptional good deals throughout the event.
During the appreciation day, J&M invites product representatives to display the latest innovations in home remodeling materials. Besides sharing their knowledge they answer any questions that the customer may have.
At Christmas time for the past six years, J&M has promoted creativity in Baker’s youth by sponsoring a Christmas art contest. A local school art teacher judges the contest. Kindergarten students are awarded prizes of coloring books, while the older students receive cash awards. J&M enjoys decorating their store with the festive art.
J&M strives to make the second concept of their business plan, quality service, a priority.
The company surpasses any other area lumberyard in the number of deliveries that they make. Jon stated, “We make three times the deliveries of any lumberyard in the same size community and we service neighboring communities like Ekalaka and Plevna.”
The company’s fastest selling commodity is their lumber. Nikki shared, “We provide only select grade lumber that is a higher quality than any in the area.” She continued, “We try to set ourselves apart from our competition by offering many quality products that have been proven to perform well in our climate and environment. We don’t focus on a price point or offer what a corporate desk jockey contracted to buy in bulk would offer. We try to sift through the jargon and hype and find products our clients will be happy with for years to come.”
At J&M they are proud to have partnered with suppliers to bring cutting edge technology and knowledge to the area. They do their best to promote smarter building paired with the best materials for the job. Nikki stated, “This is why we continue to be independent, so we are not married to products as a corporation would be. We do our research and find the best products for our area.”
J&M in the future
From struggling to find materials to set up their modular home fourteen years ago, to now having served the Baker community as the area’s premiere lumberyard, J&M has successfully chartered the waters of entrepreneurship.
What does the future hold for the business? Grandson Robbie now out of school for two years has been a part of J&M since he was five years old. He became a paid employee during his high school summers and has been working for J&M for a total of six years. Today Robbie is a materials specialist, a products manager and a large part of the customer service team.
The youngest member of the family, who also literally grew up in the lumber business, is granddaughter Megan. Megan is a senior at Baker High this year. She plans to attend Montana State University to study architecture and hopes to come back to Baker to utilize her training in architectural design at J&M.