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Third-generation Businessman Seizes Opportunity, Wehrung’s Lumber & Home Center

An entrepreneur seems to find opportunity in any situation. For Jason Wehrung, President of Wehrung’s Lumber & Home Center, opportunity has been found in the family lumberyard, in a stint at a fast food restaurant, and even in the ashes of a lumberyard fire. Jason Wehrung leads our choice for Entrepreneur of the Year in the category of $10 million to $50 million in sales. During his seven-year tenure with his family business, the company has tripled in size, growing from one to three locations in eastern Pennsylvania, including two lumber and home centers as well as a full-service lumberyard.

Jason has led the Wehrung’s businesses through an acquisition of another area hardware dealer, as well as a significant remodel of the company’s flagship location. He has also significantly expanded the company’s customer base with a renewed focus on retail and DIY customers through a rental service and flooring installation.

But the company growth didn’t come to Wehrung in a linear fashion. That’s not the way he does business, he says. Instead, he has learned to take educated risks and turn opportunity into success wherever he can.

Wehrung says he wasn’t able to just jump into the family business headfirst. Instead, his father said that he had to put in at least a year’s time working for someone else, gathering insight into how that business works, and bringing it back to the family lumberyard. With those instructions, Wehrung set out to find a job.

“My dad said that before I could join the family business I had to work somewhere else first, so I worked at McDonald’s.”

If you think he just jumped into a fast food job to bide his time until he could get into the family business, you’re wrong. Wehrung was deliberate in his choice of where to spend his year outside of the lumberyard.
“I went there specifically to learn about
processes and procedures,” he says.

The processes and procedures took hold quickly. While he was there, Wehrung connected what he was seeing in marketing and promotions back into the LBM (Lumber, Building Material) industry. Soon, he started his own distribution business, selling building materials for his dad and his dad’s competitors.

“I’d get a job from one of my customers and I’d bid the projects out to both dad and his competitors,” he says.

Wehrung’s Ottsville, PA

Third-generation owner Jason Wehrung (right) says his primary focus since taking over has been moving the company into the “relationship business,” focused on helping customers grow and succeed.

Truly entrepreneurial at heart, Jason Wehrung had also launched his own marketing company, which sold promotional materials to many in the LBM industry, including his father’s lumberyard and the same builder customers he connected with supplies. With less than a year’s work experience under his belt, Wehrung had effectively positioned himself into an essential role in the area’s building industry.

When he returned to the business that his father opened in 1986, Wehrung merged his marketing company with the lumberyard and set the course for growth. He was building on the success of his grandfather, who first began serving contractors in Ottsville, Pennsylvania back in 1946.

As Wehrung tells it, the company has moved through three stages: His grandfather sold specifically to building contractors, though he also went on to invent the baffle for septic tanks. His father then turned the contractor sales business into a 20,000 square-foot lumberyard, and Wehrung has since moved the company “into the relationship business.”

“We’re in the business to help our customers grow,” he says. “What ever we can do to help them grow. We just always try to be the simplest place to do business.”

Sometimes the simple part is adding some marketing supplies to the customers’ mix as well as selling building materials. The marketing side of the business has grown to bring about $1 million a year into the company. Other times, it’s finding products that customers aren’t getting elsewhere. That’s what prompted Wehrung to open Wehrung Specialties, a specialty woods store a mile from the main location that features exotics and decking in a separate showroom and warehouse.

The company also operates a satellite hardware store in Chalfont, PA. In all, the companies associated with Wehrung’s serve a client base comprised of 75% professional builders and contractors. Depending on the season, around 100 employees work throughout the locations. Eight of the employees are outside sales staff. Revenue throughout the companies is close to $40 million, and a roughly 15% increase is anticipated once 2017 numbers are final.

Even in an instance of tragedy, Wehrung has found opportunity. In 2016, just six months after acquiring a competitor’s hardware store 10 miles away, the building caught fire. Wehrung seized on the opportunity to expand the store as it was rebuilt.

“Now we’re doing double the business the store used to do,” he says. “And the expansion has also allowed us to add some LBM products at the lumberyard.”

While Wehrung has learned through the years to recognize opportunity, he has also built a strong panel of advisors around him. He has recently established a customer board of advisors for the business in which he brings in a group of some of his best customers and potential customers. Then Wehrung’s management team works with the customers to help them grow their businesses and in turn strengthens relationships throughout the community.

As president of his local chamber of commerce, Wehrung is working with area technical schools and a community college to grow a workforce development program.

“The plan is to have the program like this to help our hiring, and our customers’ hiring,” he says. “I see there’s a definite challenge of people coming into the industry.”

Once the next generation sees LBM as a lifestyle industry, they’ll quickly find a rewarding career in the building trades, he says. And at Wehrung’s, the philosophy will remain focused on “helping our customers grow and having fun while doing so,” he says.

Article written by James Anderson, Senior Editor, LBM Journal. Mr. Anderson can be reached at James@LBMJournal.com or 612.888.5265.