FLINT, Michigan -- It was almost exactly a year ago when Gerald Haan returned to Flint to take over as President/CEO and owner of Michigan Lumber Company (1919 Clifford Street), a full service lumber yard belonging to his family for more than 100 years.
“The business was already in kind of a tough spot then,” Haan said, referring to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many small and family businesses have not survived the stressors caused by the pandemic, but Michigan Lumber remained committed to surviving.
While the store itself never fully closed, there were a few weeks where it was by appointment only and reduced hours but the real effects came from slowdowns in other areas of the economy. Early on when essential businesses did not include construction and builders, that meant less need for materials. The domino effect on businesses across the nation of these early shutdowns were felt deeply within their company.
“We were forced to reduce our staff, which was heartbreaking because some of these guys had been here for decades,” says Haan, reiterating how difficult it was to let anyone go because the staff is who he gives nearly all the credit to for the success and longevity of Michigan Lumber.
Haan’s daughter Katherine Haan, who joined the company about a year ago as marketing and special projects manager, agrees.
“The guys there are seriously skilled and I learn so much from them, but my dad deserves some credit for the recent success too,” she said.
What makes Michigan Lumber Company special is a combination of things. It isn’t a big box store that sells materials, it’s a working mill with well-practiced millworkers who have decades of experience, often passed down from generations. The company has had second- and even third-generation employees.
“The employees and rich history of Michigan Lumber are truly one of a kind. Some of the guys worked with my dad when he was working there full-time 30 years ago—it’s a family,” Katherine Haan said.
Jeffery Moore is one of those employees. He is the Upstairs Mill Supervisor or self-described “Mill Man.”
“(Gerald Haan) was here when I started 30 years ago and I worked for him for 15 years before he moved on to bigger and better things. He’s always been great to work for and always treated me with respect,” says Moore who adds that one of the main reasons he’s stayed on is that the company always allowed him to put his family first, never missing a game and always allowing him time off to do that whenever he needed.
The travel games Moore says the company “bent over backwards” to accommodate included those of Nolan Moore, who is one the second-generation employees who currently works there despite his dad pushing him in another direction.
“I wanted him to get a degree, to go farther than I did, but here he is,” Moore joked. “But, it is different, he fits here in a way that works for him and still allowed me to see him and give what I always wanted for him.”
Starting as a sophomore in college as a part time employee, Nolan is now a full time senior pursuing his bachelor’s of business administration with a focus on marketing as well as a full-time employee who worked his way up from laborer to salesman to very recently a purchaser for the company.
“Since (Gerald Haan) has taken over he’s given me every opportunity to advance my career and become better in that field,” Nolan Moore said. “From sending me trade magazines or inviting me into business meetings or just talking to me and really listening to my input. It’s refreshing because only a year ago I was picking up trash on the side of the road.”
Since Jeffery Moore works in the mill and Nolan is in the administration and sales building their paths don’t cross often, but they have managed to take on and recently complete a father-son project born out of woodworking -- they built a guitar.
“When I say we built a guitar, I really mean I was the ‘project manager’ and he did all the real work,” said Nolan. “All I did was point out where the screws went.”
The project also highlights a misconception that a lumber yard is meant for only contractors or construction. It also serves as somewhere to begin passion or creative projects or just bonding experiences.
The pandemic forced Michigan Lumber to become more creative as far as clientele and they amped up their social media presence to do that. Their Facebook page was revamped and they became more active on Instagram, often highlighting clients’ completed projects and even offering tutorials.
“A lot of people don’t even know we’re back here, which is crazy since we have been for a hundred years,” Jeffrey Moore said. “It’s much easier to see a Home Depot or a Lowe’s and people think they’re cheaper too, which isn’t exactly true.”
“Sure, some things may be 10 or 20 cents higher, but you’ll find a lot is actually more affordable here because aside from our exotic woods it’s all domestic.” Nolan Moore said. “Plus you won’t get the service at a box store that you get here. It’s personal, it’s an experience. Here we’ll sit with a couple for 45 minutes while they discuss the perfect trim, you won’t get that at Home Depot, you see the same faces every time you come in.”
Michigan Lumber Company carries on generation after generation in part because of its customer service and products, but it’s also about Flint itself.
“As someone who has such strong roots to the Flint community, but hadn’t been exposed to them until later in life, it’s been amazing meeting more people and being welcomed into the greater Flint community as well,” Katherine Haan said. “If I had to sum it up, I’d say Michigan Lumber has survived because of its hugely knowledgeable staff, traditional roots, rich history and tight knit loyal community.”
Find out more about Michigan Lumber Company on their website or on Facebook.