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120-year-old Dunn Lumber has human face



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June 10, 2014 | 04:00 PM
Florence Strumpf is the face of Dunn Lumber in Lake Geneva.

Wish her a nice day and she’ll wish you a nicer one as she bags your purchases at the check out at Dunn’s True Value hardware store.

A 25-year veteran employee, Florence, called Flo by her co-workers, is one of the major reasons that Dunn Lumber, 826 North St., is observing its 120th year of business this year, according to Mike Dunn, company president.

The company is observing its birthday with a special 120 Days of Celebration, which started on May 3 and includes special events and sales.

“It’s the people,” Dunn said in a prepared statement. “The employees, the customers, and their relationships which kept us going strong.”

The company has about 40 employees, full-and-part-time, many who have working at Dunn Lumber for more than 15 years, and some longer than 25 years.

Respect between employer and employee flows both ways, no pun intended.

Flo said her past work experience was as an office receptionist for a head-hunting company in Oak Brook, Ill.

She said she got tired of sitting at a desk all day and decided to try cashier work.

She started with Dunn in December 1989. That same month her mother-in-law died unexpectedly.

Flo had to take a leave of absence from her new employer, and there were no assurances that she would even return, she said.

But Mike’s brother, Terry, company vice president, gave her a Christmas gift of $25 and told her he would hold her job if she wanted to return, Flo said

Later, when her husband fell ill, she had to leave for a month, Flo said. The Dunns kept her job open, waiting for her return.

“They’re wonderful people to work for,” Flo said.

Flo now works just four days a week, but she’s available whenever they need her, said Tammy Dunn, Mike’s wife, company spokeswoman and semi-official historian.

Mike and Terry Dunn represent the fourth generation of Dunns to run the family-owned business. Oldest brother, Tim, is now semi-retired, Tammy Dunn said.

That puts Dunn Lumber in an elite business category.

According to businessweek.com, the Boston-based Family Firm Institute estimates that only 3 percent of family-owned businesses make it to the fourth generation.

Good employee and customer relations are important. But good business decisions are also key to keeping a family business going.

Dunn Lumber didn’t add a hardware store until 1975, but the timing was right, said Tammy Dunn.

Dunn Lumber expanded its hardware store in 1993, following a fire that burned down one outbuilding and half a long storage building that were next to the original hardware store.

The fire happened on New Year’s Day 1989, and according to the Regional News archives, it was a big one.

Flames were reported rising 50 to 75 feet over the stricken buildings. Fire departments from Lake Geneva, Elkhorn, Delavan, town of Linn and Williams Bay responded to the blaze and five firefighters were injured.

The burning buildings were just 40 feet from the hardware store, but firefighters kept the flames away from the store.

The spring after the blaze, the Dunns added a garden center where the burned buildings had stood.

After five years of planning, the Dunns decided to add on to their hardware store.

“We had a thriving business here in Lake Geneva, however, we had come to the decision to either sell the business or take it to the next level,” Mike Dunn told the Regional News in 1998. “Obviously, by the expansion, we chose to make a strong commitment to this area.”

The addition grew the selling floor from 6,500 to 17,000 square feet.

To that, the Dunns added Just Ask Rental, which rents everything from earth-moving equipment to snow cone machines for parties, and the Cabinet Gallery, featuring kitchen and bath cabinets and counters.

Dunn Lumber has also started a drive-through lumber yard. Customers make their orders at the desk at the Dunn Lumber hardware store, and then drive to the lumber yard across the street for pickups.

Answering customer’s questions is important to Dunn Lumber’s success.

“We’re kind of a throw-back,” said Pat Flood, Dunn Lumber general manager. Most of the employees at Dunn Lumber have been there for 20 years or more.

He and his father, Neill, owned a lumber yard in Delavan, called Doyon & Rayne (pronounced Doyne and Rain) Lumber.

Flood said his family bought the yard in 1918 and kept the previous owners’ names. As a youth, Flood said, he loved the smell of freshly-cut lumber and just liked working around the business.

Flood said his family had been in the lumber business in Delavan. When the family business was sold, Pat said his father, Neill Flood, knew the Dunns and took a job at Dunn Lumber. He then convinced Pat to join him.

The sawdust gets in your blood, Flood said. Roger Pagel, store manager, has been working for the Dunns for 35 years, and he’s not sure he’s ready to quit yet.

“It’s a really good place to be,” Pagel said. “Nobody gives you a hassle, and family comes first.”

Over the years, Pagel said, he’s gotten to know the customers where he can talk and joke with them. “That makes it a nice atmosphere,” he added.

Pagel said he’s considered retirement, but it’s not an attractive option right now.

“That means I would not have to come here and I would not see these people and that would not be too good for me,” he said.

Tammy Brady, assistant manager-in-training is one of the newest employees. She was in her fourth week at Dunn’s when she talked to the Regional News.

But she is not a rookie. Brady said she spent 19 years working for a competitor, a big-name corporation in Richmond, Ill.

She said she needed a change.

“They’re nice people,” Brady said of the Dunns. And the atmosphere at the store is very different. “They’re more relaxed,” she said.

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