Tucked away behind the police department, nestled amidst a neighborhood and a local church, sits a trove of building material ready to assist community members in Madisonville and surrounding areas in constructing their lives. Beginning in the early 1900s, Vick’s Lumber has persevered through tragedy, united a family in service to this small town in southeast Texas, and given back to the community.
In the late 1920s, the Vick family purchased the lumberyard. After her husband’s death in 1952, Mrs. Vick ran the store with help from managers until her son took over while in college. After his passing in 1995, a widow again took the helm. In 1999, this Madisonville fixture suffered a horrendous fire. “When this happened, I lived right at the end of the block; one of the firemen came and got me to open the gate so they wouldn’t have to tear everything up trying to get in to fight the fire,” current owner Randy Lowery stated. At that time, he was one of the managers at the store. George Jaster and his wife Sally bought the business in order to rebuild and continue serving this populous. He purchased a building next to the original location. Knowing some customers had trouble finding this temporary store encouraged the owners, not related to the Vicks, to maintain the family name.
George quipped to Randy after he had purchased the business, “I’m not changing the name. If they can’t find us when we are next door, they’ll never be able to find us if we change the name.” In 2009, George asked Randy Lowery if he and his wife Rita desired to carry on the traditions of this family-run, customer-service-oriented lumber company. Randy feels he owes a great debt of gratitude to this family. By carrying on a legacy of putting the customer first, the current owners consider this a small way of honoring the Vick family name.
Vick’s Lumber not only venerates the original family proprietors, but within this institution, a family unit works together daily to successfully run their business as they share memories and continue a legacy of customer service. In addition to Randy, seven full-time employees work from 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:00 a.m.-noon on Saturdays in order to meet contractor needs and assist do-it-yourselfers with household projects. Rita’s daily tasks include keeping up with inventory, paying the bills, and payroll. She also wears the hat of head of human resources. Randy’s older son Scott helps keep the store stocked, enters received items into the computer register, and lends a helping hand to consumers throughout the day. The Lowery’s younger son Nick works with his older brother in making orders to keep the store supplied as well as placing the merchandise on the shelves when the deliveries are received. Although Jaime Martinez assists with sales throughout the day, he also keeps the lumberyard organized and stocked. As yard foreman, he oversees yardhands Andres Castaneda and Justin Harris as they load customer orders. Steven Story works in the sales department, as well as picking up merchandise for the store.
Sixty to seventy percent of the customer base consists of contractors, while the remaining clients are homeowners with projects. The 1.75 acre site provides patrons with not only lumber, but paint and painting supplies, plumbing supplies, electrical materials, and concrete products. “We sell anything needed for pouring new slabs, including the bag concrete. We sell a lot of bag concrete!” Randy shared. A couple of contractors who patronize Vick’s build the entire house from slab to finish with materials from the store; however, several smaller contractors who do remodeling also acquire needed materials here. Many local plumbers and painters purchase all their supplies at Vick’s. The oil companies that have moved into the area are customers, as are local schools, local governments, and churches. Vick’s has helped to supply materials needed throughout this close-knit community.
What sets Vick’s Lumber apart from many of the “big box stores” is customer service. “To get someone to come by and say ‘Can I help you?’ sometimes is rare (at a box store). We try to ask everyone if they need help. If they just want to look, that’s fine. If they have questions, we try to be there to answer them,” Randy stated. Another factor that sets Vick’s above the rest is their delivery service. “If someone is building a house, a box yard will bring all the supplies they can in a single load. That means more of the supplies will be sitting out in the weather. We will do a smaller load, especially if the location is fairly close. Since the loads are smaller, the builder will not have supplies sitting out as much.” Since the owners and/or managers cannot afford to be absent from the store during business hours, they have even been known to make deliveries themselves after five.
Care for the consumer does not stop within the store’s boundaries. Vick’s Lumber building materials can be found at various places in town, but also out in Midway, Huntsville, and even at the mushroom plant nearby. Although the general service area radius extends 25-30 miles, they have delivered to some locations as far as 75-80 miles away. Another detail in which Vick’s mirrors the atmosphere of a small town general store of the past is the owners allow charge accounts. Randy and his wife inherited several of these arrangements from the original owners.
The longevity of relationships with clients demonstrates how Vick’s Lumber has succeeded in always meeting the needs of their customers with a smile and assisting them in any way they possibly can. A roofing contractor has continued to buy supplies here for over 30 years. A 94 year-old customer who is a local preacher has been coming to the store for many, many years. “He did concrete work and would paint parking lot stripes up until a few years ago. He’s slowing down a little on the outside work now, although he is still preaching,” said the Lowerys when asked about their loyal patrons.
Since the family all works together in the store, taking family vacations together is a difficult task. A couple of years ago, they did close the store for the entire Thanksgiving weekend and went to Port Aransas together. Another interest the Lowerys share is a love of golf. “We work together all week, then we play golf together on Sundays most of the time,” Randy shared. Rita and Randy do take advantage of attending hardware shows put on by suppliers a couple times per year in order to spend quality time together away from the store. “They (the employees from the store) may call us ten times a day, but we do get away,” Rita laughingly stated. Many times Randy and Rita stay in Madisonville, while Scott and his wife attend the shows.
Although Randy never thought he would be in the retail industry, he enjoys working with the people of Madisonville and the surrounding area. “I’ve worked here for 30 years, and I’ve had the same wife for 32 years; I guess I’m just a creature of habit,” Randy quipped. Plans for the future do include keeping the store in the family upon Randy’s retirement. Other forthcoming plans include expansion of the store and the receiving area. “When we go to the shows and buy new displays, we have to find a place to put them. The store is pretty packed right now,” Randy stated.
The impact of this company does not just exist within the walls of the building. The Lowerys give back in many ways to their community. They will buy two to three animals from the fair and also contribute to the Cattlemen’s Association. During football season, the school throws t-shirts into the stands; Vick’s Lumber sponsors this activity. Randy coached little league for 16-17 years. Although he no longer is coaching, the store does try to sponsor a team each year. Children of customers trying to raise money for fair projects or the rodeo know these giving individuals are willing to help in any way possible. Randy noted, “The community has been good to me, so I try to give back any way that I can.” He enjoys living in this small town where the people are close and supportive. “If there is a cause out there, you can find somebody to help you—that’s for sure!” And it is certain Vick’s Lumber will be there for contractors, homeowners, and the community for years to come.