Volume 7 | Issue 4 | Year 2004

At the bottom of the boom in today’s new home construction lies hardwood flooring. The demand for hardwood of all types in residential developments cropping up around the country is strong, and expected to remain so. This bodes extremely well for Hassell & Hughes Lumber, a company that timed the latest hardwood floor trend perfectly.”Almost all new homes have a substantial percentage of hardwood flooring,” said Vice President Bob Haggard, “but it was not always that way. In the mid-1960s, when homeowner taste in flooring shifted to carpeting and vinyl tiling, it virtually disintegrated demand for hardwood flooring.”

It also led to Hassell & Hughes Lumber’s exit from the flooring industry, after 12 years of operations. But in a remarkable turnabout, Hassell & Hughes Lumber re-entered the market in 1999, just as demand for hardwood flooring returned, spurring the company to $28 million in sales last year. Based in Collinwood, Tenn., approximately 100 miles south of Nashville, Hassell & Hughes is by far the largest employer in their county.

Back in business
In 1929, the company began as and remains today a family-owned business. Said Haggard, T. F Hassell & Ralph Hughes Sr. started out with basically nothing, but seized the opportunity to purchase 80,000 acres of timberland in Waume County, Tenn. The initial business, a sawmill and a planing plant, went to work supplying lumber and pine for home construction.

It was primarily Hassell’s personal fortune that kept the company afloat during the depression years. Prior to his death in 1975, he sold a percentage of his property to Champion International Paper. The land swap deal allowed Hassell & Hughes Lumber to maintain its manufacturing facilities, but it would take two decades for the company to climb back into the hardwood floor business.

The company continued to grow in number and capacity after 1975 led by Ralph, Jr. and Bill Hughes, the two owners and operators of the business. “In 1995 we made an internal division of the company to supply wood component – Hughes Hardwood International, and the sawmill company Hassell & Hughes Lumber,” said Haggard.

Four years later, Hassell & Hughes Lumber acquired the manufacturing facility of Blue Grass Flooring in Bowling Green, Ken. and moved its manufacturing facility to Collinwood and re-dedicated itself to hardwood flooring. Haggard said the company properly anticipated the revival of hardwood flooring, capitalizing on the demand and expanding operations by adding another sawmill in Waynesboro, Tenn.

Virtues of hardwood
The National Wood Floor Association extols the virtues of modern wood floors, citing new technology in stains and finishes that call for regular cleaning that takes little more than sweeping or vacuuming, with occasional use of a professional wood floor cleaning product. Wood floors are ecologically friendly. Since it is a natural resource, wood is both renewable and recyclable. Many of yesteryear’s old wood ships, warehouses, barns, and other structures often find a second life in wood flooring. And, because wood does not collect dust and other allergens, many leading health associations agree that wood floors are the perfect choice for a healthy home.

Today’s wood floors are also affordable. Over time, wood floors maintain their value. When other flooring options are looking tired and worn out, wood floors will still look beautiful and timeless. And wood floors have come a long way in the past few years. Today, there are more styles, colors and species of wood flooring available than ever before Haggard maintains several reasons for the renewed interest in hardwood flooring.

“It’s a very stable product in your house. You cannot wear it out. It’s a non-pollutant and does not cause allergies. Its beauty dresses up a home, making it warm, inviting and durable. The American consumer basically has demanded that some of it come into their home and we have gladly answered their demand.”

When Hassell & Hughes Lumber was re-entering the market, its research revealed that hardwood flooring was 15 percent of the floor covering business, but projections indicated that market share would leap to 35 percent of the floor covering market.

“We felt like it was a good to time to get in on the ground floor … literally,” said Haggard. “At first we thought it would simply be a value add to us when we began it again, that it would just be another part of our company. As it turned out hardwood flooring is the main thing we sell, comprising 80 percent of our sales.”

Drying time
Yet despite the naturalness of hardwood floors, the end product does not just grow on trees. The process that converts raw materials to stunningly beautiful wood floors is expensive, extremely technical, and time-consuming.

“It’s a real capital intensive business with very tight margins, so quality and efficiency are the things that keep you in business,” said Haggard. “The drying process is pretty long. Once we bring it out of the sawmill, it takes about 120 days for one-inch-thick planks to dry prior to going into the dry kiln, which adds another 15 days in the cycle. Overall, it typically takes about 140 days to go from green to dry. Therefore you have to be very particular with how you do it. We have significantly reduced the dry time with two pre-driers that will hold 1.3 million feet of lumber staying only 30 days in pre drier.”

Once ready for market, Hassell & Hughes Lumber sells to an independent distribution network, which has warehouse facilities in most major cities throughout the country. These hubs stock hardwood flooring, sandpaper, polyurethane, care products, and sell directly to flooring and housing contractors. The company tries to minimize the number of distributorship relations regionally to preserve exclusivity.

“We have a really good product perceived as one of the best,” said Haggard. “We decided to be on the high side of quality – something better than normal. That allows us to get a little more money and keeps our sales consistent.”

Lifelong products and people
Success in wood flooring is leading to interest in other markets ranging from wooden drumsticks to forklift pallets for Hassell & Hughes Lumber. But the company’s primary business is oak flooring. Demand for specific wood flooring types varies by region, said Haggard, but it is not unusual to find Hassell & Hughes Lumber products – be it red oak, white oak, hickory, cherry, maple or ash – in any area of the country.

The company monitors the development of potential competing flooring alternatives, but the natural beauty and durability of American hardwoods, plus the cost barriers of importing lumber from overseas, should help the company maintain its competitive advantage, Haggard said.

If there is one region that is of critical importance to Hassell & Hughes, it is Collinwood, Tenn. “We are the single largest employer in our county and our hope and commitment is that we can stay in this community to compete on the national level. Our best resource is the people. We have the most talented people that you could hope for in any environment. We are like a big family; that’s the way we approach it. Without the best employees, we cannot be successful or grow. So we make every attempt to take care of our people because we truly hope that once they come on board here, they stay here and make a positive contribution to the company and the community as well.”

As long as the trend in new construction continues to favor hardwood flooring Hassell & Hughes Lumber will continue to supply the demand. Like the floors it makes, the company and its employees are built to last.

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