Family business hits 60 years

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published March 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 22, 2013 at 10:23 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Whit Davis Lumber Plus, which is headquartered in Jacksonville, will celebrate its 60th anniversary on April 1. John Davis, front left, son of Whit Davis, and his wife, Sue, front right, owned the store for many years but recently transferred ownership to his children, back, from the right, Dan Davis, Paul Davis and Stacey Millar; and Terry Toney, president of the company.

— When the owners of Whit Davis Lumber Plus meet, it’s not just business. It’s a family reunion.

Headquartered in Jacksonville since 1953, Whit Davis Lumber has remained a family-owned business and will celebrate 60 years in operation in April. Including Whit Davis’ wife, Miriam, who is still living in the area at 98, the Davis family now includes five generations.

First passed to John Davis and his siblings, the store is now owned by Whit’s grandchildren, Dan Davis, Paul Davis and Stacey Millar, along with company president Terry Toney.

The company’s first lumber yard opened on April 1, 1953, in Jacksonville. Three years later, the lumber yard relocated to its current lot.

“I was only 11 years old when the business opened in ’53,” said John Davis, who fully retired from the company in January. “I started out making 75 cents an hour sweeping floors and waiting on customers and checking on supplies.”

Despite his last name, John said, he was treated no differently than other employees in the company, and by the time he took over the company, he had worked in nearly every position.

“The business started with just three people: Mom, Dad and a truck driver,” John said. “Now we have more than 100 people employed in our three stores.”

When the store first opened, Jacksonville had a population of less than 2,000. Now, it’s home to more than 30,000, John said, and the company has expanded with the population. In 1988, three years after Whit Davis died, the lumber yard expanded to include a large hardware store and increased lumber storage. Since then, the company has opened stores in Cabot and Greenbrier. A new hardware store in Sherwood is in the works, with plans to locate on Brockington Road.

“You either grow or you’re dying,” John said. “We will always look for other opportunities.”

One thing that John doesn’t see changing is Whit Davis Lumber’s commitment to customer service and to remaining a family business.

With more than 80 percent of the company’s money coming from selling to contractors, John said the business’s relationships with returning customers are paramount.

“We have some customers who are in here every day,” Toney said. “We have a service level that they’ve come to expect. Some people have been working with the same employees here for 20 years.”

John’s sons, Paul and Dan, after growing up in the business, now work at the Jacksonville store.

“In eighth grade, we’d walk down the hill by the store every day,” Dan said, “but it was always our option to work here.”

Like their father, Paul and Dan worked their way up in the company, rather than starting out in management.

After 60 years in the business, John said he is most proud that Whit Davis Lumber has been able to keep its doors open, even through the tough economic times that hit around 2007.

“My dad was an excellent teacher,” John said. “During the Depression, he learned how to be frugal. We had to tighten our belt up through the [recent] bleak years, but since 2012, we’re seeing a good bit more light at the end of the tunnel.”

Though he said things are turning around, the company had to reduce expenses, including losing some staff in recent years. But loyal customers meant the company was able to keep going.

“Every day, our customers have to drive in past our competition and the big-box stores,” Dan said.

Chuck Winer of Bart Gray Realty in Jacksonville sometimes stops by the store five times a day.

“They know where the things are on the shelves, and if they don’t have something, they know where to get it,” Winer said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s the customer service.”

In the Davis family’s 60 years in Jacksonville, family members have also been closely involved with the city, including participating with the city’s Water Commission, the Rotary Club, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the board of First Arkansas Bank and Trust, and Pathfinders.

The company’s stores in Jacksonville, Cabot and Greenbrier will each host a celebration for the anniversary over the weekend of April 5. Food, free T-shirts, car-seat safety checks, blood-pressure and blood-sugar screenings, and vendor demonstrations will take place from noon to 2 p.m. April 5 at the Greenbrier store. Similar events will take place from noon to 2 p.m. April 6 at the stores in Jacksonville and Cabot. The Cabot event will also include an animal adoption drive. At each event, customers can register to win $1,000 in cash, with a winner drawn April 8.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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