Kimal Lumber President and CEO Al Bavry often takes a contrarian approach to business. His latest project, a drive-thru lumberyard, is no exception.
After all, if people can get burgers and do banking in drive-thrus, then why not add wood to the mix? Says Bavry: “I've had a vision of something like this for 30 or 40 years.”
That vision, the Kimal Lumber Drive-Thru, on Fruitville Road just east of Interstate 75, is now a reality. The lumberyard, plus an 8,400-square-foot hardware store connected to the building, held a soft opening in mid-December and should be officially open for business in early January. The entire project, says Bavry, cost around $4 million. Around 15 new employees were hired to work the store and drive-thru.
The lumber side of the facility is 24,000 square feet, with an entry aisle and exit aisle wide enough for large pickup trucks and trailers. The drive-thru, one of the only of its kind in Florida and one of a few in the country, sells a variety of lumber and other homebuilding and renovation materials. Everything is strategically laid out for safety and efficiency. Says Bavry: “We tried to think in sequence of how people will load and unload.”
Bavry co-founded Kimal Lumber in 1981 with business partner Kim Pavkovich. The company moniker is after the founders' first names. The firm grew significantly in the 2000s building boom and by 2006 it had 230 employees and $58 million in annual sales. Revenues dropped in the recession, however, to around $12 million in 2011.
The firm survived, says Bavry, through finding new clients in new markets. It also hired salespeople, going against an industry mired in layoffs. The moves worked, and pushed sales to more than $20 million. “The only way we will survive the recession,” Bavry tells employees, “is to sell our way out.”
Another way out, Bavry hopes, is the drive-thru lumberyard. Bavry and top Kimal executives began to seriously look at how to do a drive-thru three years ago. They traveled to Hartville, Ohio, to look at an existing one. They also spoke with several Sarasota-Bradenton-area homebuilders and construction project managers, to get their view of the project. “We see a big void in the marketplace,” Bavry said in a February interview, “and we think we can fill it.”
Bavry continued to seek building and construction community input right up to the opening. He spent most mornings in the weeks before Christmas taking groups of contractors and builders on tours of the facility. He showed off the drive-thru, but he also talked up some of the other features — like how the central cashier and information desk is made out of thick bowling alley wood.
The facility also has perks for different demographics. There's an ice machine at the end of the drive-thru line for thirsty contractors; a coffee machine at the front of the hardware store for everyone; and a popcorn machine for kids.
Bavry is confident the drive-thru lumberyard and hardware store will both be successful. His biggest worry, actually, isn't even about the store. The larger anxiety, instead, is what many business owners fear: uncertainty. “I am worried about the general economy,” says Bavry, “but I don't have too much worries about (the store) starting out.”