From selling wood flooring from the back of a car to now being one of the largest and oldest family-owned wood supply businesses in Southern California, Frost Hardwood Lumber Co. has been through a lot leading up to its 100-year anniversary this year.
The San Diego-based company has survived many things including the Great Depression, recessions and World War II, and it has done so by staying diverse, loyal to its customers and keeping the company's leadership in the family.
"I like to think we have an edge over our competition because of our experience, our flexibility and how we treat our customers," said Gordon "G.T." Frost Jr., third-generation owner and one of three Frost family principals that run the company.
It was G.T.'s grandfather, Albert A. Frost Sr., who started the company out of his car after attending Stanford University.
Albert initially wanted to go work for a steel mill in Pennsylvania, but was convinced otherwise after Albert met his uncle's friend who had connections with flooring manufacturers on the East Coast, and started to envision the growth of San Diego.
"All of the houses were being built on slab foundation so you had to have flooring, so they dreamed up an idea of 'why don't we bring in a car load of flooring and see if we can sell it,'" G.T. Frost recalled. "One car led to another and so they found themselves a business ... and (later on) my grandfather bought his partner out."
Since then, the company has expanded to a full service flooring and hardwood company with a storefront, lumberyard, laminate press, mill and a boxcar rail to transport supplies when an alternative to cargo trucks are needed.
Jim and Byram Frost are the other Frost bloodline currently running the company.
Jim Frost has been working in the family business along with G.T. since the 1970s, and Byram, nephew of Jim and G.T., started working full-time with the company in 2006.
Over the years, the company has followed the trends and new technologies of its industry to stay abreast and to add to the wood products it supplies to its customers that range from contractors, custom home builders and even Native American musicians that make flutes. Its clientele base is approximately 1,800 customers, with the majority of them coming from San Diego and Imperial County.
"We continue to diversify our products because you just can't make it on one product," said G.T. Frost, recalling that after World War II the company sold large amounts of high-pressure laminate flooring because that's what customers were asking for.
Today the Miramar area company offers domestic and imported lumber, a variety of plywood and even prefinished flooring, which is once again making a comeback. In addition it has made the transition to more sustainable practices like supplying its customers with bamboo and a high grade of reclaimed lumber
"We do business with the most ethical companies who look out for the environment as much as we do," Jim Frost said.
Right now the company has 29 employees, of which 13 are union workers out in the lumberyard.
At one point, it had 75 employees but had to cut down because of the recession, and also hasn't replaced employees that have retired.
"We are at the bare bones," G.T. Frost said. "But the market will improve and we will need to do a better job of selling more when the economy comes back, so we can continue for another 100 years."
Byram Frost is the youngest of the three owners and next in line to take over ownership of the company fully, once G.T. and Jim retire.
Byram Frost has worked in some form or another at the company since he was 15 years old, and wears numerous hats, including branding, and selling its supply and company name to architects.
"I don't see a big fundamental change ... just satisfy our customers and renew our sales leads," Byram Frost said.
Moving forward, he feels the company will be in business for another 100 years, because even though new building materials come online, wood products will always be around and only the way in which they are used will change.
"The market will dictate where we go," Byram Frost said, adding that he would like to add satellite offices in other parts of Southern California over the next 10-20 years.
He also plans to use networks he has connections with -- like those at the National Hardwood Lumber Association's lumber grading school in Memphis, Tenn. (the only one in the world) -- to find new business revenues with sustainable companies that care about the environment, and not just tearing down trees.
"It's not about turning a profit," Byram explained. "It's about doing what's right for the industry, our company and the environment."