Most of us are familiar with the story of a rock band starting in their parent’s garage and going on to be a massive success in the music industry. Smith Sawmill Service is like those rock bands. Officially, Smith Sawmill Service began 30 years ago, in 1990. But in reality, it started much sooner. Founder Paul Smith, a third-generation saw filer, began his career as a child when his father would put an upturned coke bottle crate on the floor so Paul could reach the saw.
Paul’s childhood taught him the value of his profession. In the ’70s, Paul was in high school and needed to earn some extra money, so he did what most teenagers do. He got a part-time job. But unlike most teenagers, he didn’t just get one part-time job; he got three! Paul recalls, “I worked at three local sawmills. Each mill paid me $100 a week to keep their circle saws hammered and their tools in good shape. Between those three jobs, I would earn over $300 a week — while in high school!” In today’s economy, that is about $1,400 a week (accounting for inflation). “People said I earned more than my teachers because I always drove a new car, and I had a boat and all kinds of stuff. It was an exciting way to grow up.”
By 1990, Paul decided to start his own saw shop in his parent’s tiny two-car garage. Working in such a small place had its challenges, with Paul remembering “We had to raise the garage door to be able to operate our knife grinder. It was very primitive. But I started small and just kept adding on. My dad helped me a lot.”
After Paul’s mother passed away, his father found a small shop in Timpson, Texas. It was about 50 by 75 feet, but it included the house that sat behind the shop. He wanted Paul to purchase the shop, but Paul was hesitant. “That’s when my father told me, ‘No. You buy this. I’ll live in the house in the back and watch after everything. If you can’t make the monthly payment, just let me know, and I’ll make it for you.’ So, I purchased it, and thank goodness he never had to make a payment, though I think he paid the water bill for about 20 years. After that, we kept growing, adding on here and there until we finally purchased our Shreveport facility about three years ago.”
Smith Sawmill Service has two facilities, one in Texas (headquarters) and the second in Louisiana. Each facility has different capabilities. In Texas, they have circle saws up to 30 inches, narrowband saws, a full machine shop, and a fabrication shop. In Louisiana, they have circle saws that are over 30 inches, large-diameter round saws, and a knife grinding center where they sharpen chipper knives.
Most successful businesses have something special that results in success. For Smith Sawmill Service, it is their employees. Paul says, “We are fortunate to have exceptional employees. Everybody is willing to do their part. Our employees show us true dedication, and they want the customer to be happy. We check and double-check everything. Every employee is pushing on another one to do better.”
COVID-19 didn’t spare Smith Sawmill Service, it forced them to do things differently. Paul was grateful they were deemed an essential business; saying it probably saved the company, “At one point the governor of Texas set up checkpoints coming in and out of the state and we had to have letters in our vehicles proving we were an essential business. We hold inventory in both locations, so there is a lot of traveling between Texas and Shreveport. It was a challenge to keep both places operational.”
Smith Sawmill Service made some significant changes to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. They hired new employees to clean the shops constantly. They separated staff into two shifts and provided everyone with their own cleaning supplies and masks. They even built a new narrowband saw department because the old department was so small, people had to work shoulder to shoulder. Now they are 10-20 feet apart. Finally, they had their outside sales team stop making personal visits and instead allowed orders to be phoned in and delivered.
Paul is proud to be a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, saying, “There is nothing more exciting or more rewarding than working with colleagues that have the same goal as you, and NHLA provides that. They also bring us new customers. I’ve had quite a few new customers call me and say, ‘Hey, I see you’re a member of NHLA. Make sure to send one of your salespeople over to us; we want to try to do some business with you.’ That’s happened more than just a few times. I like that NHLA helps advocate for us in Washington. I work in a small town; I don’t have time to worry about talking to my representatives. NHLA gives us a loud voice that gets through to lawmakers in a way we could never do by ourselves.”
The fourth-generation has already joined the family business. Paul’s son, Michael Smith has taken the helm and Paul is proud to credit the growth of Smith Sawmill Service to him.
It could be said that Smith Sawmill Service was born to be a success, slowly growing into who they are today. But there is no denying that the company was born from dedication, compassion for the industry, and a father’s will to see his son succeed.
You can get in touch with Smith Sawmill Service online at www.sawmill.shop. The Texas office can be reached at 1-800-598-6344. The Louisiana office can be reached at 318-227-1695.