The lumber industry is one of the backbones of our economy and it’s made up of companies, big and small, that keep one of our greatest commodities – lumber – usable for our consumption. Lumber production is vital for our sustainable society and we rely on lumber mills to keep wood moving.
A Fourth Generation Sawmill Family
Trey Hankins’s family has been in the lumber business for four generations. In 1989, the family moved to Ripley, MS to purchase a small green sawmill. Over the next three decades, Trey’s father and uncles steadily modernized and expanded the plant. Today, the sawmill produces ten times the lumber that it did in its first year. Hankins Inc. products are shipped all across the country, and the end users of those products are all across the globe.
“Hankins is an independent, family-owned operation in an era where such enterprises are decreasing for all types of businesses,” Trey says. “Anyone who is currently working in a family-owned business knows all too well how difficult it is to maintain success and the foundation on which that business was built.”
Part of their success can be attributed to the wide range of products Hankins manufactures – enabling the mill to adjust to market conditions as needs and availability of products change.
Lumber Industry Forces
Trey says that, being in the industry for as long as he has, he has been able to bear witness to the extent the market can impact competition and the industry as a whole. “Probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the lumber industry is that sometimes you can do everything right and still not come out ahead,” he says.
“Because sawmills takes logs and turn them into lumber, we would love to buy logs really cheaply and sell lumber for lots of money, but both logs and lumber are commodities, meaning that we don’t have much control over either of their prices. So, you’re always operating at the mercy of the markets, no matter what,” a challenge, in an era where market conditions seem to fluctuate dramatically one season to the next.
“My personality is such that I tend to be a bit of a control freak, but working in the lumber industry forces you to recognize all the things you cannot control (and it’s a lot).”
All Roads Lead Back to the Mill
Trey, himself, did not spend the entirety of his career at the mill. Like many children of family-run businesses, Trey went to college and studied in an unrelated field, only to decide the corporate life was not for him. He describes his decision to go back to the mill as the greatest career move he could have made.
It was, for him, coming back home. The mill was his life, having started very young, faxing his father’s price list out to all of his customers. Then, when he reached an actual employable age, Trey started weighing log trucks in the scale house and worked up from there. Today he is the CFO.
A Commitment to Community
Of the many things Trey says makes Hankins, Inc. special is the commitment to the business and to the community over the last 30 years. In fact, one of their employees has been with them since their very first week in operation; their head bookkeeper. “In those three decades, she’s seen, first-hand, how wildly the financial pendulum can swing. She and I were in the trenches together during the Great Recession,” Trey shares.
Ultimately, Trey says being in the business for as long as he has, and being able to see how markets, business, expectations, and needs change, has opened his eyes to the commitment and focus of his family and the role that had in the success of the mill.
A Commitment to Family
“When my dad and uncles set out on their own, their ages ranged from 30-36,” he explains. “Now that I’m in my late 30s, I’m astounded by the vision and guts they had to 1) move to an unknown town, 2) ask banks to bet big on their abilities, and 3) trudge forward to build a successful business from the ground up…..and then after all of that to still like each other.”
“I have distinct memories from when I was little, where my mom would take my sister and me to McDonald’s for dinner, and then we’d drive out to the mill to bring my dad his dinner. It didn’t click in my head at the time, but we did that because he and my uncles were still there working into the night. Parents usually do a great job of hiding the sacrifices they make for their families.”
The name “Hankins” is stamped on every piece of lumber that the mill makes. The pride in that name is what has made the mill what it is today.