Kathy and John Schroeder, the owners and managers of Schroeder Log Home Supply, are very modest about their company that supplies “everything but the wood itself” for log home owners and builders.
After a quick glance at their conference room map, with stickpins displaying their customer locations, it’s obvious they have a national and even international reach. Other than in the mountains and plains states, Schroeder Log Home Supply is obviously well-known in the log home world.
“We have a mail-order business that really has everything a log home owner would need, other than the wood,” John explained. “From hardware, stains and preservatives, to log building tools, restoration products, log caulk and more, we carry just about everything home owners and builders need.”
Kathy and John are the wife and son of Gary Schroeder, founder of the business. Gary died in August 2015, and Kathy and John run the business as a team. Their tight-knit group of 10 full-time employees has worked together for many of the 30 years the company has been in business.
“My husband started this business after being an apprentice basically to Ernie Wiita near Marcell,” Kathy explained. “Gary had grown up near Waseca and Owatonna, but came up to his Grandpa’s cabin on Pokegama Lake. Gary never landed the forestry job he wanted, so he was working with a cement mason, Bernie Black, to build the foundation of a new log home in Marcell. Ernie was the log builder, and he observed Gary at work. Gary and I both grew up in family businesses, so he wasn’t afraid of the opportunity to learn and grow the business.”
Gary and Kathy quickly found that log home builders needed specialty supplies and materials to build and finish the log homes. That business opportunity helped launch a company that supplied the accessories log home builders and owners wanted and needed.
“In the early years of our business, which began in May 1986, we operated out of a small trailer in the driveway,” said Kathy, “and in the fall we had to move perishables into warm basement of our home. I took orders over the phone, so when someone called, our children—Betsy and John— learned just after they were old enough to walk to keep quiet when Mom was on the phone. They were great.”
The Schroeder’s lived 13 miles north of Grand Rapids on Highway 38, but as the business grew, they looked for more space to accommodate their growing company.
“We moved several times as the business grew,” Kathy said, “from south Highway 169 and west Highway 2 in Grand Rapids and then on to Cohasset. In 2003 we finally moved to the location we’re at now on Airport Road.”
The Schroeder’s business has seen ebbs and flows, like many businesses, and their growth across the United States was
accelerated when they opened shipping and distribution offices in several locations: Middlebury, Indiana; Spearfish, South Dakota, which was closed when we opened in Stevensville Montana; and Sevierville, Tennessee. Tennessee and Montana offices were closed in the 2010 following the 2008 recession; only the Indiana office remains open, and Linda—the store manager there—is going strong. “Linda was a customer who used her own entrepreneurial skills to convince us to work with her as a supply center. She’s still with us.”
John grew up in the business, but his involvement as a youngster was largely “playing in the corner and swatting flies.” John doesn’t have a formal title, but he’s fully engaged in the business. John’s path to managing a log home supply business wasn’t usual and customary. His first paying gig was a clown.
“I get a double-take when I tell people I’m the mother of a clown,” said Kathy.
John attended Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato to study communications and graphic design. He had a yearning for the Ringling Brothers circus while he was in college, and the lure of traveling around the country by train was too much to resist. John joined the circus for a year, and his mother shudders when he re-tells the story of returning to Secaucus, New Jersey, on the subway from downtown New York at 2 am one night after a circus performance…casually navigating a warehouse district in flip-flops. John received a lot of attention.
After a year on the road, John returned to Minnesota and earned a business degree at the Minnesota School of Business. Along the way he married another aspiring actor, Steph, and returned to Grand Rapids. Steph and John have been thoroughly engaged in the theater and arts scene in Grand Rapids and even created an encore theater group called Uncommon Loons. John and Steph’s lives became more complicated when they had their first child, Gilbert Gary, in September.
In the meantime, John and Kathy work diligently to keep the business moving ahead.
“We’re still figuring things out 16 months after Dad died,” said John, “but we work as a team. Our leadership team has lateral responsibilities, so we’re covering all the bases as best we can.”
Nate Lloyd is their business banker at Grand Rapids State Bank, and Nate helps John and Kathy continue a line of credit, which began in 2005 and is needed to maintain operations on an even keel through ebbs and flows of seasons.
“We’re a seasonal business to a large degree,” said John, “so it’s important that we carry sufficient inventory for our busy months—June, July and August. Nate has been helpful as we plan and anticipate those cash needs.”
“Grand Rapids State Bank was Gary’s bank since he first moved to Grand Rapids in 1968,” Kathy added. “We appreciate our longstanding relationship with the bank.”