As busy as Charlie Meek is, he still makes time for jokes. He considers the pros and cons of working in a family business are one and the same.
“The biggest positive is everybody’s right and the biggest negative is everybody’s right,” Charlie said between laughs, though he knows it comes down to much more.
“The positives are you never have to look over your shoulder. It’s a huge time and expense saver,” Charlie said. “The negatives are we tend to probably be a little more conservative. We try to make sure we have everything in place before we make a move.”
Charlie now oversees all business for Meek’s The Builder’s Choice. In combination with Mike and Carrie Meek, he represents 40-plus shareholders, all of whom are members of his family.
Charlie’s the new CEO of the 98-year-old, Springfield-based company, which in September centralized its operations with the formation of a leadership team and board of directors. The decision memorializes a six-month ongoing plan to bring together management under one national entity.
In addition, Mike was named chief financial officer and Carrie was named board chairwoman.
“So far, my role hasn’t changed that much, but going into the future it’s going to be. We’re really trying now to lay the groundwork to get the operational side integrated,” Mike said. “Going back 30 or 40 years, we’ve had this dual division structure operating independently, and for a long period of time, that was a good way to go. It allowed each division to be geared toward its specific markets.”
Mike added that a united, national company is more appealing to national vendors.
The family leadership is tasked with building upon the company’s $325 million in annual revenue. Brothers Terry and Bill Meek grew the lumber and construction supply company from a $20 million operation 30 years ago.
“It’s pretty scary, but I’ve got the support of a great team and a great family,” said Charlie, Terry’s son.
Other members of the new leadership team include Matt Blair, president of West Coast operations, Eric Sachse, general manager of Midwest retail operations, and Tom Buckner, general manager of Midwest special operations.
The changes to Meek’s unify the company’s two divisions over the Midwest and West Coast operations, previously led by third-generation family members, Terry and Bill. The two retired in September, but will continue to serve on the new five-member board.
“We didn’t want to lose them as a resource,” Charlie said. “It was a good time for us to create a more involved board and gave us a good opportunity to continue to lean on their expertise.”
With a long history, Charlie said there’s pressure.
Meek’s was once a single lumberyard in Lockwood, founded in 1919 by Charles C. Meek, Charlie and Mike’s great-grandfather.
In the early 1930s, the company moved its headquarters to Springfield. In 1947, Meek’s expanded to northern California, opening its first lumberyard outside of Missouri.
“My dad and Bill implemented the home center in the late ’70s and brought on our retail presence,” Charlie said, noting it allowed the company to grow sales in the roofing, siding and drywall trades.
By the 1980s, the company operated 10 lumberyards in its Midwest division and six in the West. It continued to expand aggressively, converting, upgrading and enlarging all of its yards to building centers for the addition of materials such as insulation, windows, doors and cabinetry.
Right out of college, Charlie began working with his family’s company on the information technology side in California, eventually implementing the same work in Arkansas. From there, Charlie moved into a district manager role and became a general manager in 1999.
The new millennium brought challenges, namely, dealing with the economic crash 2007-09.
“With the great downturn, which really hurt both of our markets in 2007, we retooled again and got even more focused,” Charlie said.
In 2010, Meek’s M-Pro Advantage Program was implemented in California. It has since become implemented into Missouri’s market, too. Becoming a member to the program allows customers to receive contractor pricing on regularly purchased items.
“It’s like hiring a general contractor for a small construction job or a handyman job,” Charlie said. “We’ve got a lot more great ideas, too.”
The company now operates 46 lumberyards, nearly a dozen distribution centers, and service outlets in four states: Missouri, Arkansas, California and Nevada.
In its Midwest region, Meek’s currently operates building centers and lumberyards in roughly 35 cities.
“Primarily our customers are homebuilders,” Mike said. “We primarily sell to contractors. We also do a fair amount with remodelers and DIY’ers.”
Apartment and hotel construction are big segments, they say, and more national builders are coming on as clients.
The new ideas are much bigger than membership programs. Charlie talks about being more aggressive with acquisitions.
The last acquisitions were in 2010, Mike said, when Meek’s purchased four southwest Missouri yards from E.C. Barton & Co. On a smaller scale, a Springfield distribution facility from Springfield Reload LLC was purchased in 2014.
“We’ve got our eyes on acquisition,” Charlie said, pointing to the Little Rock, Arkansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Kansas City markets.
“I’m really excited about the markets adjacent to ours.”
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