Our History

Just beyond the heart of the downtown area, a family-owned business has been operating from its original location since its founders came to Flint and incorporated in 1916. Most observers would assume that any business starting about that time would be tied to the booming automobile factories, but this operation contributed not only to the building of Flint’s auto manufacturing prominence but to the overall growth of this area as well. Holding the distinction of being the oldest lumber yard in Genesee County, Michigan Lumber Company is continuing to operate under the philosophies established by their forefathers to give their established customers the finest quality lumber products with an underscore of premier service by an exceptionally experienced staff. Situated at 1919 Clifford Street near the intersection of Saginaw and 12th streets, this full-line lumber supply house is currently in the working hands of third generation family member Charles (Chuck) A. Olson as president with Gerald (Gerry) A. Haan as one of the Board of Directors member. Both men are very proud to be in a position to carry on the traditions set forth by their ancestors and enjoy reflecting on the origins of their family business.

When Nels Olson landed on the American shores from Sweden in the late 1800′s, he was greeted by another fellow countryman who encouraged him and other Swedes to go to Michigan to work in the fledgling logging industry. In those days there wasn’t a source to buy lumber, so there was a desperate need for people to log the wood, mill it, then cut it to needed specifications. Nels eventually established and successfully operated a mill in the Manistee area with the help of his three sons Philip, Anton and Victor. In 1914 he decided to send them to Flint with the hopes of starting a lumber business. With the construction of factories and housing all throughout the area, there was a natural, strong demand for building supplies and service. The Olson brothers found an existing lumber supply business that was operated by the Holihan family under the name of Michigan Cedar and Pole Company. They managed to raise the required capital and in 1916 incorporated their new business under the name of Michigan Lumber and Fuel Company. Those early days saw the Olsons diligently working to supply the building needs of the Flint community and firmly implanting their reputation of delivering the best quality products backed up by the best available service.

All three Olson brothers stayed in the business until their deaths, and all had children to carry on the operations. Philip had a son named Arthur; Anton had a son named Howard; and Victor had a daughter named Barbara. Arthur and Howard continued to run the business much in the way their fathers did, in accordance with the staunch work ethic instilled by the parents.

Howard emerged as the mainstay of the business and was very active in the Flint community as well. He dearly loved his line of work and seemed to devote his entire life to the lumber business, until his failing health forced him to curb his activity in the mid 1980′s.

Understandably, this was a difficult time for the entire Olson family. They were witnessing the passing of the baton to another generation. At that time, there were three principal stockholders in their company – Arthur, Howard and Victor. After Howard became ill, however, the company decided it was in its best interest to purchase Howard’s third of the ownership stock.

Thus, in 1986, the major stockholders consisted of Vice-president Arthur and President Victor. That structure remained in place until Victor’s passing in 1989, which resulted in Barbara taking over her father’s portion of the stock. And now – with this framework basically still intact – the next generation of Olson kin has entered the business. Arthur’s son Chuck started in the business in the summer of 1972 after his graduation from Western Michigan University with a degree in business. He started out by doing everything from unloading boxcars to waiting on customers. He gradually was given increased responsibilities leading up to the presidency in 1987.

Gerry, Barbara’s son, was born and raised in the North Chicago town of Lake Forest and moved to Tennessee during his high school years. Upon his graduation from the University of Tennessee in 1983 with a degree in economics, he stayed in the Knoxville area working in the commercial real estate business. Under the friendly persuasion of his grandfather Victor, Gerry came to work for Michigan Lumber in 1987 and started out in much the same way that Chuck did, by doing a little bit of everything and generally learning about the many aspects of running a lumberyard. Gerry was instrumental in bringing technology to Michigan Lumber with the purchase and installation of a proprietary software program greatly benefiting sales and financial reports. Gerry currently is on the Board of Directors but left the day to day operations in 1999 to pursue his commercial real estate background and created success with G.A. Haan Development, his real estate development company.

When Chuck first started in the business, he was pleasantly struck by the fact that there were many employees that had been with the company for at least 20 years and they eventually stayed until their retirement. He realized that Michigan Lumber has established an environment of loyal, incredibly hard working employees which was a main ingredient of their success. Some of their employees are now into the third generation such as Leon Howay who was a prime example of a Michigan Lumber employee. He was a well-respected yard foreman for many years until his unexpected death in 1972. Victor and Howard, realizing Leon’s dedicated work ethic, approached his son Alden with hopes in continuing his father’s reputable working traditions. Alden, who was his dad’s right hand man for 16 years, became the foreman for the next 20 years, a buyer for another 20 years retiring in 2013 after more than 56 years of service. Now Alden has the honor of seeing his own son, Tom, working as the yard foreman/dispatcher. Gerry was also impressed with their company’s low turnover rate and also appreciates their team relationship with the Teamsters Local 332. That relationship has been sensitive to the needs and requirements of a small business allowing for Michigan Lumber’s growth.

Chuck Olson’s 40-plus-years in the lumber business have certainly seen its share of changing trends, although he admits even though some of the products have evolved that their product line hasn’t really changed that much over the years. But, the challenges of staying competitive are ever present.

“In the 50′s and 60′s there was so much business to take care of,” Chuck said. “In the 70′s things started to change in this business and by the 80′s, the competition and challenges that accompany it were prevalent.” The 80′s also sprouted a different kind of competition in the form of “big box” supply houses. However, people are finding that they need the expertise and knowledgeable service of the true lumber yards and are coming back into the lumber yard fold. According to Chuck Olson, Michigan Lumber has a good respect for other lumber yards in the area and even though they are engaged in friendly rivalry, he feels that employee experience and expertise gives Michigan Lumber a huge advantage among the competition. The 90’s benefited all and continued up until the end of 2005 with the second half of that decade witnessing a 75% nationwide downturn in the overall building material business.

With the loss of many mills and suppliers during the downturn, Chuck does admit that it’s getting harder and harder to get the high quality materials that they have been known to carry at a competitive price. But through it all, they’ve managed to maintain their upstanding reputation. Since many relationship with mills had been built over the years, Michigan Lumber is in a good position to find the best quality wood at the best possible price.

In addition to their residential and commercial customer base, Michigan Lumber specializes in custom millwork. Any type of customized, one-of-a-kind woodwork, from mouldings to cabinets to an exotic archway, is made in their own on premise mill. Their impressive list of clientele already includes the likes of Kettering, Mott, U of M, and Madonna colleges, downtown’s Flint’s new restaurants, Flint State Office Building, Flint Institute of Arts, McCree Building, and many of the ornate churches in the area.

Michigan Lumber has positioned itself to be this area’s premier lumber yard for years to come. They have realized that in order to survive, they must keep in mind the quality of their products and service to their customers while at the same time have competitive pricing. They plan on being a true lumber yard and not clouding that image by selling pots and pans. In addition, the teamwork of their knowledgeable employees will ensure that customers will always return.

“Our employees are the key to our continued success,” Chuck stated. “We have a wealth of knowledge here not only because they have been in the industry so long, but there is a commitment by everyone from the mill to the front office and our customers appreciate that. Our customer base is very demanding in service and products and we’re able to provide them the best of both worlds and we will continue to do that. I believe that’s one of the reasons why we’re still here”.

Part of this history article courtesy of “on the town”, September 1993, by Michael G. Thodoroff

100 year anniversary for Michigan Lumber Company in Genesee County

Flint lumber company celebrates 100 years of continuous business

  • Michigan Lumber Co.

    1919 Clifford Street
    Flint, MI 48503

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    Main Phone: 810-232-4108
    Toll Free: 1-800-282-5707
    Fax: 810-232-7169

    Hours
    Mon: 7:30AM-5:00PM
    Tue: 7:30AM-6:00PM
    Wed: 7:30AM-5:00PM
    Thu: 7:30AM-6:00PM
    Fri: 7:30AM-5:00PM
    Sat: Closed
    Sun: Closed