Today we have Sean O’Brien from Pacific Coast Lumber. The business is located in San Luis Bispo, California right between LA and San Francisco on the Coast. The business has been around for almost 23 years but Sean bought it only 2 ½ years ago from Don Seawater. Dan owned a commercial lumber yard where he was selling commodity lumber until he realized it wasn’t working for him anymore. He decided to generate a new industry of urban forested lumber. He had noticed that biomass resources were being underutilized. They were left to decay or were used as firewood or wood chip which was a high waste of resources as far as Dan was concerned. He then bought a lumber mill and started retrieving the materials locally and developed the demand for it. When he was ready to retire, he approached Sean and his wife to buy off the business which they gladly did.
Before buying the business, Sean had been a software engineer for 25 years with no milling background. His wife, on the other hand, was an auditor for about 23 years and didn’t have the passion for her work anymore. She, therefore, decided to follow her passion and started a company called The Place to Grow where she takes reclaimed doors, windows, wood and metal elements and creates outdoor lifestyle structures. Her shop was located opposite of Don Seawater’s business and that’s how he sold the business to the couple when he was ready to retire.
Sean quickly realized that there was a lot that he didn’t know. Going from a software engineer to managing a lumber mill business brought him to a whole new world. He was lucky that Don stuck around for 3 months after handing over the business. Don helped him to learn to manage the business the alone. In the beginning, learning the different wood species, their values and characteristics was a hard 3-6 months process for Sean.
PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
PCL products come from lumbering mill from the trees that come down locally. They build tables, chairs, and other furniture from all the wood they mill. They also provide kiln service and plain services which they plain materials up to 5 by 20 feet.
His clients are always looking for something unique with special requirements which PLC gladly offers. Boasting of having an artistic side, they are always willing to over-deliver. His biggest asset is the ability to connect with his clients and having a staff that knows what to do.
MARKETING THE BUSINESS
Social media plays a huge role in promoting PCL. Taking beautiful pictures and posting them on Instagram and Facebook has seemed to be working quite well in the last couple of months as they’ve been getting emails and calls from people outside their state. More to that, they have been placing local TV ads which markets them from San Luis county to Santa Barbara County. Last but not least, he’s been getting more and more clients from the most trusted form of marketing, word of mouth.
BUSINESS CHALLENGES & MENTORS
It’s challenging to keep the business profitable with all the logistics that come with it. He’s now hired several new people to keep up with the demand but he’s got to keep an eye on the money because if he doesn’t make it then he won’t be in business for very long.
He’s part of the urban salvage and reclaim network organization which tries to create a network of like-minded businesses across California. It consists of almost all people involved in the wood business and that keeps Sean on his toes. He’s able to discuss business here as well as connect with different product suppliers.
The greatest advice Sean gives is to find where your source of material can come from as this tends to be one of the most challenging tasks. Not all areas have vast resources. After finding your source of material, find out your market. Ask yourself questions like who would be interested in your product and what would they use it for? Different areas have different product tastes.
They just finished milling a 21ft long walnut log that’s 4ft diameter which will be available on Facebook and the website. Projects they’re now looking forward to doing is a lot of backyard cabin rustic retreats as well as urban forested tables and bench sets.