2018 marks officially marks 75 years for Oman and Son; how did the business begin?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Our great grandfather (Fred Oman) started the business in 1943. They started out building and selling shipping boxes for the oyster industry. Then they started building coffins and his son (our grandpa, Roy Oman) joined him and they started selling building materials and lumber. In 1977, (Steve Oman, Sr.) purchased it from Roy and then, just last summer, I purchased it from him. It’s now a fourth generation family business.”
You no longer make oyster boxes, but how else has your inventory evolved?
Troy Ramsey: “In 2003 we expanded the store to bring in more hardware for homeowners to be able to fix things in their home. We switched to a Do It Best Corporation affiliation and it opened up a much a larger product line that we could carry. It’s like a co-op buying group that we’re a member of, that’s targeted more for lumber and building materials. It also has lawn, garden and plumbing supplies.”
Who accounts for the majority of your business today?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “It’s about 50-50 between retail sales and contractors. We have a lot of local contractors and do-it-yourself homeowners. In the past 15 years, we’ve been trying to attract more of the everyday retail sales while still being dedicated to our core contractor base and making sure they’re getting a level of service they can’t get anywhere else. We offer free delivery and help getting their materials to the job sites.”
What products remain popular year after year?
Troy Ramsey: “Lumber and cedar shingles and trim, which have all been traditionally used in this area. It’s an indigenous type of wood that works here. If you look at the 100-year-old houses in Seaview, you will see cedar shingles. They were used on the first houses on the Peninsula and they’re still here. There are certain things that haven’t changed such as tar paper for underlayment; that was used 100 years ago and people still used it today.
What’s the biggest difference with the business today from when you first started?
Troy Ramsey: “Less than 20 years ago, we didn’t even have a computer. We hand wrote all of the invoices, we did the math on a 10-key (calculator).”
Has technology made the job more complicated or easier?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Both, it’s better, but you use technology to your advantage. A lot of the change has been in the past five years. We’ve seen a lot of online e-commerce and we’re trying to work into that space. With the internet, people will research and know what they want before they come in, but we’re still service oriented and answer questions for people.”
Troy Ramsey: “One of the most important things that we provide are knowledge of the materials that are actually used in the coastal region. It’s very different products than the Portland, Vancouver or Seattle area use for building.”
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Certain products and building techniques is something that we specialize in for our coastal climate.”
Is there any advice you wish people knew before building a house or constructing a new building?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “You have to know what materials to use and how to construct. There are certain ways to do it here on the coast — from the way you install windows and doors to which caulking to use. Every little step makes a huge difference in building something that will last in this coastal climate. When you use the right primers, the right paints and the right nails it all comes together. You have to use the right material the right way. Out here a house does require more maintenance than inland. Even when you do it right, there’s still maintenance to be done. But if you build it right and maintain it, you can have a house last for decades.”
Troy Ramsey: “You definitely have to overbuild here.”
What is the most forgotten or neglected home maintenance you see most often in the community?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Maintenance wise it’s paint. Paint is important. The south side of every building gets hammered first and the worst when a storm comes in. You have to replace your siding and paint more often on the south side.”
Troy Ramsey: “The north side is usually where the algae and moss will grow. You have to clean the north side and paint the south side.”
Is there a product or service you offer that you wish more people were are of?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “That we have free delivery and tool rentals.”
What sort of tools do you rent?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Log splitters, jackhammers, plate compactors, nail guns, drills, saws, lawn mowers, weed eaters — just about everything but heavy equipment.”
How do the different seasons impact business?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “We’re busiest in summer months when the weather is nice and people can get outside to do projects and contractors can build longer. When it’s raining it’s hard to get outside and do something project or maintenance wise.”
Troy Ramsey: “It used to be that not many builders were busy in the wintertime, but the local contractors have learned how to build year around in all weather and they use the proper products to be able to do that.”
What impact did the recession have on business?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “It had a significant impact. Our sales dropped significantly, about 50 percent. The real estate — everything got hammered here. A lot of our suppliers and competition went out of business. We were able to weather the storm. It’s been a slow truck out of it, but last year was a very good year and we’re expecting this year to be good too.”
Troy Ramsey: “The projects that were slated to be done right when the recession hit, people put on hold. Now that we’re coming out of it, they’re revisiting those projects. One of the hardest things we’ve encountered since the recession is the shortage of labor. There’s not as big of a labor force as in years past. We’ve had a difficult time finding employees over the past three years.”
How did Oman and Son manage to stay open when so many were closing?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “We were in a good position. We didn’t have any long-term debt. We were able to downsize our inventory and ride it out.”
What’s a lesson you’ve learned through experience?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Don’t over extend yourself and don’t forget the past.” You’ve got to know your numbers and run as efficiently as possible.”
Are there any customers or stories that stick out in your mind?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “Bill Clearman has been shopping here for 50 years or so and he still comes in just about every day. He’s in his 80s now but he’s been coming in since the 1960s. He’s a very good craftsman.”
What are your goals for the business?
Steve Oman, Jr.: “We want to continue to be there and serve the community and local contractors. We want to continue to improve our service and product mix and our ability to help the community grow. That’s really what we’re focused on.”