The Independent Building Supplier
Face to Face: Chris Burrows
Evergreen Building Products LLC is a Washington-based building material supply company with locations in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Spokane and Kirkland, with service to Alaska. The company specializes in the plaster trade and drywall products, serving contractors in both commercial and residential construction. The supplier distributes a full line of EIFS, stucco, stone veneer, specialty interior finishes and exterior ornamental features.
For 15 years now, Evergreen has thrived and endured the hardships of what it means to be a building materials company servicing the industry. The flourishing years of mid-2000s were equaled by the hardships of the Great Recession. In regards to the former, the recession really leveled the playing field for any company not prepared for this grim period.
Yet, the company has always remained on top of its duties due to a good business model, successful and loyal customer base, and through its fellowship with the Northwest Wall and Ceiling Bureau. At the head of this business is fitness and health enthusiast Chris Burrows. (Last year, the NWCB named Burrows Industry Person of the Year.)
Walls & Ceilings caught up with Burrrows at the end of last year to talk shop, how the days of unloading trucks are history and his love of the outdoors and extracurricular time spent as an athlete and sports enthusiast. Without lacking any personality, Burrows shares with the magazine his love for the industry.
Walls & Ceilings: How did you get involved in the trades?
Chris Burrows: After college, for several years, I worked at a plywood and millwork distribution facility.
W&C: How many employees do you have?
CB: Currently 20, down from 42 in 2007.
W&C: How has the current construction climate been in your region and for you as a company?
CB: EBP had a very strong 2008 going until November when business literally fell off the table. October and November of 2009 were devastating. Since then we have seen growing revenues and greater confidence in the building sector. 2013 turned out to be a strong year, one that was essential.
W&C: What is the most interesting aspect of this job for you?
CB: Finding new products and opportunities to bring to our customers. Opportunities that enable them and Evergreen to grow.
W&C: What is the hardest aspect of the job for you?
CB: The hardest part has been the downsizing of our company and creating a situation that allowed us to stay in business.
W&C: What is your outlook for the upcoming year?
CB: I expect modest growth over the next couple of years. The SFR is a long way from its prior levels and I expect that to continue rebounding. In addition, with the new codes requiring continuous insulation, EIFS should be a “no brainer.”
W&C: What are your longterm goals?
CB: It was always my plan to make EBP a strong regional player in the industry. We went from two to six stores and presently have five. I look forward to developing a plan to grow again.
W&C: What are the biggest challenges facing the independent supplier today?
CB: Staying competitive with companies that seem intent on taking our industry to the commodity level. We have seen what happens when a lack of attention to details is replaced by the “lowest price” be it material or labor.
W&C: What do you know today that you wish you had known when you first started out in the industry?
CB: Make sure you have adequate resources to survive a downturn. No matter how good things seem to be, construction works in cycles.
W&C: What advice do you have for younger people entering the business and our industry?
CB: Maintain impeccable credit and access to financing. Can’t say that strongly enough!
W&C: Money changes everything: Is it the supplier’s responsibility to let customers know when there is a price increase? Is that reasonable or harder because prices fluctuate so often?
CB: Absolutely. It’s a bit more challenging but we typically use the same language to our customers that we receive from our vendors. For example, we will give out the percentage increases that are forecast quarterly and when we have specifics we pass that along.
W&C: What are constants your customer base can rely on?
CB: We rarely fail to meet our commitments to our customers.
W&C: What does Evergreen Building Products do well?
CB: Our communication with our customers, technical knowledge, color matching in our coating side of business.
W&C: How important is it for building material suppliers to maintain a fleet of vehicles and lift equipment? Is this something you offer?
CB: It is very important. With Labor and Industries, OSHA and safety concerns, the days of hand loading and unloading material are long gone.
W&C: What are your perimeters for delivery (location-wise)?
CB: We deliver with our own fleet the entire state of Washington and Northern Idaho. We utilize common carriers for other areas such as Central Idaho, Oregon and Montana.
W&C: What advantages does belonging to the NWCB offer you? How did you become involved with the bureau?
CB: I have always believed it is important to be involved in the various trade associations in which you derive your business. I have been a member of the Bureau for 20 years. I was approached by former Executive Director Bob Drury about a board position several years ago. Being on the board allows me to give back to the industry. The benefits, besides the friendships, are the ability to offer up ideas to make our industry stronger.
W&C: Chris, as an individual, you have a reputation for extremely demanding physical activities such as marathon running and mountain climbing. How did you get started?
CB: When the running craze of the 1970s took hold I was hooked. Marathons led to competitive squash, long distance bicycling and mountain climbing expeditions.
W&C: Are there any parallels between these activities and
running a business?
CB: Absolutely. You need to start with a solid foundation and build from there. In order to grow you need a plan to get to that next level.
W&C: What are your interests/hobbies?
CB: I continue to mountain climb and am currently recovering from foot surgery. If all goes as planned I hope to be back on the squash court in time to compete in the U.S. Squash Championships in March.
W&C: What does this industry mean to you?
CB: I like being involved in the construction industry and the talents that our tradesmen bring to a project always amazes me. I take pride in knowing that we provided material to that building.
W&C: What do you think is your greatest achievement/proudest moment professionally and personally?
CB: Professionally it was being named the “Industry Person of the Year” by the Northwest Wall & Ceiling Bureau. I was honored and humbled to be chosen. Personally it would have to be the completion of my “Seven Summits” quest, climbing the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. I started this shortly after my 50th birthday and completed it in five years. I was also able to share some of the peaks with my family. We all climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa and my oldest daughter was with me in Russia (Europe) and my youngest son climbed with me in Australia.
W&C: As a mountain climber, I’m sure you’ve read Jeffrey Archer’s “Paths of Glory”? Are George Mallory and George Finch personal heroes?
CB: I have it but have not read it yet. I am currently reading “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest.” I am always impressed by stories of personal challenge that involves some risk.