Oxbow business to celebrate 10th anniversary

Oxbow Timber Mart has made it through 10 diverse years and they are happy to celebrate their anniversary together with their customers.

A lot may have changed in a decade, but the experience in the field and the understanding of the needs of customers just kept growing.

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Ten years ago, when Cory Mercer, the business owner, was looking ahead and seeking new opportunities, his background in construction made him turn towards building supplies.

"I was looking to transition into a job that I can continue doing as I got older, and maybe wanting to work a little less physical, but still in the same basic field of my expertise. So that seemed to make a good fit coming from construction, going into a lumberyard, home renovation type centre. And it just seemed to be a natural fit," explained Mercer.

Starting his first retail business was different from previous experience. This adventure had a lot of learning curves along the way.

"There was a lot to learn. We made a few mistakes early on. It's a lot different than I had anticipated from construction. Although we're using similar products, and the same principle, applying it to running a retail business is entirely different than to a construction company. So we had a lot of learning lessons early, early on. The first few years were a little difficult, to say the least," Mercer said.

During the early years of Timber Mart, the economy was still booming. The later decline brought in new challenges. The business had to optimize their expenses and Mercer had to take on more work and learn more, which allowed him to better understand all the fine points of the industry.

"This is 10 years now. I have a pretty good understanding of the business and what needs to happen and how things work. And I still get overwhelmed a little bit once in a while. But for the most part, we manage. And hopefully, once we get done with all these COVID restrictions and start to get back to normal, we could start to hire more people and get the workforce back up," Mercer said.

Oxbow Timber Mart
Oxbow Timber Mart has a wide selection of building supplies. Photo submitted

The slowdown also had its positive effects on the business.

"Slowing down forced us to really evaluate how we ran the business, procedures and policies, and our inventory levels and all that boring stuff. But what that allowed us to do was decide on how many people we needed, what jobs they needed to do, and how it needed to be done," Mercer said.

A building supplies business requires strong planning skills. The store manager has to decide what to have in the store in winter by late spring or early summer, and the other way around. Eight months in advance they need to forecast what customers will want in the next season, while still keeping in mind everything happening at the store at the moment. COVID-19 made this task even harder, with supply chains often being interrupted and things taking longer to arrive. Mercer said that the advance demand forecasts weren't that easy to get a handle on, but they got better with time and now, even despite all the challenges, the business keeps slowly but gradually growing.

"I'm very proud of the fact that in the last four years, we have grown small percentages each year. Every year we're growing on sales numbers. That's good. And we're doing more with fewer people. We have a more streamlined operation, which has given us the ability to expand a little bit, just on our product selection. And this year has been a little challenging on inventory levels because things are really hard to get. But we've been, I think, better on our overall inventory numbers than we've ever been just because of our efficiency."

They were able to bring in new products in different categories to ensure that any customer would find what they need to accomplish their building or gardening projects.

At Oxbow Timber Mart, a lot of work is done by a few people, and Mercer said that the efficient system they have in place now helps them to keep progressing despite all the challenges.

"My team here, we do an awful lot of work for a few people just because we are pretty efficient. So I'm really proud of that. It's been a hard, hard lesson learned. And it's been a lot of work to get here. But now that we're at this point, it's very rewarding to see that we're actually getting somewhere. And if the economy gets a little stronger, then it will be even better for us. But if it stays exactly as it was right now, we would be just fine," Mercer said.

While COVID negatively affected many things, there were some positive effects as well. The demand for Timber Mart's products went up and the foot traffic significantly increased. Mercer said they were happy to see people doing projects that they probably wouldn't do if not for the pandemic.

"That's been exciting because you get to see a whole bunch of new people. And it's always fulfilling from our side of things when you see somebody take on a project that they were maybe a little unsure of, but when it's all set and done and complete, they're over the moon thrilled that they were able to do it themselves. And that's satisfying to be part of that, to see somebody's end product. If there's renovations, they sometimes will come in and share pictures with us. And that's really satisfying from our side of things because you really feel like you help somebody get what they want," Mercer shared.

The business will celebrate their anniversary on June 9 with food trucks serving smoked meats, coffee and treats in front of the store. There will also be some good deals for the customers. Also, they will run a charitable event where a portion of sales from June 9 will be matched by a donation by Timber Mart and will go towards the Souris Moose Creek Wildlife Federation.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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