Published March 22, 2011
FOXBusiness.com regularly features profiles of people doing business from home, and making it work.
Who: John Eshleman, founder of Trademark Lumber Co. and operator of Amity Self Storage Amity, OR.
What: Sells lumber wholesale up and down the West Coast. Eshleman has employees that help with the books and logistics, but he is the main sales force. His company did $9 million in sales last year.
Where: He works from home in Amity – mainly in the kitchen - but does have an office in the mini-storage company that he sometimes works out of. Work may also be done on the road when he travels. Eshleman sometimes has custom work done to the lumber, about 40 miles from home. He travels whenever necessary, since he says “there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. It is the best thing you can do to build trust.”
When: A typical work day runs from 7 a.m. to anywhere from 3 to 5 p.m. Eshleman tries to arrange any appointments, golf, or other activities later in the afternoon, when the day starts to wind down.
When did you start your company? 2007
How: Eshleman got into the wholesale lumber business after being a bartender at a holiday party for a sawmill owner. Eshleman says he hit it off with the owner, so he asked for help getting his foot in the door at a wholesale lumber house. Eshleman says he ended up getting a job in the business because of that chance encounter. After that, he worked at four houses over 20-plus years.
“Working with other [lumber] traders is a big ego show ... it is a very competitive, cutthroat environment. Not entirely unlike the movie ‘Boiler Room,’” Eshleman said. So, he started working Fridays from home for his last employer, which he says made it easier for him to realize that making the transition to being a home-based, self-employed boss in this business wouldn’t be that hard. But what also helped him go out on his own, he says, was the support he received from others in his field.
“I also underestimated the support that was given to me by my best vendors and suppliers. They really went to bat for me, they wanted me to succeed … I want to say 'thank you' to all of them,’” Eshleman said.
Why: Eshleman got into the lumber business by accident via his bartending experience after graduating from college with a degree in economics.
“I do remember being a kid and thinking that I wanted to be a stock broker. Funny how life serves up what you truly think you deserve,” Eshleman said.
He says he became his own boss because he thought he could take the business global, that he could sell wood from anyplace in the world [Fiji is the furthest to which he has sold]. When working for someone else, Eshleman’s boss disagreed on the mobility aspects of the business, telling him he needed his employee’s creativity in the office. Eshleman had other ideas he says he knew would tie up cash but make more money in the long run; now, he doesn’t have to ask anybody’s permission to make such decisions.
Day in the Life: Eshleman wakes up at 6:30 or 7 a.m., takes the dogs out, makes coffee, eats, checks e-mails, voicemail, and lumber futures. When his daughters, now 18 and 20, were home, they were off to school by the time he started working. If need be, he makes calls from home. Then he takes a 10-minute drive to the office. He goes back home around lunchtime to work, work out or do other tasks like follow-up on appointments, or go grocery shopping; his says his hours are always changing. When he’s out, he forwards work calls to his cell phone so he can always be reached.
“My business is streaky,” Eshleman said. “A lot of what I do is just thinking, creating solutions for my customers that increase their profitability. Putting my customer's profitability first is what sets me apart from my competitors. I truly want them to succeed ... even if I am only a small part of what they do. To me, the highest compliment that a customer can pay me is to know that they trust me, they know that I will do what is right for them first.”
Pros and Cons: As with many other self-employed home workers, Eshleman lists being your own boss, and creating a company that really is your “baby” – that you can nurture and watch grow – as among the top perks. As for the cons, Eshleman counts having to do everything from business banking, to collections, to taxes, etc… on one’s own. He says it’s also sometimes a detriment to be isolated, in more ways than one.
“The downside to not having folks around you is you have to create your own information, there is no one to bounce ideas off in the office,” he said. “This is what scared me the most - being alone.”
But being on his own, he says, is paying off, not just monetarily but personally, as well. He and his wife just returned from a month-long vacation in San Pedro, Belize; the accommodations at which were chosen based mostly for the availability of cell-phone and Internet service so Eshleman could keep connected to work.
“Although this will not be my best sales month, [also due to the market being slow due to the weather], I … generated some sales while [in Belize], and was prepared for that eventuality,” Eshleman said. “Some people tell me that since I am not completely disconnected from my work that is it not really a vacation. I tell them that it is for me. I like it this way. Knowing that things are OK back home helps me relax.”