Friday, 19 July 2024

The employee, the customer and the new owner: Perspectives on the Lakeport Piedmont sale

LAKEPORT – On Sunday night, longtime Piedmont Lumber & Mill Co. employee Karen Spillman got the call.


She and other employees of the Lakeport store were informed that they needed to show up to work on Monday morning, and that there was a meeting they were to attend.


When they arrived Monday morning, the employees were told that the facility was being sold to Mendo Mill and Lumber, and that they were laid off as of the end of work on Tuesday.


“It was a hard meeting to be at,” Spillman said later on Monday.


The morning meeting was both short and somber, Spillman said. She said Piedmont's owner, Bill Myer, was there.


“He was very emotional. Extremely emotional. It really hit him hard,” said Spillman.


“I know he tried everything he could to really save it and keep us working,” she added.


There was the immediate opportunity to work on getting hired with the new company, so Spillman said they all filled out applications.


Later, employees returned for an afternoon meeting with Mike Mayfield, Mendo Mill's president and chief executive officer.


Spillman said the situation was new to everyone – employees and new owners – but she said of Mendo Mill, “They seem very concerned and very genuine.”


She added, “We just want to get the store back going and open, which is good for the community.”


Piedmont Lumber has been a longtime fixture in the business community. Spillman has worked for Piedmont Lumber for more than 10 years, and is the head of the nursery department.


She said her sons have worked at the store as summer employees, just like other employees' children have. “It is a family,” she said.


Her husband, Marc, worked for the company's Calpella truss plant for close to 20 years before the facility abruptly closed this past March 31. He's now working for Kelseyville Lumber's truss plant.


Spillman said she's enjoyed working with Piedmont, and the core group of employees, many of them having been with the company for more than a decade.


She also enjoyed getting to know the customers, and concern for them, she said, is another hard part of the uncertainty.


Spillman can trace the problems for the company back about two to three years, and said the situation developed slowly, but recently events started to move faster.


Orders were fewer or smaller. In recent months closeout sales became more common, and a few weeks ago “Victoria's Corner,” the part of the store that had been devoted to expensive decorations and housewares, was priced down and items sold off for a closeout.


“That really wasn't a shocker,” Spillman said. “You kind of knew that was coming.”


When the management was asked about the company's situation, “They just said they were working on keeping the store and that's basically all we had to go by.”


Still, the sale announcement and the actions on Monday hit employees like Spillman hard.


Now, she's in a waiting period, like other Lakeport Piedmont employees. She took part in a short interview with Mendo Mill on Monday, and said the company was trying to get the transition rolling as quickly as possible.


“They don't know how long the transition period will be,” she said.


Uncertainty for customers


Speculation about the future of the company had been growing amongst Lakeport Piedmont customers like John Moorhead for months.


The Lakeport resident said he found there was a diminishing supply of materials and inventory on the store's shelves.


A trip to the store earlier in July revealed no semi-gloss paint – no quarts, gallons or five-gallon containers. He said the staffers didn't know anything about it but tried to be helpful, and were apologetic.


He said he had a yard tag for $100 worth of plywood and construction lumber that store employees told him was out of stock but would be supplied in two weeks. He said he had been told that by the store over and over again for three months.


When he tried recently to find out the status of materials he'd ordered, he became aggravated when he was put off by customer service, which told him to call the following week.


When he called on Monday he got the phone message that “Piedmont is closed,” with the further announcement that the store was set to reopen under the new ownership in August.


He said he dialed “0” and spoke with a woman who said the staff found out that day that the business was closed, that he might get a call back if a manager came in, and then the phone either disconnected or she hung up on him.


“I was nothing less than civil, and told her that she had my sympathies, but that it was also a lousy way for Piedmont's management to treat their customers and their employees,” he said.


He said it became tough to go into the store, where he had done business for many years, comparing it to “watching an old friend who is very sick.”


Still, he said he wanted to spend his money with Piedmont, and didn't want to travel out of the community or the county to get his supplies.


Moorhead pointed out that Piedmont has done a great deal for countless groups over their decades in Lakeport. He also has known several of the staffers there over the years, and appreciated having someone who knew what they were talking about on the floor.


One of his concerns now is who will honor the credits and yard tags “small guys” like him still have, or if they'll get dismissed in a bankruptcy proceeding.


Mendo Mill takes on a new challenge


Mayfield said his negotiations with Piedmont Lumber for the Lakeport store began in the spring.


Around March or April Mendo Mill began helping Piedmont with inventory that it wasn't able to procure, and then the talks progressed into discussions about efforts to keep the store open, Mayfield said.


Sometime around May, the Myer family, which owns Piedmont, indicated that they wished to market the store, and the sales discussion moved from there, Mayfield said.


Mayfield said he had to deal with his own bank, but that negotiations took place directly between him and Bill Myer.


He said he did not deal directly with Umpqua Bank, which filed judicial foreclosure actions against Myer and Piedmont Lumber in March for millions in loans, as Lake County News has reported.


Mayfield said that a requirement of the deal is that the terms and conditions of the Lakeport sale aren't to be disclosed.


Regarding concerns like Moorhead's about honoring credits, Mayfield said Piedmont will take care of any orders or returns that are outstanding.


The Lakeport facility is about 38,000 square feet, larger than Mendo Mill's Clearlake store, which Mayfield said is close to 30,000 square feet. That store underwent an expansion that was completed in 2007.


Mayfield said there are some improvements on the Lakeport store that will need to be finished, but at this point he didn't go into detail.


The yards of Mendo Mill's Clearlake and new Lakeport stores are similar in size, said Mayfield. Tom Fay, Myer's son-in-law, will run the Piedmont rock yard as a separate business, and will use the existing rock yard showroom on the property Mendo Mill has purchased.


He said the purchase is a big move for Mendo Mill, which in addition to a Clearlake store has stores in Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg.


“Given the economic climate, expansion is certainly something you don't undertake lightly,” he said.


He continued, “Strategically, we've always felt Lakeport was a logical extension of our market area.”


Lakeport also is an area that Mendo Mill has served out of its Ukiah and Clearlake stores for many years, he said. “It's a place that we've always done business,” just not with a storefront, he explained.


Mayfield said the store is a critical home improvement resource for Lakeport residents.

 

He said he had an hour-long meeting with Piedmont staff Monday afternoon. At that time they gave out applications and human resources will meet with staff over the next few days as they start the process of background checks and physicals.


A list of employees shows about 47 people were still in Piedmont's employ, he said.


“My goal is to keep the staffing as intact as possible,” he said, with plans to work on a detailed path back to work for the staff.


He said the employees shared with him a letter they wrote about how they felt about Myer, which they all signed. “It was very heartfelt and was a wonderful letter.”


“Mr. Myer is larger than life, he's an icon,” Mayfield said.


Piedmont's Lakeport employees, said Spillman, have a lot to offer Mendo Mill.


“Not only do we know the store, we know the customer base,” she said.


On Monday evening she said, “I will be there tomorrow morning watering the plants.”


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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