East Coast Lumber And Supply Company Celebrates 100 Years

by Wendy Dwyer Nov 2017 Also on Digital Edition

In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt became the first American president to ride in an automobile, the first Rose Bowl game was held, green was the color of the year in fashion and Charles R. Debevoise invented the first-ever brassiere. There was also much excitement in Eau Gallie, which is now a portion of Melbourne. A small business named East Coast Lumber and Supply was founded. The plan was to move supplies and lumber up and down the coast via schooner, but within just a few years, the company expanded its goods and services. By 1907, it began operating in four locations on what are now the Space and Treasure Coasts of Florida.

Rising from the Ashes

One hundred years ago on April 10, 1917, there was a terrible fire at Stuart Lumber Company, and the offices were destroyed. Within two weeks, East Coast Lumber and Supply Company, which was headquartered in Fort Pierce, purchased Stuart Lumber Company and reopened as East Coast Lumber Company on what is now known as Southeast Flagler Avenue. While lumber, millwork and building materials were the primary focus, East Coast also forged a reputation as the go-to source for crates used by the citrus industry. As World War I ended and the United States roared its way through the 1920s, the company’s growth and diversity kept it open through the country’s Great Depression. Despite suffering financial setbacks because of the fragile economy, the owners of East Coast Lumber insisted on paying its employees who served in World War II the difference between a soldier’s salary and the regular payroll amount. This type of loyalty and patriotism set East Coast Lumber apart from other companies and may have helped keep it afloat during tumultuous times.

The Greatest Generation

After the war, East Coast Lumber fell back into step and continued its solid performance, once again increasing to its pre-war five locations and eventually expanding its services to include two truss divisions and ACE Hardware’s as well as lumber. This benefited not only the company but also the communities it served, providing employment opportunities and supplying materials for an area that was growing exponentially in population and tourism. Five locations exist in Cocoa, Melbourne, Vero Beach and Stuart, in addition to a full-service lumber and hardware store in Fort Pierce with corporate offices and a full-service millwork division. It’s the vision and community commitment of the remaining Osteen cousins who own the company that helps define why this business has succeeded when so many others have not.

Family & Community

While not all of the original founders of East Coast Lumber are related by blood, family is still an important aspect to the company. It wasn’t until around the late 1980s when first cousins Don and Allen Osteen purchased the stock that the business truly became family owned and operated. But it’s always been the family’s culture to find ways to utilize their relatives’ talents within the business, or encourage them to explore their abilities elsewhere.

According to Shannon Osteen Needham, daughter of owner Don Osteen Sr., a large reason for the company’s longevity and continued success is thanks to her dad’s attitude. “Our dad is our hero,” Needham says, “and not just because he’s our dad. We all grew up in this business, of course, but like many kids, we all wanted to test our wings in different areas and see if we could fly on our own. Our parents have always supported us and have given us great advice along the way. I think it’s such a cool testament to our dad that he encouraged my brothers to feel free to leave the family business and do their own thing.”

One brother, Don Osteen Jr., managed the Stuart location for 23 years and the Fort Pierce location for eight. Though successful in both locations, he went to Dallas, Georgia, to open a 26,000-square-foot ACE Hardware complete with a full-service lumber facility. After Don Osteen Jr. left the business, Della Coates took over as manager for the Stuart location. Coates has been with the company for more than 28 years.

Following a similar career path  was Don Osteen Jr.’s brother, Scott Osteen, who purchased Stuart and Jensen Beach ACE Hardware stores in 2010 and a Hobe Sound location in 2014. While he didn’t stay with the family business, he can attest to what it taught him.

“My brother Don and I didn’t always like going to the lumber yard and sweeping floors on Saturdays when we were kids, but my dad made us do it, and now we know why he made us do it,” Scott Osteen says. “He has an incredible work ethic.”

Needham still works with the family business to this day and also handles the finances for Scott Osteen’s stores.

Recipe for Success

In 1902, the original slogan for East Coast Lumber was: “Everything to build your house and ship your crop.” And while the slogan morphed as the business grew, it has long remained as simple and customer-oriented. Now embracing the slogan: “We’re here to help you build a better way,” the company continues to deliver on its promise. “Our primary focus is always on customer service and having a positive impact on the community,” Don Osteen Sr. says. “We not only service the contractors in the area but the homeowners as well. Our reputation in the business is everything to us, and we have always subscribed to the simple rule that if you treat people well, they will always come back. We are proud to be a part of this community and are excited about the next century of service we can provide to the people of the Treasure and Space Coasts.”

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