None of that is obvious to those who speed past Plywood Case north of town. It’s a company whose no-nonsense name reflects the work ethic of the person who founded it 85 years ago; a building supply business that survives in an era of big-box chains by building lasting customer relationships.
“I just feel like we offer a service that a lot of them don’t,” said current owner William “Rusty” Lambert. “I feel like I’ve been in it long enough to know who to stay away from (and) who to use, if you’re building a deck, if you’re re-roofing your house, or if you’re starting from the ground up.”
Lambert is the great-grandson of Dock F. New. During its history, Plywood Case has passed between two families, the News and the Hamricks, both of whom have sawdust in their DNA.
Just after the Civil War, Dock New moved to Carrollton from Chattooga County and went to work with his uncle William. By the 1890s, New had a steam-powered lumber milling operation on Alabama Street, near the site of the present-day Carrollton Cultural Arts Center.
The steam engine did more than just provide power to the mill. It also piped into a steam whistle and churned an electric dynamo. The whistle summoned New’s employees to work at 8 a.m. each morning – but its loud shriek also regulated the workday of everyone else in Carrollton, sounding also at noon for lunch, at 1 p.m. to end lunch break, and dismissing them from work at 6 p.m.
At the end of the workday, Lambert said, New would pull a switch on the electric generator to divert power from the mill to Carrollton’s streetlights. “It was Carrollton’s first generator or power plant,” Lambert said.
Lumber milled at D.F. New was used in the late 1890s to build the Carrollton Public School on College Street, and the 1908 First Baptist Church building at Newnan and Dixie streets. New used his own mill’s lumber to build his distinctive home at 705 Rome St., a building that now houses Southern Dental.
Family legend says some of that wood also went to a business on Lee Street that had been founded in 1928 by James Vester (J.V.) Hamrick. He called his company Plywood Case, a simple name for a straightforward business: making plywood cases for storing cotton seed fibers. Years before, Hamrick had been in the pulpwooding trade.
In 1945, Hamrick purchased New’s lumber mill, renamed it Plywood Case, and relocated to Alabama Street. But when the Belk-Rhodes department store needed a parking lot, the mill was razed. Hamrick relocated the business to Highway 27, where it stands today. Lambert went to work for Hamrick in the late 1960s and married Hamrick’s daughter, Pamela in 1972. When Hamrick retired in 1980, Lambert bought the business from his father-in-law, thus returning it to the New family. But Lambert kept the old Plywood Case name.
Lambert now runs the business with the same no-nonsense philosophy he learned from Hamrick, a characteristic that he said further separates him from the large companies that today dominate the building supply business.
“The difference is you’re not a number to me,” said Lambert. “You are a relationship. When you come in that door we build a relationship. And that’s been our whole success, is that I provide a quality service.”
Most of Lambert’s customers are contractors with whom he has personally worked for decades. But in recent years he has expanded his business to serve do-it-yourselfers, many of whom have been surprised to learn such a place still exists in modern times.
The building faces a narrow front on Highway 27, but extends far in back. The three-acre lot contains several buildings that store stacks of pressure-treated lumber and all the other materials needed to either build a deck, or to build a house.
When he isn’t at the store, Lambert works as a volunteer firefighter and EMT; his turnout gear stands at the ready in his office. But his mind is always on business and the legacy of service he learned within his family. On one door is mounted a slogan he says Hamrick lived by: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
“That’s kind of our motto,” said Lambert. “If you get a bad product or service, you will remember that a lot longer than how cheap it cost.”
Living up to such a motto, he says, has helped weather the economic storms of change and competition, and is the secret to staying in business for 85 years.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m blessed. I have been blessed here with (loyal) customers and I’ve got some of the best employees that you can find around.”