JACKSON, Mich. — General Materials has been serving the Jackson community for decades. But, it’s 69th year will be its last. Earlier this year Andrew Woell and his wife Heidi made the decision that it was time to step away.
“My dad’s parents are originally from Germany and they immigrated here in the early 1900s,” Heidi said. “My grandfather was a carpenter in Jackson. One of the early carpenters and he and his brother had a business here. My dad always grew up in the lumber industry. He was a carpenter as well with my grandpa.”
So, in 1952, Fred Schmid decided to open his own business. This happened just after World War II.
“He saw a housing boom coming in so he wanted to be involved in that. He started with this program of the GI Bill and he got his degree and he started doing materials,” Heidi said.
Fred worked there up until his death in 2007 at the age of 89.
“He was here all the time,” Heidi said.
In it's more than 65 years of business, General Materials has sold everything from lumber and doors to windows, roofing and siding. They started by selling materials to Jackson County, then statewide and eventually to companies and business across the country.
Andrew is the President of General Materials and like many other employees there he’s been working for the company for decades. He’s been working there for 32 years and says the biggest reason for the longevity of its staff and the returning customers is simple.
“It’s the quality of the products we carry and the people that we have working here. Really make it a pleasant experience to buy materials from General Materials. We’ve got a good staff, they know the industry, they know the products, they care about our customers and they established friendships and good relationships with customers we’ve had for a lot of years,” Andrew said.
That includes General Manager, Josie Fuentes. She started as a filing clerk 21 years working alongside Fred.
“It’s my second home. When you come to work Monday through Friday and on Saturdays it becomes your second home. Andy, Heidi and Fred have always treated us like family and has always. You know, it’s a family business,” Fuentes said.
She said the biggest joy was getting to know everyone personally.
“They talk about their vacations or jobs they’re doing. Family. What they got going on. So, when they walk into the building, you’re like, ‘Hey, John or Hey, Mark,” Fuentes said.
Now, it’s time for a new chapter.
Heidi and Andrew are selling the business to Wisconsin-based Amerhart a wholesale distributor to other area lumberyards. It will no longer by a retail establishment. It was the right opportunity and the right time.
“We have four kids. None of them were interested. They’re all pursuing different careers and enjoying their lives,” she said. “We didn’t have an exit plan we knew we wanted to retire probably in the next 10 years. We weren’t pursuing this, we just had an offer. Actually, it’s amazing how many people were interested in another businesses during the pandemic. When we were approached, we were like, ‘wow, this is a lot sooner than we were anticipating.’ But, the timing was right. The pandemic made you think a lot of things and how short life is and it was time for us to take this opportunity.”
Amerhart offered each of General Materials’ 10 employees jobs to continue working there.
The Woell’s wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“They have 10 warehouses around the country mainly east of the Mississippi. But, they’re a good company, family owned company. They place a high value on the employees just as we do. That’s one of the reasons we want with Amerhart. We wanted to hire our entire staff intact. Obviously, they’ve seen what a good job they’ve done for us here at General Materials and feel they can carry that through to Amerhart as well.”
Josie will be at least one of the 10 that will be staying put. She accepted a job with Amerhart as a warehouse manager.
“I am anxious. It’s something new but same token with everything going on this is still my home. I’m staying so I’m still coming to the same place just a different atmosphere. I’m looking forward to that,” she said. “We’ve all become family. There’s only 10 of us working alongside and a lot of us have been here for a very long time.”
Heidi and Andrew’s future plans are to retire.
“My husband has early onset Parkinson’s and he was diagnosed in 2005. That is going to be our priority as well as our grandkids. We won’t be in Jackson anymore. We’ll be living in Northern Michigan in the summer and then Florida in the winter because he does better with that,” Heidi said. “If we wanted to we could be very busy every day with Parkinson’s exercise so we’re retiring now so that Andy can enjoy his life and I can enjoy my life too.”
Something Andy admits will take some getting used to.
“Sounds strange to think about retirement because I’m not even 60 years old yet. But, I think the opportunity came along at a good time for us. We’re going to hang up our cleats and go back to the clubhouse to do what retired people do whatever that is,” he said.
As they continue to get rid of their current inventory, what they cannot sell off some will go to organizations like the Habitat for Humanity.
“Habitat for Humanity is a very good organization and we like to support them. Their mission is a good one. It’s a good fit for us as well because we’ve got material they can use at habitat,” Andrew said.
As Andrew reflects back on his time with General Materials he has a mix of emotions.
“I’m hoping I’m relieved and happy to be moving on to the next phase in our lives. That’s kind of what I’m looking for. I’d like to walk away with a feeling that we had done well for the people of Jackson and for our employees,” he said. “It’s not easy running a business. There’s a lot of competition out there. I think over the years we were able to take of our customers.”
He said, “our employees enabled us to take care of our customers over the years. I think at the end of the day, I’d like to be remembered for that, that we took care of customers and served our people.”
For Heidi, she knows many homes in the Jackson community have a piece of General Materials in them.
“General Materials has been here for a very long time and a lot of families have their homes built with our lumber. We hear a lot of stories of young people coming in saying, ‘Oh, I remember coming in with my dad or my grandpa.’ Jackson is a very small hometown, a very vibrant hometown.”
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