How does a 135-year-old business put a fresh twist on its brand?
Ask those five generations away from its founding.
That was the approach embraced by Schlachter Lumber, a Gettysburg-based family building materials businesses marking the milestone anniversary this year.
“We’d been around 135 years, and I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what,” said Kathleen Schlachter, a fourth-generation owner of the business who leads it with her brother, Michael.
“We also wanted some overall help with marketing and differentiating ourselves from national competitors – a different perspective from what Michael and I have. We wanted to know what spin a younger generation would put on it.”
Schlachter Lumber’s longtime relationship with the Prairie Family Business Association pointed the business in the right direction.
The association’s executive director, Stephanie Larscheid, encouraged the Schlachters to apply for help from Coyote Business Consulting, which pairs USD Beacom School of Business students with businesses looking for assistance on specific projects.
“It was the last day you could apply, but we did an application anyway, and we were assigned two very sharp young men who began working with us,” Schlachter said.
“We brought in our graphic designer, who also does social media and all our big advertising campaigns, and I know the students enjoyed it because this was a real-world person who was going to be taking their ideas, so it was an interesting dynamic to watch them together.”
Coyote Business Consulting is designed to promote business success. Under the guidance of faculty advisers and direction by the business client, teams of USD business students work to solve critical problems of their business clients.
“Coyote Business Consulting is intended to be mutually beneficial for both the students and the businesses,” said Chelsea Limoges, its director of industry engagement.
“Consulting services are offered at no charge to businesses, and students will have the opportunity to receive academic credits, financial support and real-world experience.”
At Schachter Lumber, the students advised on digital marketing and social media strategy, resulting in a popular campaign that has been running in recent months.
“Every month, we’re doing a historical ad,” Schlachter said.
“People have been thinking it’s really cool. We have a lot of old photos of Gettysburg and the business, and it’s been interesting how it’s been shared and how many views it gets.”
Schlachter Lumber’s origin dates back to Michael and Kathleen’s great-grandfather Nicholas, who was a carpenter by trade and had received a government contract to move buildings from Fort Sully to Gettysburg.
“But there was no lumberyard,” Schlachter said. “That’s how it got started.”
Schlachter and her brother both grew up in the business – he went directly into it working with their parents and she spent 15 years putting her meteorology degree to work for the National Weather Service before returning.
“We both do everything,”Schlachter said. “We both have certain jobs. I’ve taken over everything my mom used to do, and we’ve gotten so busy he needs to be on the floor all the time.”
The independent business supports homebuilding needs from top to bottom through its locations in Gettysburg and Hoven, which was acquired several years ago.
“You come to me with a house plan, and we can do it all,” Schlachter said. “Business has been steady. It’s weather-driven, which impacts ag prices and whether farmers have extra funds to improve their homes, so it’s really dependent on the local economy.”
Their parents, Tom and Jan, both worked in the business, with Jan joining full time after the kids were grown. Tom passed away in 2009, and while they didn’t have a set transition plan, “it just kind of evolved,” Schlachter said.
Since then, their relationship with Prairie Family Business Association has helped them navigate their dual roles as siblings and co-owners. They’ve attended retreats at the Paul Nelson Farm in their own hometown as well as one in Deadwood for next-generation owners.
“It’s been very interesting to work on our communication and maybe things we’ve avoided talking about,” Schlachter said.
“We talked about solutions. And it was good on a business level to be around other families with the same issues we have. We learned and were able to share things that helped others, so it was a good exchange of ideas.”
While Michael Schlachter’s oldest son has worked part-time in the business, many members of the fifth generation aren’t old enough yet, and no one has gravitated toward potentially joining full time yet, Schlachter said.
In the meantime, the anniversary year is presenting a strong opportunity to tell the business’ story.
“The students who worked with us on this were fabulous. I couldn’t have been blessed with two better guys,” Schlachter said. “They asked very interesting questions – things I just assumed everyone knew – but they also asked about things I hadn’t thought about. It was exactly the different generational perspective we were hoping for.”
Through the rest of the year, Schlachter Lumber plans to celebrate with an open house this week and another celebration later this year. The business also will keep sharing glimpses of its past while focusing on its future.
“We’re so glad we’ve been able to partner with Schlachter Lumber in various ways to connect them with various resources to help evolve their business,” Larscheid said.
“Even four generations and 135 years, there always are new things to explore and ways to hone your business for the future. We’re excited to see what the years ahead will bring for this family.”
About Coyote Business Consulting
Coyote Business Consulting accepts project proposals for the fall and spring semesters. The deadline for fall is Friday, Aug. 18, and businesses will need to complete an application outlining the scope of their project to be considered.
Proposals can focus on any business need. Examples can include marketing plans, e-commerce recommendations and solutions, product development cost life cycle analysis, target-market analysis, human resource management plans, job descriptions, emergency-preparedness plans, supply chain management strategies, financial strategies and survey development.
Businesses or organizations selected will be notified before Sept. 1 and paired with student consulting teams and faculty advisers. The projects should take 10 to 12 weeks and will be completed near the end of November.
“This program will be available to all businesses, but a special emphasis will be placed on small businesses as they are the backbone of South Dakota’s economy, comprising nearly 60 percent of South Dakota’s workforce,” Limoges said. “We also welcome applications from nonprofit organizations.”