WBMA Established in 1903
The Western Building Material Association’s story is the story of over 100 years of family businesses. The Association was founded by strong, dedicated independent lumber dealers who understood that in being part of an association, they were stronger. With some heroics, plenty of business savvy, hard work and a commitment to each other, these building material dealers helped build communities and fuel this nation’s western expansion.
The Western Retail Lumbermen’s Association (WRLA) was formed June 17, 1903 in Walla Walla, Washington by merging Inland Empire Retail Lumbermen’s Association and Inland Retail Lumber Dealers’ Association to find strength through association as the West grew rapidly. Those 31 lumber yards formed the nucleus of a WRLA that grew rapidly, adding members from the Dakotas and Colorado as well as the Northwest. Soon Alaska, Utah, Montana and California became part of its constituency.
In 1910, the Portland convention invited manufacturers and suppliers to the event for the first time, not so much to sell as to hear the retailers’ concerns and programs. Providing a forum for discussion and common understanding between retailer and supplier soon became a major role in the WRLA’s existence.
The 1930s brought many hardships and changes. The rapid growth of WRLA membership showed that retailers not only were holding on, but were looking for help from their peers to succeed. Recognizing that the economy and the lumber yard business were indelibly linked with building, the WRLA lobbied long and hard for a stimulus plan for housing supporting the formation of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) The industry witnessed the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal plan, the repeal of Prohibition and Hitler coming to power in Germany.
The 1940s, the war years, members would meet to discuss issues and how to survive an industry stifled by war regulations and shortages of two staples — commodities and man-power. But the concerns didn’t stop change. In 1942, the association moved its headquarters from Spokane to Seattle as it made its transition to a more vibrant lobbying force.
The 1950s saw a huge industry boom and so did WRLA. It was then that WRLA became more than a networking and idea-sharing venue. It became an educational and legislative force. From 1955 onwards, the strongest efforts were in education and fellowship. Group insurance plans were available to the membership, the DAD Program (Dealer Assisting Dealer) was available and the Explorers program was born where dealers and their families traveled the world.
The 1960s saw war and natural disasters hit the membership region with 170 mph winds, earthquake and a tsunamis. In 1962, Seattle hosted the World’s Fair, and the event was a considerable windfall for lumber dealers, who supplied materials for exhibits and structures associated with the event.
Through the 60s, members had real concerns about changes in the industry. Hardware buyers groups were growing during that time and spreading their reach across the country. Many yards decided to move their locations away from heavily industrial parts of town to areas that were more attractive to walk-in customers. The industry was evolving and in 1967, the Board of Directors agreed to change the name of the Association to the Western Building Material Association – WBMA.
The 1970s, lumber yard business was directly affected by the recession and government regulation. There was a slowing of population growth in the West with exception for the major metropolitan areas like Seattle and Portland. It became more and more difficult to utilize the WBMA Seattle Headquarters for the membership so the decision was made to move to Olympia, Washington.
The 1980s drastically affected our membership with the eruption of Mount St Helens in southwestern Washington. Housing starts had already begun to drop and many dealers suffered. They again turned to their Association for support and education. It was during the late 80s that many made drastic changes to their products and their customer focus.
The 1990s saw massive changes for the building material dealers with 20% growth in the region, rise of technology businesses and communications, big box stores and new regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Explaining and tracking regulations of every kind became a large part of WBMA’s focus. The Educational Link Scholarship Fund was formed in honor of outgoing Executive Director Chuck Link.
In 1998, Casey Voorhees took the role of Executive Director and continues to champion the need for education throughout a dealer’s career. Recently, WBMA launched its online learning management system called Foundation to help provide our industry online learning options to help new hires and seasoned employees develop new skills.
Over the years, the Association has altered its name to better describe its members, but never its focus to provide training, promote high standards in business ethics and speak with a strong resolute voice to all levels of our government.
Casey Voorhees – 1998 to Present
Mary Murphy – 1991 to 1998
C.E. Link – 1976 to 1991
Arnold Kirkebo – 1974
Ross Kincaid – 1959 to 1976
W.C. “Bill” Bell – 1934 to 1959
Roy Brown – 1926 to 1934
A.L. Porter – 1903 to 1926