Mark Wilkinson is the founder of Wilkinson Lumber. After 34 years of running his business, he has not laid off a single employee who wanted to work.
Picture a successful small business owner. Did you picture someone who doesn’t own a cell phone, has never left his hometown, and puts his family first? That’s what makes Mark Wilkinson such a breath of fresh air; he built a profitable business by working hard and still staying true to his values. Mark started Mark Wilkinson Lumber (MWL) with his savings ($1000) and a $4000 bank loan. He rented a single wide trailer for him and his wife and worked as a maintenance man in the local hospital, so that he could afford to build his business from the ground up. That was back in 1980 where his first year’s annual sales were $22,000.00. Fast forward to 2014, his annual sales are around 5 million dollars and his 53 employees produce 2,500 pallets a day. I sat down with Mark to find out more about how a self-proclaimed country boy took hold of his American dream.
Where did your dream get started? Where did it come from?
I had just graduated from the University of GA and despite having job interviews in a couple of other states, I didn’t want to move away from home. The only job I had was building pallets and I knew that in order to go into business in that industry, I’d have to get into the sawmill business. So I bought my uncle’s sawmill business and started from there. I didn’t have much, so I knew that I had nothing to lose! I started small and lived cheap. I can honestly say that it was all worth it because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
… there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
What was it like to begin following that dream?
It was extremely satisfying to know that I could work my business and still be able to stay close to my family. I have been able to watch my kids and grandkids grow up and still get to eat Sunday lunch with my extended family. It’s great to have a business that still allows me to have a good family connection.
What’s been the most challenging?
Starting a business was a lot simpler back then so I didn’t run into many challenges. Even now, the challenges are minimal. The only persisting challenge is the increasing number of rules and regulations you have to follow from the different government agencies. I have to have employees in the office working on paperwork just to keep the government happy when instead; they could have been part of our production team.
What’s one thing you’ve learned that all small business owners seem to relate to?
You’ve got to crawl before you can walk. Be small enough so that if you make a mistake, it doesn’t do you in. Everybody wants to go wide open when they first start, but it’s better to start small and build your clientele up. Unless you buy an established business, that’s the mindset we all should take.
You’ve got to crawl before you can walk.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Work hard, sacrifice a lot and don’t give up when times get tough. Also you’ve got to have some skin in the game, meaning you should put up some of your own money and invest in your business. Keep pushing. Sometimes you have to work more and make less. There have been months where I personally didn’t make any money so that I could make sure my employees could take home a check. That’s the one thing I take the most pride in, that in 34 years of business, I have never laid off an employee who wanted to work. I had to sacrifice to take care of business. I had people tell me that I couldn’t make it but I did. Anybody can do what I’ve done if they’re willing to pay the price and work a lot of hours. I couldn’t have done it without the Lord though; I give him all the credit.
…in 34 years of business, I have never laid off an employee who wanted to work.
What would you like to say to other small business owners during Small Business Week?
Keep working hard because small businesses are the backbone of this country. Without them, America wouldn’t be where it is today. Small businesses inspire creativity and productivity. For me, owning my own business has allowed me to live the American dream. I would encourage my fellow business owners to do more so they can be able to hire more employees and also help others start their own businesses.
Mark is a great example of a business owner who truly cares about what he does and the people he employs. As we celebrate Small Business Week, let’s remember his example that a dream, strong values and humble beginnings are all great fuel for great results. #DreamItBuildIt
Small Business Spotlight Series #SBW2014
This Small Business Spotlight is part of a series of interviews performed by Employers Resource in order to honor small business owners and the hard work they’ve invested in pursuing their dreams of owning a business. They represent the #DreamItBuildIt elite. Cheers to your passion, your values, and your hard work.