Dean and Rod Swanson grew up in the wood business. Their father and uncle ran a sawmill in a small town west of Eugene, Oregon where they both worked in their youth before heading off to serve the country in World War II. After returning the two brothers decided to start their own mill and with the help of other partners including another brother Harry and a friend Ed Combs they bought an existing mill in Glendale OR in 1951 and named it Superior Lumber Co. The timing was right for their new venture as the post war boom for housing created a strong demand for framing lumber and with their location in southern Oregon the fertile California market was easily accessible.
The key to running a sawmill, of course, is having a good source of logs and Douglas County in southern Oregon is one of the most prolific tree growing regions in the world. Logs represent the largest single cost in running a mill and so sourcing competitively priced logs is vital for the long term success of a mill. In the late 60’s the Federal Government encouraged sawmills to retool to be able to process smaller logs more efficiently and to take advantage of the abundant supply of the second growth timber that was maturing on federal forest lands. The Swanson’s mill in Glendale was among the first in Oregon to make the change to small log technology. It was a change that proved to be successful and it wasn’t long before the company starting looking for a site to build another small log mill. In 1973, Dean and Rod, along with another brother, Ray built Swanson-Superior Forest Products in Noti Oregon across the street from the mill their father and uncle had owned. Both Superior Lumber Co in Glendale and Swanson-Superior Forest Products in Noti were successful and the company continued to grow.
A different expansion began in the 70’s as the next generation of Swanson’s started to get involved with the business, including among others, Steve Swanson current President and CEO and Christy (Swanson) McDowell who works in sales. It was this generation of Swanson’s that took the company to the next level with a series of acquisitions starting in the 1990’s. In Glendale the company bought Gregory Forest Products a large neighboring mill complex that included a plywood and veneer mill. After 40 years of producing lumber the Swanson’s were going to start manufacturing plywood. Then in another departure from their core competency the company made their first purchase of timberland, which was soon followed by the formation of Superior Helicopter, a service division to be used for aerial logging. These changes brought diversification to the company’s product mix and allowed them to enter new geographic markets as well as new industrial segments.
Superior Lumber had grown and expanded to include plywood and veneer division, a timberland division and a helicopter division, but the company wasn’t done. When an opportunity to pick up Sun Studs, a strategically located stud mill in Roseburg Oregon, presented itself Superior Lumber moved again. Sun Studs produced a variety of products but their Kiln Dried White Fir studs were considered to be a high end, quality stud by many dealers and builders and again gave the company entry into new markets and new customers.
Although Superior Lumber had purchased Sun Studs the decision was made to capitalize on the brand name and recognition of the studs and so the mill continued to operate as Sun Studs. The Swanson’s had now grown to become a family of businesses: Superior Lumber Co, Superior Plywood, Superior Helicopter, Swanson-Superior Forest Products, and Sun Studs. With a diverse product mix, customer mix and geographic market mix the company was well positioned to enter the new millennium. Unfortunately the new century started out with a downturn in housing and by the fourth quarter of 2001 the company knew it had to make a change to consolidate their business interests. The result was that in December 2001 a new holding company, Swanson Group Inc was established and the operating units were all combined as divisions under Swanson Group Inc.
The efficiency and cost savings from the consolidation allowed Swanson Group Inc to continue their short term strategy of growth through acquisition and the timing couldn’t have been better as the country was ready to explode with record setting housing starts and new construction. The next expansion, this time as Swanson Group Inc, was the purchase of another stud mill in Glide Oregon. The success of the first stud mill, the continued strength in housing, and the proximity of Glide to the Roseburg stud mill and a good source of logs made this mill a good fit for the company. With a solid manufacturing base in place the company then acquired Burns Lumber a wholesale distributor from Medford OR which gave Swanson Group the ability to vertically integrate their products through the supply chain and also gave them, access to new products and markets that were beyond their current reach. Ultimately Burns Lumber which ran as an autonomous division would be incorporated into the Swanson mill sales team and the department renamed as Swanson Group Sales.
The last acquisition for the Swanson Group was a plywood mill in Springfield OR that they purchased from McKenzie Forest Products. The Springfield mill has gone through extensive capital improvements and brings a number of new specialty panels to the product mix making Swanson Group one of the largest and most diverse panel producers on the west coast.
The downturn in the US housing market that started in 2006 and has continued to deteriorate for the last five years has presented unprecedented challenges for the company and the entire industry. Adjusting production schedules to meet lower demand levels has resulted in the closing of the stud mill in Glide and the sale of the dimension mill in Noti.
Making tough decisions during tough times is never easy and yet Swanson Group Inc has managed to survive and is in a good position to meet the economic challenges that remain. Swanson Group Inc remains committed to their Mission statement which reads….Our core purpose is to create opportunities and long-tern security for our employees, shareholders, and respective families. We desire to build a stronger company that can be passed on to future generations.