Lumber wholesalers’ new retail concept puts down roots in Richmond

From left, Sawmill Surplus co-founders Ian Foley, Zach Hathaway, Mark Burnette, Dante Diorio and Carter Zierden. (Jack Jacobs photos)

A group of lumber wholesalers has branched out into retail, with an eye toward future growth for the concept.

Sawmill Surplus recently began operations at 2501 Magnolia St., in the Magnolia Industrial Center in north Richmond. The company pitches itself as a specialty retailer, offering a range of discounted lumber and wood building materials that includes pine tongue and groove, shiplap, flooring and other wood building materials.

The concept, which has been several years in the making, is underpinned by the founders’ experience in the lumber sector and ties to Ashland-based wholesaler Diorio Forest Products.

“(Sawmill Surplus) is a bit of a Tuesday Morning, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods of lumber,” co-founder Dante Diorio said. “There’s nothing like this within hundreds of miles of Richmond.”

He added, “Our customer base is a combination of the homeowner who does DIY and the flipper contractor, the high-end home builder.”

Diorio also owns Diorio Forest Products, where Sawmill Surplus co-founders Zach Hathaway, Ian Foley and Carter Zierden work as lumber traders. Rounding out the team is Mark Burnette, a longtime player in the lumber industry who has known Diorio and Zierden since the 1990s.

“Our wholesale business supplies 25 or 30 customers that fit this same exact business profile, so we decided to start our own a handful of years ago and really started working on it hard in the last year,” Zierden said.

Sawmill Surplus owns its space, which features a 5,000-square-foot warehouse and showroom. The company bought the property for $370,000 in June, according to city property records. The company officially launched in October.

Sawmill Surplus opened at 2501 Magnolia St. in Richmond late last year. The retailer sells a range of lumber and wood building materials.

Diorio said they’re weighing expansion of the company through franchising in places like Texas, North Carolina and the southwestern part of Virginia.

“We’re considering this a proof of concept model to duplicate it elsewhere,” Diorio said.

Sawmill Surplus taps into the Diorio Forest Products wholesale network of suppliers and facilities to get products at reduced prices.

“It’s not a cheap alternative but with the way we combine things and the volume that we buy, we’re able to offer a quality product at a cheaper price,” he said.

While the company has customers in central Virginia, it also draws customers from Virginia Beach and as far away as West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. The company markets itself through Facebook.

Customers, or someone willing to pick up lumber on their behalf, must pick up lumber at the company’s warehouse. It doesn’t offer delivery and doesn’t plan to do so.

“There’s so much liability that we wouldn’t do it,” Diorio said. “We talked about putting together a list of folks who do customer hauling, but it’s really better for the homeowner or contractor to come here and touch it and feel it and see what they’re looking at.”

Business has been brisk since the launch, something that co-founder Burnette said was driven partially by a general interest in home improvement prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and customers’ desire to support local business.

“People are spending time at home. We get a lot of people coming in here who want to fix up stuff in their house and I think a lot of it has to do with the COVID thing,” Burnette said. “There seems to be a resurgence of people going back to basics. I don’t know whether that’s COVID-related or not, but people like coming here because we have a family vibe, a mom-and-pop vibe.”

Another local wood-related company, Truetimber Arborists, also has capitalized on the trend with a play equipment startup using wood from its tree trimming business.

Just over the city limit in eastern Henrico, RVA Iron Gym is gearing up to open on Adams Road. Spy Rock Real Estate and Crescent Development are eyeing the former Henrico Plaza Shopping Center on Mechanicsville Turnpike for a multi-use development.

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charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
30 days ago

I’m very intrigued, will definitely check this place out

Michelle Reynolds
Michelle Reynolds
26 days ago

I’m not criticizing their business model or their choices. This is more a criticism of business insurance I suppose. But too much liability delivering lumber? I don’t understand how hauling a lumber to somebody’s driveway or alleyway is a big risk/liability.