J. Gibson McIlvain Co.
J. Gibson McIlvain evolves from a wholesale lumber yard into an end-to-end millwork solutions consultant, solving homebuilders’ toughest problems.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
J. Gibson McIlvain Co. is deeply rooted in the lumber business. Since its incorporation in 1798, the company has evolved from a lumber yard helping construct America to an end-to-end millwork solutions consultant today, offering the finest imported and domestic wood products.
“We are so much more than a lumber yard,” Director of Marketing Shannon Rogers says. “As more contractors and builders began calling us directly, that changed our role in the industry. We mostly supplied raw material from our White Marsh, Md.-based facility and now we are producing a finished, ready to install product.”
The McIlvain family first established itself in 1740, creating a lumber dynasty prior to the American Revolution. In 1798, Hugh McIlvain incorporated his lumber business just outside Philadelphia on the banks of the Schuylkill River. As the city began to grow and expand westward, this location became key as the McIlvain Company was right in the heart of the expansion.
Over the next 150 years, the company prospered as the country grew, and demand for more materials grew with it. During this period, the McIlvain Company became more of a specialist in hardwoods, servicing cabinetmakers and growing industrial producers for the railroad, shipping and automotive industries.
In 1960, in an attempt to improve service to the Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia customers, the company built a small warehouse along the railroad in White Marsh, Md., where its headquarters remains today. The location continues to be an excellent hub for growing the company with the Port of Baltimore nearby.
McIlvain Company’s strategic location allowed it to begin importing lumber from across the globe in the early 1970s, in addition to its domestic sawmill partnerships. Today, the J. Gibson McIlvain Co. specializes in high-quality imported exotic hardwoods and maintains a strong domestic hardwood, softwood, plywood and end-to-end millwork operation.
One of the biggest differentiators for J. Gibson McIlvain is its visibility from the stump to finished product delivered directly to the job site. “We go directly to the supplier and make sure our wood products are sustainably harvested, legal and our grading for quality starts at the sawmills and forests,” Rogers explains. “We bring the lumber into our yard, dry it, perform quality controls and grading, and then we go one step further by transforming it into a product.”
J. Gibson McIlvain is the importer of record on all of its woods and plywood, meaning it has firsthand knowledge of the concessions and the sawmills by making visits to the countries of origin and inspecting the forestry and sawing practices. The provides the company with an intimate understanding of the chain of custody from stump to mill to port, and to its yard.
With its roots in the lumber business and importing, managing an inventory of a wide variety of exotic and domestic species is second nature to J. Gibson McIlvain. The company maintains about 7 million board feet of lumber at its White Marsh facility. Its seven dry kilns allow it greater quality control over the material it stocks. “Our staff of expert graders keep our quality control on task and ensure only the finest material flows through our yard,” Rogers says.
J. Gibson McIlvain is known as the lumber experts and is the largest importer of genuine teak from Myanmar (Burma). “Teak from Myanmar was embargoed for decades, but we went over there and worked with the new government to have the embargo lifted with certain criteria in place, including sustainability and building up the industry,” Rogers says. “It was so important that we spearheaded the effort and made it happen. Our president, Caroline McIlvain, the seventh generation family member to run the business, literally wrote the book on being compliant and importing.”
As industry experts, J. Gibson McIlvain’s sales team is trained to ask more questions, such as how the lumber will be used. “A lot of people are used to the add to cart mentality, but the more information we can get about how that wood or plywood is actually being applied can help us anticipate issues that will come up,” Rogers explains. “Wood expands and contracts. As the humidity climbs, the wood swells and so many people don’t realize that. In the end, it comes down to the more information you can give us about what’s actually being done the better. Knowledge is power and that’s one of the reasons we started to take more millwork in-house. The sooner we can get involved the better.”
Millwork Production and Consultation
With inventory on-hand and the specific design established, J. Gibson McIlvain’s full custom millwork operation kicks into action with a wide range of capabilities onsite at its Maryland yard. Its expertise includes rafter tails, linear mouldings, radius work, panels, flooring, siding and more.
“Our clients have big ideas and we want to enable those ideas and if possible, value engineer them so that the designs are not only beautiful and durable, but as economical as possible,” Rogers says. “We aim to net the best yield of precious materials and will be your partner from the start, advising on how a material is used and whether the particular species can meet those demands.”
For example, if an architect wants 12-inch walnut flooring, J. Gibson McIlvain can provide that, but will advise that using 10-inch wide flooring would lower the cost and be available six months sooner than the 12-inch option. If a homebuilder requests crown moulding with an eight-inch face, J. Gibson McIlvain knows that can be difficult to source, but if they can do seven-and-a-half or seven-and-three-quarters inch, more stock is available.
“We bring to bear our centuries worth of lumber knowledge and consult with architectural firms and homebuilders to get involved before the time comes to source materials, ideally in the blueprint stage,” Rogers says. “We know and anticipate things about lumber that a homebuilder can’t possibly know.”
In addition to its custom work, J. Gibson McIlvain maintains its own fleet of trucks that deliver coast-to-coast and our partners can extend our reach to the Caribbean, the Hawaiian islands and beyond. “With all the care that has gone into sourcing unique material and designing a beautiful project, the shipping phase can undo it all if the delivery is late or worse, damaged in transit,” Rogers explains. “It’s more than just trucks and boats and trains however, and packaging is paramount not only to protect the unique millwork, but to deliver it in a way that makes sense for installers and won’t result in lost time and material on the job site sorting through boards and drawings.”
Moving forward, J. Gibson McIlvain will focus on being a one-source supplier to homebuilders for their lumber needs. “We are problem solvers,” Rogers says. “Let us know what’s bugging you today. Give us your toughest problem and let us solve it.”