Building a Sense of Community

Ronnie Goode, president of Cole Lumber Company

When Ronnie Goode, president of Cole Lumber Company, shops local, he knows it helps more than individual business owners—he is helping build a community. Cole Lumber and Paducah Bank are like two nails in the same gun. Their visions see past today to construct an even better Paducah for tomorrow.
Ronnie Goode grew up in Lone Oak and worked at West Lumber. “I started that job when I was a junior. I was a stock boy. Mr. West took a liking to me and taught me all about the business,” he remembers.
Ronnie soon worked at other West stores in the southeast. “I moved around a bit. I went to New Orleans and several places in Georgia, among others.” But it was a visit to his son’s school that provided Ronnie with a vision for where he wanted to go. “We were living in Atlanta, and I had gone to a program at my son’s school. I looked around and realized that I didn’t know anyone there! I didn’t know any of the parents or teachers. In such a large and transient area, there wasn’t an opportunity to have a sense of community.”
In 1991, the majority owner of Cole Lumber was retiring and looking to sell his share in the company. “I was very familiar with Cole. My grandfather was a carpenter and did business with Cole Lumber for many years. It was a perfect fit for me,” says Ronnie. “The company had excellent management, and some men with great vision had ensured its success.”
Ronnie contacted Paducah banker and childhood friend Alan Sanders. “That was one of the great things about coming back to Paducah. I had an immediate relationship to my banker. After much of the bank consolidation in Paducah, it was a breath of fresh air to move my business with Alan to Paducah Bank. When I talk to Paducah Bank, I know they aren’t going to push a product that a corporate office is pushing for today. They are looking out for us in the long term. It’s not just about making a buck today. Now we really feel like we are able to build on our past successes and move confidently into our future.”
Cole Lumber, which was established in 1946 by Clarence Cole, has weathered the storms of various economies, industry consolidation, and the advent of big-box stores. “In the early days,” says Ronnie, “Mr. Cole carried a bit of everything. We sometimes marvel at the old ads we find. They had everything from lumber to housewares to garden supplies to appliances. But when some of the national competitors started really growing in our area, Cole Lumber decided to refocus on what we do best.” The results proved successful. Cole Lumber grew to be a major supplier of lumber and remodeling materials for new construction and large remodeling projects. Ronnie finds that the Cole approach to business has cultivated many loyal customers who find that buying local has multiple benefits.
Cole Lumber also leads the way in being an employee-owned company. “Like Paducah Bank, Cole Lumber also has an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). Through the stock system, every employee is truly a part of the ownership. The stock has an excellent retirement advantage, and it really creates a different workplace environment for employee/ owners. Success gives the stock more value. Our folks don’t feel like this is just a job. They have a stake and say in what we do, and they want success just as much as management does. I have been here eighteen years, and a majority of our people has been here longer than me.  Paducah Bank is our ESOP administrator, and it all stays within the company.”
Ronnie knows the importance of keeping business local. “I shop local. Most local business people do that because they truly know how important it is. To stay local will ensure the future of the Paducah area. Behind every local business are our friends and neighbors. Buying local has a much deeper impact than most realize. One example is charitable donations. Booster clubs, churches, charities, sports teams, and many more are really sustained by local businesses. Large corporations do make donations, but in the end, their donations are a very small percentage of the total.  Our local businesses are what make our community possible. They do it because they simply know it’s the right thing to do for the future of Paducah.”
Also behind Ronnie is a supportive and steadfast family. “My family isn’t physically involved in the business, but this business is successful in part because of the continued support and sacrifice of my wife, Lenora, and my children, Matt, Sam and Bailey. Every business owner knows the sacrifices made by a family to assure the future of a company. They rarely get the credit they deserve,” Ronnie adds.
Ronnie is enjoying the fruit of the labors of local businesses. “I now go to my son’s school, and I know many of the people there. I’ve seen teachers that I once had, parents who are our neighbors, and former classmates who are now teaching my kids.  And in many ways, local businesses such as Cole Lumber and Paducah Bank are keeping this community alive. And by focusing on buying local, we are preserving the vibrancy and success of our communities for future generations.”