Company founder W.G.
“Bill” Ihlo is seen in this
1960s era photo with the
1 millionth door produced
at the E.L. Bruce plant in
Center, where he served
as superintendent of the
plant’s door division.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Center’s Ihlo Sales and Import Co.,
a global manufacturer and importer of plywood and
wood products, could be based anywhere, but with roots
running deep in Center and Shelby County, the firm
continues operations here 47 years after it’s founding
by W.G. Bill Ihlo. Today, Ihlo is operated by the second
and third generations of the family with Roy Blackshear
and Wil Blackshear. Roy Blackshear shares details of the
firm’s history, it’s global reach and business philosophy
in this article.
WG. “Bill” Ihlo, my father, started
Ihlo Sales and Import Co. on
January 1st, 1973. He was 47
years old and he and my mother, Suzanne Ihlo,
took a leap of faith to start the new company.
Dad proudly served his country in the U.S.
Navy during WWII and the Korean War. He was
stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Bon
His brother, George Ihlo, was also in the
Korean War in the Army. They were able to
contact each other from time to time, checking on
each other. Uncle George came back to Center
and was a mason/bricklayer. He was also the
mayor of Center for a number of years. His son,
Billy, continues to be a mason.
After the war, Dad came back to Center
and started working for Maxy Thomas as a
carpenter and worked his way up to construction
superintendent on the Holly Farms Processing
Plant, now Tyson.
He was then named supervisor for the
building of Atlas Plywood Plant, later bought
out by E.L. Bruce in 1958. Dad was named
Superintendent for the door division. Managing
the door plant, purchasing doorskins domestically
and later buying from Hokkaido, Japan and
imported to Houston, Texas. Gaining knowledge
that would help him to start his own company.
In the 1960’s, Dad was importing Black
Walnut, Red Oak, and Birch doorskins that E.L.
Bruce produced then into architectural doors for
high rise buildings. Hyatt Hotel, Old Republic
Bank, Texas Commerce Bank, Shell I and II, all in
downtown Houston, have E.L. Bruce doors. His
last big job as manager of the door division was
the manufacture of the doors for the Sears Tower
in downtown Chicago.
Ihlo Sales started in a 12 x12 storage room
behind his garage. He would work all day and
when mom got off work from Farmer’s State Bank,
she would type his letters at night to be mailed the
Thank goodness Gwen Hughes came to work
in 1975. This saved mom and dad and allowed
mom to get back to her life.
Ihlo Sales moved into our current building
in 1977, where we continued to grow, selling
doorskins to most of the door plants in the U.S.
Selling decorative plywood like Red Oak, Pecan,
Walnut, and Birch to furniture and kitchen cabinet
manufacturers and selling raw plywood to R.V.
In 1981, Wylma Beckham came to work as our
accountant. Gave Dad two employees.
I came to work in 1982, learning the doorskin
and plywood business, different customers and
suppliers in Asia.
In October of ’82, Dad took me on my first
trip to Asia. It was for 5 weeks. We went to South
Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia,
Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. It was an eye
opener for me, visiting mills in all those countries.
First day in Taiwan, we were staying at the
Sheraton LaLa in Taipei. Back then, I had hair
below the ears. He said let’s get haircuts. I fell
asleep in the chair. When I woke up, he was
smiling at me and I looked in the mirror…not
happy! But it’s been above my ears ever since.
Gwen had been using a telex machine to
send messages overseas. When we would receive
messages, it was like an old movie, it was so loud
as it typed out the message.
In the mid ‘80s, our suppliers were starting to
use a machine called a fax machine. Dad bought
one in Taiwan and had it air freighted. Back then
it cost about $10,000. But it was well worth it. It
took about 3 minutes per page to send.
Ihlo was one of the first, if not the first, to
have one in Shelby County. Holly Farms, Center
Plywood (Hallmark), E.L. Bruce, and others would
send people over to use our fax machine. It got
AT A GLANCE
Ihlo Sales & Import
Co. — Importer.
distributor of wood
products on a
Founded by W.G.
“Bill” Ihlo; currently
Roy Blackshear and
son, Wil Blackshear
Based in Center,
Texas, USA; doing
Founded Jan. 1, 1973
— 47 years ago;
because of operations
around the world in
a variety of different
it operates 24/7.
Business MATTERS | 2020 Fall Edition 25