Business Matters 2020 - Page 26

L to R: Wil Blackshear, Yang Sen and Ihlo Sales President Roy Blackshrear are seen with crates of Ihlo plywood at a customer’s facility in Elkhart, Indiana. so bad that Dad started charging $1.00 per page, sending or receiving. Ihlo Sales continued to grow and I continued to take trips with Dad two times per year to Asia. We had settled on several mills in each country to only buy from. Dad had to write out grade rules for different species of wood for doorskins and fancy plywood for the different suppliers to use for our products. Many of the grade rules are still used by manufacturers worldwide for their normal production and his grade rules were adopted by the International Wood Products Association to be the grade standards. By the mid 1980’s I was traveling by myself to Asia. Mostly to Taiwan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. Trips lasted about 18 days, visiting doorskin and plywood plants. Not so much on a buying trip, as we now did that from Center, TX. But for inspection of quality of the product. We hired Brenda Miller in 1989 and Sheri Miller in 1993. We expanded the building with more offices. In 1992, we hired Danny Foster. He had been working for one of our competitors and was a great addition to the Ihlo team. Dad opened up Brazil in the early 1990’s. Made several trips down there and took his grade rules for raw plywood and started a new business for us. I continued to make trips to Asia, but then he started sending Danny and I to Brazil a couple of times a year for inspection of the plywood mills he had chosen. So, I was making 3-5 trips overseas a year, but I loved to travel so it was OK by me. My sister, Kristi, came to work in sales in the early 1990’s. In fact, all three of my sisters, Janan, Pat, and Kristi have worked for the company in the 1980’s and 1990’s. By the late ‘90s, we needed more help. Ginger Russell came to work in 1998. She remained with the company 15 years before taking an early retirement. Sales were strong, suppliers out of Asia and Brazil were giving us good quality plywood and doorskins. In August of 2001, I was in Indonesia visiting plywood mills. Now those mills are not in cities. They are in the middle of the jungle. Took a boat with a 40 horsepower engine up river for 2-5 hours, got to the mill for inspection, back down the river for 2-5 hours (depending on what mill I was visiting), and stayed at the local hotel for USD $10.00 per night. Terrible hotels, but that is all they had. That was a typical trip to a mill. September 4th, I was in Jakarta when a huge crowd was marching, protesting U.S. and trying to overtake the U.S. Embassy. My main supplier overseas, Liang, called and said I had to leave the country, that something was going on. I left on the 5th at 3:00am before the crowds came out to protest, and cancelled the rest of my trip. Six days later, 9/11 happened. A horrible day in the history of the U.S. Danny and I had a trip into Peru. The terrorist group called the Shining Path were very active in the jungle towns that we went to. Many a time we had soldiers point their guns at us until they saw our passports. One trip we were on an old DC9 and we realized we were the only 2 people with small suitcases. Everybody else had tires or small chicken coops with chickens in them. When we got off the plane, a group of soldiers took us to the side as they looked through our stuff. A lot of guns were pointed at us! Dad continued to be very active in the company, calling customers, working with suppliers, and managing the company. But, in the summer of 2003, I lost my dad. It was a very difficult time for me and all the staff at Ihlo Sales. Our business remained strong in the U.S. and with our suppliers. But, doorksins like Birch and Red Oak were falling out of favor with consumers. They wanted the molded doorskins for interior doors. That business slowly disappeared. But our business with R.V. manufacturers and distributors continued to grow. Four out of ten RV’s on the road in the U.S. has Ihlo Sales plywood in it. My son, Wil Blackshear, came to work in 2013. Started like I did, reading about production, listening to telephone conversations with customers, going to visit customers with Danny and I, learning the ins and outs of all the paperwork. In the fall of 2017, we had another tragedy when we lost Danny. That was also a difficult time for me and all the staff at Ihlo Sales. The incredible staff at Ihlo Sales has seen a lot of changes over the years, from different products, different suppliers, no high tech to 100 percent high tech. A lot of changes over the last 47 years. I have been lucky that I love to travel. I have made well over 40 trips to Asia over the years. China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong have been more frequent. Ihlo Sales continues to be one of the largest importers of plywood out of Asia, bringing in 120-150 18-wheeler loads to the ports of Camden, Baltimore, and New Orleans every 45 days. And delivering 80-120 truckloads per month to different customers all over the U.S. Our business, like so many others, took a huge hit in the Spring of 2020 with COVID-19. From suppliers being shut down in the different countries, to our customers being shut down. Business is better, just ready for it to be back to normal. 26 Business MATTERS | 2020 Fall Edition