The Boyce family celebrates 80 years building Missoula and beyond
Steve Boyce, the co-owner of Boyce Lumber & Design Center, remembers what it was like to look out across Missoula and see the fairgrounds clear from Russell Street. The fields were freckled with pops of pink—bitterroot flowers drawing Native Americans in year after year for harvesting.
He paints a picture: a sawmill where the baseball field is, the Hamilton Lumber company where the Southgate Mall is, the Anaconda Company sawmill in Bonner, and the wood burner at Davenport Lumber where Missoula Federal Credit Union is—heat so strong it flushed Steve’s face as he rode by on his bike as a boy.
Of course, Steve was just a kid then. His grandfather, Al Boyce, was the founder of Boyce Lumber, and purchased the block where it still stands today on Russell Street for a mere $500 in the 1930s at 57 years old. After having migrated here from Florida, Al and his family lived in a tent for an entire year. Surviving a Montana winter was the first of many challenges the family would endure throughout several decades.
“They made them tougher back then,” said Steve, grinning over this memory of his grandfather. He was a man of fierce dedication who was unswerving in his ability to ride the wave of change, particularly when the logging industry nearly came to a halt back in the 1980s.
“Logging—that’s what made the town. That was the industry,” said Steve. It was a seemingly insurmountable wall for any lumber yard to overcome—not relying on local product and instead, trucking in material that they always imagined would be in abundance.
“It was a slow death, death by a thousand cuts kind of thing,” said Steve. One by one, local mills closed up and the material came from farther flung places with inevitable shipping costs. To avoid going through a middle man who’d sit at a desk selling truckloads of lumber, the Boyce family hired their own buyer who was picky about product and who was connected to dozens of mills. Price and quality, despite frequent changes, always remained top priorities.
Their next big hit was when the box stores blew into town like a windstorm that turned their income on its head.
“Half of our business was retail and half was contractors. That retail half was like they packed their suitcases and left town. Boom, gone,” said Steve, showing his palms like a seasoned magician who made something disappear for good. “I thought, ‘We can’t be this anymore. We have to reinvent ourselves. We’re going to cater to the contractor, the home builder, the do-it-yourselfer.’”
On a trip to the east coast, Steve saw something that would change the face of their business, save it when it needed saving.
“It was a risky decision,” said Steve, recalling the decision to build a drive-through facility. “Once you saw it, it was a no-brainer.” And it did save them, turning their location into a convenient shopping plaza for the customers who remained. Folks could put in an order, drive through the aisle of material, load up, and be on their way in one fell swoop.
The Design Center was another development, allowing customers the chance to see the material they were considering in a real setting. How will it look on the house? How does it feel to stand on? The showroom answered these questions.
“We’re proud of what we’re done and the people who have gotten help from us…. It’s something that started with my grandfather. He was so helpful to people and he’d take the time. It’s what everybody touts—customer service. Well, we lived it. That’s the way my grandfather did it, that’s the way my father did it, and that’s the way I learned how to do it. You help [them], whether it’s a pound of nails or a house. Everybody is the same. That philosophy has spread to all the people who work here,” said Steve. “It’s that little sprout that my grandfather planted.”
When Steve looks toward the future, he’s confident yet humble, keeping his family’s history of this company close to heart.
“The family is getting bigger but the business is kind of growing with them. Everybody has their own niche, and then they can collaborate and learn every aspect of the business,” said Steve. “My vision is that we can make it 100 years or more.”