A New Supply
Margaret Price’s big bet on her grove street lumberyard
Margaret Price, in a new space at greatly expanded Ridgefield Supply.
photos // Kathy Russell photography
On December 30, 2008, the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which measures price changes in residential housing, recorded the largest drop in its history. Global credit markets were frozen, the U.S. housing bubble had burst, and one Ridgefield family in particular wondered what the coming year would bring. “The phones just stopped ringing,” says Margaret Price, the 39-year old CEO of Ridgefield Supply Co., the lumberyard and building-materials business that has been in the Price family since her grandfather bought it more than half a century ago. “Overnight we became half of what we were: half the sales, half the employees, half the inventory. It was really scary.”
“It was like a curtain came down,” adds Margaret’s mother, Jo-Anne Price.
Two years later, with competition from deep-pocketed big-box stores like Lowe’s and The Home Depot, and still very much in the throes of economic downturn, then-32-year-old Price bought the business from her father, Lou, and embarked on the most ambitious expansion plan since the company was first founded as the Osborn and Gilbert Lumberyard in 1883. “I don’t know what made me do it,” she says. “We had to do something. And I didn’t want to wait for the upswing in the market to get started. I wanted to be ready when the market turned around. So in the middle of it all, we made the decision to expand.”
And expand they did. It took more than three years to complete. But on September 15, the new Grove Street campus will officially open. Altogether, it’s 4.5 acres, and includes nine new buildings, not including a restored Ridgefield Depot building. And it’s massive: a total of 24,000 square feet of retail and 65,000 square feet of storage.
The decision to expand was born of necessity. Even before the downturn, Ridgefield Supply lacked two critical elements that made it difficult to compete. First, much of their building materials were stored in uncovered, outdoor space, exposing inventory, employees, and customers to the elements. And second, the retail space was inadequate for showing off doors, windows, trim, and siding.
As a result, it was difficult to recruit and retain top talent. And homeowners steered clear of the place, which began to feel like an insider club for contractors. “We were having so many problems with the facility,” says Price. “We were not up to snuff.”
Price is quick to credit her father, Lou Price, Jr., with much of the vision for Ridgefield Supply’s expansion. Lou bought the business from his father in 1974, and brought with him an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for building science. In 2004, he founded a separate company called Kleer, which became one of the country’s leading manufacturers of PVC trimboard. The sale of that company in 2012 funded the recent expansion of Ridgefield Supply.
His enthusiasm was infectious, and under his leadership, Ridgefield Supply quickly became the locus of the building community in and around Ridgefield. Margaret, his only child, began working at the store when she was 14. Over the ensuing years, he taught her every aspect of the business—from how wood is harvested, milled, and distributed to how to manage people and expenses. But he stopped short of promising her the business. “I don’t have an MBA. I got my MBA from my father. But he was adamant about me buying the business from him,” says Price. “He made it an uphill battle because he wanted to be sure I wanted it.”
She did. In fact, even during the darkest days of the economic downturn, Price says she never once considered selling the business. Lou passed away in February 2014. Three months later, Margaret broke ground on the expansion. “It was hard, of course,” says Price. “But you just gotta do it. He had a passion for this industry, for this town. So it actually helped me stay focused.”
The new Ridgefield Supply opens in September, replete with a painstakingly restored version of the original Ridgefield depot train station that used to haul supplies up from Branchville. Besides the expansive new retail space, climate-controlled housings for the building materials, and the modern office space on the second floor, she expects the business to present a friendlier face to the average homeowner. And it will serve a market that has mostly recovered from the boom-and-bust cycle of a decade ago.
“This is one industry that you can’t Amazon,” says Price. “When people need information, we want them to come here. We want this to be a place that brings together architects, designers, contractors, and homeowners. We want to be the number-one lumberyard in Fairfield and Westchester County.”
TRUE ACCOLADES On May 25, the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce named Margaret Price Woman of the Year,“recognizing her entrepreneurial vision, and for being highly regarded as a businesswoman in a male-dominated industry.”