Lumberman serves industry for more than 60 years
Aug. 25, 2012 at 3:25 a.m.
Not many people can say the first place they worked was the place they chose to stay, but Dan Coleman is among the select few.
Now president and CEO of Zarsky Lumber Co., Inc., Coleman's first money-making endeavor was a Coke stand on the corner of the company's lot. For a nickle a bottle, the 10-year-old offered a cool drink to those doing a long day's work.
More than 60 years later, though in a much different capacity, he draws his income from the same place.
Coleman's longtime career in lumber was something handed down from his father, WD "Bill" Coleman.
Zarsky got its start when two brothers opened a Woodsboro lumberyard, but the company in 1936 recruited Coleman's father to manage the newly-opened Victoria site. Thus, with a move from their Waxahachie home, the family came to the Crossroads.
Coleman, 81, said he remembered getting his start early on. He weighed nails and learned the ropes during childhood summers at the shop.
"I grew up in this business," he said, explaining it simply made sense to follow in his father's footsteps. "I knew what I wanted to do, and I just did it."
While Coleman grew and changed with time, the business itself did, too.
New locations joined the mix, Coleman said, and Zarsky entered into the information age.
The company incorporated computers into the mix. While a daunting task at first, it was one the company embraced. Eventually those machines became an interconnected network, allowing each store a glimpse at the others' inventories and more, said Cally Coleman Fromme, Coleman's daughter and the company's executive vice-president.
Fromme, the next generation to grow up at the store, said Dad's experience and conservative business practices helped make the business what it is today.
It helped the business remain competitive when the box stores arrived, she said, and especially came in handy during the 2008 economic downturn.
While younger generations might have panicked, Coleman - who had experienced similar situations before - kept his cool.
"We never had any doubt we were going to survive," he said. "There have been the ups and downs, very much so, throughout the years."
Another bit of that success came from relationships formed through the years.
Coleman said he treasured the friendships he made with other lumbermen and regional contractors, and did what he could to keep customers happy. After all, when they're successful, Zarsky is, too.
One such customer is Steve Klein, a builder who said he's done $50 million to $100 million in business with Zarsky through the last 24 years, "all on a handshake."
Klein said there was never a need to introduce contracts or attorneys into the process because Coleman was a man of his word. If he quoted a price, that was the price.
"Dan is really, truly one of the last real-school lumbermen left in the state of Texas," he said. "It's a passion. Very few people have a passion for what they do, but Dan Coleman is passionate about everything he does."
Through the years, Coleman's reach extended far beyond Zarsky.
The good-natured family man partnered with Steve Roth to form Coleman-Roth Construction. Together, they focused on both home and commercial projects.
Roth called Coleman one of his best friends and said the men's families often vacationed together. Even today, they meet up for lunch and visits as time allows.
"I think so highly of him," Roth said of his friend. "He's the standard that it would behoove the rest of us to meet. He has a tremendous amount of integrity and honesty, and I think that's a key component to the man's character."
Over time, Coleman worked to give back to both the industry and his community.
He served as director of the Lumberman's Association of Texas, board member with the Lumbermens Merchandising Corp. and as president of the Builders Association of Victoria. Coleman also spent time as board member with the South Texas Savings and Loan Association, as vice president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and as a Kiwanis member.
That willingness to give back is something Fromme said he passed on to those he worked with.
Old age might slow Coleman down some mornings, but the businessman said he still tries to make it into work six days a week.
"I enjoy opening the mail," he said with a grin. "Cally is doing so much more now. She's taken over parts of my duties."
Fromme, however, said he still plays a vital role. He still has a pulse on the company.
"We run our own fleet of trucks and Dad could probably tell us which ones are where, and when they'll be back, everything," said Fromme, who called it a blessing to work alongside her father.
And, while Coleman admitted he might eventually consider retirement - he enjoys spending what time he can with the grandkids or on his Gonzales County ranch - he said he just wasn't sure. After so many years, Zarsky is home.
"The lumber business has been good to all of us," he said. "It's hard work, but it's worth it. I love it here."