Fri September 01, 2023

By Jeff Smithpeters

Gilbert Lumber & Supply continues 100 years of good prices with surprisingly diverse inventory
If you have never been to Gilbert Lumber & Supply Company in Prescott, walking through the doors of its 2012 building from East Second Street will amaze you. This isn’t just a place to buy boards, though it is probably one of the best places in southwest Arkansas to do that; it’s a variety store, outdoor store, feed store and hardware store, too. 

Come here if you need treated lumber to use for fencing, but come here, too, if you need a deer feeder, ammunition, a rake, lighting fixture, ceiling fans or that perfect shade of Razorback cardinal red, Curley Wolves maroon or Bobcat red for the walls of your man cave. 

It's really two stores in one, with the older of the three buildings facing East Vine being a hardware store offering a variety of tools, parts and services, most notably lumber of many sizes and kinds. South Arkansas’ own Anthony Timberlands is their main supplier. Between the hardware/lumber store and the 2012 addition of the paint/outdoors and sundries store is a lane you can use to drive into and have your lumber order loaded into your truck. There’s also a feed and seed shop behind the 2012 building. 

Wednesday, I parked in front of the more recent building’s East Second Street entrance and, on going in, saw a surprisingly diverse inventory.  Since it’s soon going to be Labor Day, displays of different sorts of deer feed were featured where they couldn’t be missed with names on the bags like Wildlife Management and Nature’s Choice. 

Since 2021, Gilbert Lumber has been owned and run by a tandem of Billy Dillard and Joe Haynie. They are the latest in several generations of owners of a business that dates back to nearly 100 years ago, when a building on the site was the home of Ozan Lumber. In 1950, Frank P. Gilbert, for whom the business is still named, took over. The hardware and lumber store building dates from that era. 

As Donnie Dillard, Billy Dillard’s father and owner of the business himself between 2004 and 2021, tells it, the store was owned by members of the Gilbert family until 1994, when Donnie Steed bought it. Steed ran the business until falling ill of cancer and stepping aside to let Donnie run it. 

Later, as Steed’s condition worsened, he made another decision. “In 2004, he said he wanted to get out of the business,” Donnie Dillard said. “I didn’t really want to buy it. He finally made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and so we bought the business in 2004. The name of the company itself was changed to D & D Building Supply, but we retained the name and did business as Gilbert Lumber.” Donnie’s wife also bought into the company. 

Two years ago, Donnie Dillard sold the business to his son Billy, Billy’s wife Melanie and to Joe Haynie and his wife Alyssa. Both Billy and Joe say they enjoy hands-on business ownership. Billy, who has worked in the past as a nurse, said the skills he learned in those days translates well to store management. “With both of them, in a way you're serving people. And it matters how you treat people, and I treat them how I know how want to be treated,” Billy said. He also just enjoys interacting with people who come into the store, “I get a lot of a lot of people here from the community. You know everybody, know their kids. Yes. I enjoy visiting with the customers.” 

Joe Haynie said it’s the customers that motivate him. “I've always kind of enjoyed and enjoy talking to people. That and just being at the lumber yard. I've always liked it.” 

Billy said Donnie Dillard still comes to the store to help and to share his wisdom and there’s no awkwardness about now being the owner while his father is his employee. “We pick his brain a lot of times,” Billy said.  Asked about this arrangement, Donnie was more jocular, “I used to be his boss. He’s my boss now. He argues with me sometimes, and then he just does what he wants.” 

Stores like Gilbert Lumber are good hubs from which to observe the local economy, so I asked the owners what they have seen. Joe Haynie spoke about prices: “The inventory has gone up, and I wish it hadn't, but it's just the way the economy is right now. That's kind of been hard to deal with on our price points … especially on our in-store items.” 

Lumber, Haynie said, has finally begun to come down in price after reaching a peak about a year ago. He has seen steadiness in the number of customers working on large projects. Still, Haynie said, “I compare our process with everybody else … We're right there with them or below. Especially on lumber. We are very competitive.” 

Haynie added that it has become easier now for the store to be fully stocked and to receive special items customers order: “I would say [a year ago] it was probably 70 percent on your inventory as far as what you could get. Now we think you're probably closer to 90 to 95% on a lot of things … So somebody comes in and says they want some particular item. Then a year ago, I would say I'll see what I can do through now I can pretty much say I think I can get it.” 

Billy Dillard, meanwhile, said the number of projects people are working on in the area keeps the store busy.  “We’ve been really blessed,” he said.  He credits his father with the decision to expand into a new store building in 2012 and a feed shop when a nearby farmer’s co-op store closed. When the opportunity came, after an acquisition of Potlatch resulted in his position there having to take a pay cut, to join Gilbert working for his dad, Billy said, yes. Were you nervous about the decision, I asked. “A little nervous,” he answered. “But I thought we’d do all right.” 

Testifying to this, the 2012 store building is an impressive thing in itself, its walls appearing to be those of a rustic cabin and holding many excellent examples of taxidermy, mostly deer, looking down on the ample inventory below. In the northeast corner is one especially storied deer that the Dillards had stalked for four years, never being able to harvest it successfully.  

But to Billy’s dismay, and Donnie’s amusement, the deer was finally felled by none other than LaShanna Shattuck, Billy’s sister, who was on her first day of hunting. 

As of now, the advice to deer hunters in the area is come and get your feed while the store has it. The holiday weekend will be busy, Donnie Dillard said. “At Labor Day everybody gets in here. There’ll be a lot of people on their day off, going to camps, putting feed out.” 

Gilbert Lumber and Supply’s hours are Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturdays 7:00 a.m. to noon. 

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From left, longtime employee Chase Subin with past owner Donnie Dillard and present owner, Donnie's son Billy Dillard.

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The deer shot by Lashanna Shattuck, Billy Dillard's sister, on prominent display in the 2012-built building that Gilbert Lumber expanded into.