DRA - Illinois - Perma Treat Lumber - Winter 2016

Wood-treating company finds all the ingredients for success in Southern Illinois

By Trisha Ostrowski

Perma Treat Lumber has the distinction of being the only 100 percent female-owned wood treatment company in the U.S. The owner, Sara Bond, has chosen to build her company in Southern Illinois.

Sara Bond is something of a pioneer. As owner of the only completely female-owned wood preserving company in the United States, she not only is competing with much larger companies, but she is doing it with a desire to have more than just economic impact.

“I witness first-hand, each day, how challenging it is for a woman to own and operate a wood-treating plant and acquire contracts to keep that plant going,” Bond said.


That effort was aided in September, when Perma Treat was granted certification as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). The DBE allows minority- and female-owned companies to play on a level field with larger companies when competing for public works projects. The DBE program is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, but each state has its own individual requirements and process. Since receiving that first certification in September, Perma Treat is now registered in 23 states, allowing the company to actively pursue contracts in each.


In other words, the opportunity is there and growing for Bond’s company. And the company’s location in Southern Illinois is a critical factor in that significant growth potential.


Tools of the trade

Perma Treat provides treated lumber products to a variety of customers across the country. But the company remains a local fixture in Marion, Ill.


In the lumber business, access is critical. A company’s success is predicated on its ability to get large amounts of product quickly and efficiently to customers. Being located in what is essentially the center of the country is certainly a benefit.


While Perma Treat was founded more than 30 years ago, it has never left Marion. The advantages of doing business there are so many that it just simply wouldn’t make sense to move. “We are committed to this area,” Bond said.


It’s so committed, in fact, that the company has its own rail spur on site, allowing Perma Treat to efficiently ship product directly from its door.


Williamson County (home to Marion) is 88 air miles southeast of St. Louis, and is at the intersection of three major highways — Interstates 57 and 24, and Illinois Route 13. In addition, the area provides a large, and skilled, workforce, with more than a quarter million people living within an hour’s drive.


And, of course, cost of living and doing business in the Marion area is very reasonable. Couple that with the fact that the area is a tourist-friendly sportsman’s paradise — with half a dozen lakes, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and Shawnee National Forest — and you have a location that is ideal for economic growth.


In fact, REDCO (Regional Economic Development Corporation), the area’s economic development group, has been able to attract $300 million in corporate investment in new facilities and equipment over the past 17 years.


Perma Treat competes in an industry where freight and accessibility can literally make or break a company. It is crucial to be quick and efficient to market, and be able to access raw materials. “Rail access is huge in this industry,” Bond said. “That’s why we have our own rail spur on site that allows us to move everything quickly to market.” The company’s location is a critical factor in its historical, and future, success.


The company has been doing business from Marion for more than 30 years.  “We are committed to this area,” said Bond.​Started in 1982, Perma Treat was initially a company primarily doing business in the Midwest and seeing moderate success over time. Most of its initial customers were in the Chicago area, eventually branching to include a wider region.


But, under Bond’s leadership, the company has focused on developing nationally. Having a location that is essentially the center of the country allows Perma Treat to remain viable and accessible as it grows.


“Engineers appreciate a product that is well-made and quality,” she said. “When I became owner, I looked at what we were doing — we had four or five product lines at the time that were middle-of-the-road, in terms of market sales. I reduced it to two, focused on what I knew we could do best. We are committed to making exceptional telephone poles and being competitive in the marketplace.”


All from Southern Illinois.


The bigger picture

Perma Treat is very much a small fish in the larger sea of the wood treatment industry. Certainly, location and DBE certification are important building blocks for the future growth of the company. But Bond remains optimistic in her outlook, and determined to make an impact.


To her, the bigger issues are about product quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction.


“I can’t compete with the big boys, even in my own zip code,” she said. “But when I was looking at product, I focused on creating something great quality-wise and making it cost-effective for my customers.”


Quality products delivered efficiently create an advantage for this company. The result has been Perma Treat continuing to see marked growth annually. And, doing business from Marion just continues to make sense. Marion is the geographic and population center of the area, the county seat for Williamson County. It continues to be a quiet hub that attracts businesses.


Perma Treat is a major player locally, both as an employer and as a community contributor.


“My background, actually, is in nonprofit work,” Bond said. “I want this company to not just make money, but create jobs and give back to the community. In a male-dominated industry, Perma Treat can make a difference.”


But, more than numbers, Bond sees the company making lasting impact. Certainly, there is the impact of growing a company and the economic result that brings locally. Perma Treat, however, is looking at a bigger stage. That’s why, in May, they will be signing a contract with the National Breast Cancer Foundation. . .not only will Perma Treat make a donation for each utility pole they sell, each will bear a pink ribbon.


It’s a fitting symbol for this company — utility poles that bear not only a message of community support, but are a reminder that they originated from the first national female-owned manufacturer.


Gaining focus

Bond’s ability to clarify the mission of Perma Treat has been central to the company’s success over the past 12 years. Moving the company from a middle-of-the-road producer of multiple products to a focused provider of two has made a significant difference for the company.


“Many larger producers can do it cheaper,” Bond said. “But the quality is lacking. Often you get wood that is ‘treated’ but really only superficially.


“Our vision for the future,” Bond said, “is to be the number one utility pole supplier in the United States. Through the help of organizations like Delta Regional Authority, our local economic development group, as well as the DBE program, we are positioned to continue to grow in the years ahead.”


With quality product, excellent geographic location and the vision to succeed, Perma Treat Lumber, indeed, is in prime position to see substantial growth in the years ahead. 

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