Taking them to the woodshed

Art comes in different shapes, sizes and media. Kent Lapp learned the art of building from his dad, Sanford, but actually, more from his mom, Barbara. 

Sanford grew up as a Mennonite on a farm in Lancaster, Pa. Barbara grew up in the Amish community.

According to family history, the young couple wanted to make a go of it on their own and in 1982 headed to Dundee, N.Y., between Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region. Using skills picked up from his dad, who was a master carpenter, Sanford started building sheds. The young couple and their growing family lived in an apartment at the end of a metal structure that had the workshop at the other end. The mission statement for the business, which was known as Woodtex, was simple: Sell directly to customers without middlemen.

As the business grew, so did Sanford’s standing in the community, to which he gave back whenever he could. At the age of 29, he developed cancer but never slowed down, dying in 1994, at 36.

While helping his dad make deliveries in his Ford Ranger pickup in the days after the diagnosis, Kent writes in a brief history of the company’s founding, his dad asked his thoughts on the possibility of selling the business.

“I was 9 years old, but even then, I couldn’t fathom it. The business was life. It gave people shelter. It gave people space. It gave people opportunity,” Kent wrote.

It was Barbara who assumed running the business two days after saying goodbye to her husband. For the next decade, Barbara grew the business while raising a family of four.

Working with his mom on Saturdays and summers, Kent said there were no long days. “She was always home on time” for her family, just as Sanford was always home in the evening to be with them.

After graduating from high school in 2002, Kent went full bore into the business, transitioning to when he would take over the company in 2004. Along the way, operations would relocate north of Dundee to the town of Himrod. Today, brother Ben Lapp runs those operations. Kent is now CEO and principal of the company, living in Tennessee with his wife and family.

While the business has expanded — more than 130 employees and 50 retail partners and a factory that opened in 2009 in South Carolina — the one thing that has remained the same, Kent said, is the craftsmanship and the integrity ingrained in the family by his father.

As for the next 10 years, Kent said the company intends to focus intently on maintaining a “remarkable experience for customers,” which will “likely lead to more demand.”

“We care deeply about doing right by the customer and building a truly respectable brand in the marketplace,” he said.

While the designs of the sheds, garages and cabins have remained consistent over the years, the sales pitch has changed. In July of this year, Woodtex introduced a new app for customers called the Design Your Own Storage Shed tool that allows a client to see the finished product on his computer.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same.

What is the company’s No. 1 selling building?

“‘The Original,’’’ Kent said. “We call it ‘the Original,’ because it was in the lineup from day one and is still our best seller.  It’s just a basic, timeless, classy A-frame building.”

And so a tip of the hat goes to Sanford and Barbara Lapp and their spirit of adventure and entrepreneurism.

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