Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Ryan Palma and I have been in the lumber industry since 1996, specializing in selling reclaimed, recycled, salvaged, and sustainable wood. After my tireless travels for 15 years of wholesaling lumber, my passion for local healthy forests led me to start Sustainable Lumber Co. As a result, Sustainable Lumber Company’s entire product lines are produced from reclaimed, recycled, SFI certified and salvaged timber. 100% of our product lines are made in the USA, where we ensure they come from reclaimed and sustainable sources with ethical labor practices. My first priority is spending quality time with my wife, two sons and daughter while exploring every corner of the great state of Montana.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
Never become content. Once you become complacent and think you’ve arrived at the pinnacle of your business, you will start to go backward. Embrace change, never stop learning, growing, and adapting. Step out of your comfort zone and learn something new every day.
Find something you’re passionate about, and learn everything about it. Learn it from all angles, know your product or service from the inside out. Be the expert in your field so everyone comes to you with their questions, concerns, or needs.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
As an entrepreneur, we make a ton of mistakes; but from the multitude of mistakes come some of the best successes. I can’t pinpoint my favorite mistake (I’ve had too many), but I can say I’ve learned from them all. Mistakes make us wiser and smarter. They teach us just as much or more as our successes. They teach us what not to do or try again.
I’m right in the middle of this right now, I’ve been creating a new product line for the past 6 months, with little success. However, I know and have learned what doesn’t work. There is tremendous value in that.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
The lumber industry, for the most part, has been a dinosaur industry. Most lumber companies are either scared or unwilling to embrace change. However, in the past few years some of the more innovated ones have embraced changed and the power of the internet. As funny as it sounds, many companies never had a website or a very poor one at that. They are scared or completely unaware of social media and have no idea what it can actually do. We’re constantly educating ourselves on how to leverage social media, SEO, and internet advertising in order to create brand awareness and find customers across the globe. This is a very exciting time as a small business owner, we can now reach anyone with a smartphone anywhere in the world.
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I had a business partner at one time who I learned a lot from. I learned to do the complete opposite of his business plan and business ethics. He was like many other “fly by night” entrepreneurs, he wanted everything now and was unwilling to be patient, he would work hard and not smart. He wanted to steal everyone else’s ideas, or in his words “R&D stands for rip off and duplicate, not research and development”. He wanted to borrow as much money as possible and again in his words “Fake it until you make it”. He would not pay his debts or string them out as long as possible. He would continually look for investors, borrow money, and leverage everything.
My recommendation for any young entrepreneur; walk before you run, find something you’re completely and wholeheartedly passionate about, be open and completely honest with everyone, only borrow money when absolutely necessary, have a plan to pay back your debts, and never ever give up. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. But be patient, work hard, make smart financial decisions, have faith and believe in your heart that you are uniquely created to succeed and fulfill your entrepreneurial dream.
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
When we first started we said yes to everything. For example: Can you make this product? Can you cut this size? Can you ship this one piece to Florida? Can you match this color? etc.
We said yes to everything, and it almost killed us. The customer isn’t always right. We decided to scale back our product lines and do some things really well, instead of doing everything average. We determined what we would produce and sell only the highest quality products, instead of having our customers tell us what they wanted. We say no every day to customers, and it’s the best thing we ever did.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
I believe true business leaders are all readers. These books are uniquely different, but each offers so much business wisdom.
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
You will fail multiple times, you will work tirelessly long hours, you will give up hope, and then when you think it can’t get worse, it does. When you’re finally at the end of your rope and ready to throw the towel in, keep fighting! It’s at that very point of failure that everything changes for the better.
I believe God has a plan for all of us and He has given the entrepreneurial gift to very few and select individuals. Embrace that gift, treasure it, believe it, have faith you were created for better things, and you will not fail!
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
1. The borrower is servant to the lender.
2. If you ain’t growing, you’re dying.
3. I’m just a nut trying to catch a squirrel.