North Iowa Lumber & Design

Derek and Lizanne Engh - February 2019 Entrepreneur of the Month

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and the North Iowa Area SBDC are proud to announce Derek and Lizanne Engh of North Iowa Lumber & Design as the Entrepreneurs of the Month for February 2019.

Derek and Lizanne Engh took a major step in their entrepreneurial journey in 2007 when they purchased Britt Lumber Co.  Over the last twelve years, Derek and Lizanne have grown and learned as entrepreneurs, showing that entrepreneurship has many paths to success. Derek and Lizanne have expanded Britt Lumber Co. from a single store into North Iowa Lumber & Design, a network of five store locations across Iowa, while also starting Engh Rental and expanding into property management.

Derek and Lizanne were already familiar with Britt Lumber before they took the leap into business ownership. Derek, who had a long-standing interest in construction and contracting, interned at Britt Lumber during high school followed by three years as a roofing contractor. When the owner-operators of Britt Lumber decided they were ready to retire, Derek proposed they sell the business to him. Derek and Lizanne took a year to prepare for business ownership by working with the existing owners and taking Fast Track, an 8 week entrepreneurial training course offered by the NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (a program that has been succeeded by Launch & Grow and now Venture School). Lizanne also drew upon her early entrepreneurship experience at the Youth Entrepreneurial Academy, a week-long camp for North Iowa high school students offered every summer by the Pappajohn Center on the North Iowa Area Community College campus. Armed with a business plan developed in Fast Track, Derek and Lizanne bought Britt Lumber through a multiple tiered financing structure, including the Britt and NIACC Revolving Loan Funds.

Derek and Lizanne were only 22 years old when they purchased Britt Lumber Co. The challenges of being young entrepreneurs during an economic downturn led them to develop innovative solutions. During the recession, Derek and Lizanne learned to focus on the relatively strong agricultural market instead of the residential market. By year two of owning Britt Lumber, they started a new business, Engh Rental, to provide supplemental income during the slow winter months. They started with a sixplex and have been growing steadily ever since.

In 2015, Britt Lumber Co. was a thriving, established business and the Enghs knew it was time to expand – but they wanted to expand in a way that allowed them to pursue their additional ambitions. Derek, Lizanne, and the owner of North Iowa Lumber & Design in Algona, IA decided to merge their businesses. The merger allowed Derek to delegate and reallocate his time to focus more on real estate and management. Right after the merger, they purchased the Estherville and Emmetsburg locations and opened a new location in Forest City. The merger also allowed North Iowa Lumber to increase buying power for these lumberyards. The multi-location lumberyard can buy in bulk, bring in new hardware, and hire specialists such as Kitchen Designers. The merger allowed these local businesses to continue to operate and thrive for another generation.

As young entrepreneurs, Derek and Lizanne took on the challenge of owning and operating a business with a willingness to learn on the job. Lizanne emphasized the value they’ve found in networking and making sincere connections within the community. One of their strengths as entrepreneurs the ability to see possibilities and turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Derek said, “I believe the American dream is alive and well. My advice for entrepreneurs is that there’s acres of diamonds right under your feet right now. You just gotta go out and get them.”