Lamarr Jamerson Sr. isn’t one to wait for one door to close before opening – or building – a new one.
He’s been at it since college. Jamerson learned the trade working at Amos Millworks, a small door and window company building hardwood doors by hand.
“When you work for a small company, there’s not really a corporate ladder,” he says.
So eventually, Jamerson left to open another door – one to his own company. He founded Jamerson Doors in 1989.
“Back when I first got started, the bigger manufacturers were so locked into standardized products that the field was wide open for custom hardwood doors,” he says.
Door No. 1
At first, Jamerson’s wife, Deborah, had her doubts.
“My husband loves fishing, and when he sold his boat to get a start, that was a big deal.” she recalls. “To me, that was like, ‘Oh, he’s serious.’”
“That little boat couldn’t have been worth more than $800,” Lamarr Jamerson responds. “I got $1,800 out of it.”
He used the money to lease a table saw and joiner, and started connecting with local lumberyards to sell his doors. Eventually, he pursued direct sales with homebuilders, who now make up 60%-70% of his business.
“Even after the crash of the housing industry in 2006, those contractors are still with me,” he says.
One of those contractors is Rick Ramsey, owner of Ramsey Building Co. LLC. He’s worked with Jamerson Doors for about 20 years and says he uses Jamerson doors in about 80% of his 10-12 projects each year.
“It’s hard to find a local businessperson who can build custom doors,” Ramsey says. “He was really the only game in town.”
Jamerson Doors uses lumber from Missouri companies – such as Paxton Hardwoods, Schaller Hardwood Lumber and Liberty Hardwoods – and almost no automated machinery touches the wood in the build. Jamerson says that as companies automated processes, adding CNC routers or boring machines, he remained analog.
“I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why people come to us because they know that door is going to be built like a Mercedes or a Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce,” he says.
Beyond the customization, wooden doors have their own appeal.
“A lot of people like the authenticity of a wooden door,” Ramsey says. “It’s the first thing you see, feel and touch as a guest.”
Most popular the past 15 years is the alder wooden door, Jamerson says, noting the leading styles are shaker and craftsman. He says door prices have a wide range of $1,000-$14,000.
Built to last
When business owners say they put their blood, sweat and tears into a company, few mean it as literally as Jamerson. In 1991, while using a router, an accident cost him three fingers on his right hand. He went to the hospital, got stitches and was back at work in two days.
“That’s dedication,” Ramsey says. “Most people get a cold and they’re out for the week.”
At the time, Jamerson Doors had only one other employee.
“I realized I was going to lose it all if I didn’t come right back,” Jamerson told the Springfield News-Leader in 1994.
In those early 1990s, Deborah Jamerson joined the business to handle calls and scheduling.
“We shared the same desk,” she says. “Lamarr would come in, and I would have the whole desk loaded with snacks and books. As time went on, I started to see this was turning into a real job, and I realized this was no joke.”
The Jamersons moved from their first 35-by-35-foot workspace into a 4,500-square-foot building after six years. They purchased their current 9,000-square-foot facility in 2002. However, little else has changed.
Of the company’s five employees, two have been with the Jamersons for 18 years – and another retired after 20 years. In the workshop, each employee handles one order from beginning to end.
“I didn’t want any of my employees to feel like we were running a factory,” Lamarr Jamerson says.
The only adjustment came after he once surveyed customers to see how to improve. Many noted that orders were taking too long because glass wasn’t ordered until the door had been made and measured.
“Don’t get in a hurry if you’re going to work with Lamarr,” Ramsey jokes.
To speed things up, Jamerson now orders and receives the glass before beginning manufacturing. The new process requires detailed drawings and a lot of math, and although he’s painstakingly precise, mistakes can happen.
“I’ve been wrong a couple of times,” jokes Jamerson, who outside of the workshop serves as senior pastor of New Hope International Ministries. “I have eaten glass, and it doesn’t taste good.”
The Jamersons say business has held steady throughout 2020 and into this year, though they decline to disclose annual revenues. They say orders are on par with high demand in the custom home-building industry. January of this year started with a 17.5% gain, year over year, in single-family construction starts, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
While the industry shows no signs of slowing down, the Jamersons say they’re well aware the business is linked to their legacy.
“We’ve got doors out there that will outlast us,” Lamarr Jamerson says.
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