An old man started something. Call it ingenuity or craftiness, but when Merrill “Bud” Dame founded Dame Moulding and Lumber Company in Cedar City, Utah, now known as Woodgrain Millwork, he not only founded a business, but a mindset. For nearly 70 years, the same entrepreneurial spirit that belonged to Dame, has transferred down the line to his grandsons – Brooks, Taylor, and Tanner Dame.
Woodgrain Millwork started with a barter offering to Merrill as part of a payment he was owed. The barter was lumber tools and, instead of refusing anything other than money, he saw a future in what could turn into something more than a one-time payment.
“He saw it as something he could use,” Brooks said. “He started making moldings during the week, then would load up the truck and head to California for the weekend.”
In time, Woodgrain Millwork would become a nationwide chain employing approximately 1,800 people with 20 offices, along with offices in China and South America. As the lumber molding company grew, so did Brooks and his brothers, under the tutelage of their father, Kelly, and grandfather.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, Brooks later earned his IMBA from theThunderbird School of Global Management in 2006, where he studied specialized sales, merchandising, and marketing operations on an international level.
“I always wanted to go get an international degree and work internationally,” he said. “I wanted to go to the best international business program. It opened my eyes to the global market and economy.”
Brooks said his IMBA, and the fact he made friends from all over the world through the program, prepared him to quickly pursue business internationally. He said now he is telling his brothers to pursue their MBAs in order to advance their business careers.
“It will help them become better business leaders and open up more business opportunities down the road,” he said.
Brooks’ time at Thunderbird expanded his understanding of business, particularly on an international level, but he and his brothers began their business education long before either started going to college.
“My grandfather would always bring people over for dinner and they were always clients so the discussion would always be about business,” he said. “That’s where the seed was planted.”
Brooks’ seed has grown into a largely successful business called Proof, which creates eyeglass frames from sustainable wood.
Brooks has stuck close to his roots in every sense by continuing to work with wood and his family, and by keeping the entrepreneurial spirit of his grandfather alive.
“He was kind of a gambler,” Brooks said, comparing himself to his grandfather. “He was a risk taker. Wood sunglasses is a risk. We didn’t have a lot of people saying it was a good idea.”
But like his grandfather, he knew the risks were worth taking and have begun to pay off. The company officially launched in November 2009 and now has 67 U.S. dealers and 35 international dealers. The marketing has been an organic approach, spreading the news of the business by word-of-mouth and keeping every customer satisfied. The highest level of price Proof pays for marketing is through trade shows, which are run by the three brothers and other employees.
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He said getting dealers was a slow process because he never bought into advertising their product, but he said once people caught on to what Proof offered, it hasn’t slowed down.
Brooks said one of the business owners at the first tradeshow he and his brothers attended told him that it would be tough to get people to come to his booth since they were new and no one knew them.
“He told us don’t be discouraged because it takes time,” Brooks recalled. “One the first day, we were just getting mobbed. The guy just looked at us and was shaking his head. He ended up pointing his girlfriend to us and she became one of our first dealers.”
The Dame brothers continued to hustle, as Brooks put it, by going to tradeshows and various events, including concerts, getting backstage and putting their product into the hands of musicians, performers, and people with a highly visible platform.
“It really picked up,” he said. “It kind of exploded. Now we’re just trying to keep up.”
It’s not just the consumer demand for the frames the company is trying to keep up with, but the changing trends of fashion. But Brooks trusts wood for all that it is and can be.
“I grew up in the wood business,” he said. “As we say, ‘We have sawdust in our veins.’ It’s a really cool medium. It’s fashionable. It’s renewable, eco-friendly, and completely unique. People want to be unique.”
Brooks said the local newspaper called his grandfather a tycoon when he passed away, but he remembered him as anything but. He said he remembered a man with torn jeans, blood stains on his shirt, and a conversation for anyone. He remembered a unique business man who loved the opportunities derived from hard work. In many ways, it was his grandfather who showed him the one thing needed to become a successful entrepreneur: proof.