Builders Warehouse: How the Unsentimental On-line Building Supply Business is in One Case an Expression of “The Beloved Community.”
Builders Warehouse offers competitive prices and top-notch products to Roofers and Builders. Their owners live very modestly; profits offer hope to the homeless.
Roofers are a hardy, no-nonsense breed. In the early 1980s Tim Bock started a small band of roofers who were part of a non-profit intentional community. It didn’t take him long to begin to wonder if there was a way to leverage what he’d learned about roofing into a business selling materials and tools to other “small company” roofers.
“We started our supply business inspired by the roofing company I headed up,” Tim says. “And I mean we were roofers, not salespeople; we went out on Chicago’s skyline and tore off roofs, repaired roofs, replaced roofs. We saw how we were treated as a small ‘insignificant’ company. When by hard work and grace we became bigger, right away we were treated better by roofing material suppliers.” Tim remembers thinking, “If we ever do a supply company, we will treat the small guy like a king, we will teach them new useful skills and honor their heart as they work to support themselves and their family.” That goal remains central in the Builders Warehouse vision.
The predecessor to Builders Warehouse was born in April 1985, and soon became a leading local supplier to roofers on Chicago’s North Side.
But what Tim’s customer’s often did not know? All profits from that company, and today its on-line sibling Builders Warehouse, do not go into Tim’s pocket or into the pockets of rich investors. Builders Warehouse is primarily envisioned as an outreach to a needy community, Chicago’s Uptown, as well as an engine of economic provision for good works. This is rooted in a specific history.
Builders Warehouse is owned by a Christian “intentional community” in the Uptown neighborhood, Jesus People USA (founded in 1972 and since 1989 affiliated with the Covenant Church). Tim, like other members of the community, lives modestly in a small studio apartment.
“I am honored to be able to give away what I make each day to the mission God called me to. Not getting a paycheck each week has been an interesting journey. I remember one day realizing how many wealthy men and women, when they get near to death, find a new job in trying their best to responsibly give away what they have made. As I thought about it, I had to laugh. I don’t have that problem. I give it away as I am making it to a cause much larger than I am. It is not hard; it is an honor to serve Christ in business and give each day to the mission, to Christ and to my poor neighbor.”
Tim does encounter raised eyebrows telling the Builders Warehouse story. “Yes, I have had folks say, ‘Do you know how much money you can make in your position?’ But I love living simply and finding ways to enjoy amazing things in this world cheaply.” There is also what Tim views as a positive trade-off. “I have an abundant life; I’m not suffering. I live comfortably enough and with a wealth of relationships to more than make up for the relative lack of wealth I might have otherwise.”
All relationships become as much about one’s neighbor as about one’s self. It is sometimes a tough sell in the shark tank business world, Tim admits. But his faith informs him that nothing is impossible with God. So he and his community’s company focus on relationships as co-beneficiary rather than consumptive, whether dealing with customers, employees, fellow members of his intentional community, or homeless persons benefiting through Builders Warehouse funding of Cornerstone Community Outreach (a multifaceted system of shelter programs run by Jesus People USA).
Where is Tim’s motivation, as well as the motivation of some others who live with him in the community and work with him providing roofing supply via Builders Warehouse? Tim burns with his vision of “mission business,” a model he believes is multifaceted. He hopes to see other businesses begun by those motivated to making the world a better place, enhancing one another’s lives, and rooting that vision in what Martin Luther King called “The Beloved Community.”
“Our goal is to create a beloved community,” Dr. King wrote, “and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
Books for purchase by Tim Bock (some co-authored):
God’s Bottom Line: Mentoring with the Spiritual Challenges in Business (a fictional telling of some key truths).
Mission Improbable: Business as Missions (A Missions-Business Workbook)
Rich by Giving: The Business Plan of Giving Back
Unless the Lord Builds the House (A Story of JPUSA’s Mission Business)
Book by Chris Ramsey of JPUSA / Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) homeless shelters
Discovering Jesus in the Least: Unveiling God’s Presence Among America’s Most Overlooked Souls