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Getting paid to lumber around

The gig: Chief executive of SC BluWood Inc., a Carlsbad-based construction products company that specializes in a lumber treatment that makes wood resistant to termites, mold and fire damage.

Straight to work: Conboy graduated from high school in 1972 in Long Island, N.Y., and went to work in construction. He moved to Dana Point in 1977 and started framing homes.

First big break: In 1990, as the Southern California housing market was entering a downturn, Conboy landed a job with Weyerhaeuser, one of the country’s biggest lumber companies, as a technical representative promoting the company’s engineered wood products in Las Vegas. He learned how to make money off of houses from the inside out, understanding the smallest details about joists, trusses and floor diaphragms.

Talking to the top: Wood from Douglas fir trees dominated the construction market. Conboy started pitching Canadian spruce trees as a cheaper alternative, but construction engineers pushed back.

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“The engineers don’t think about the pricing. They just go with whatever wood company buys them lunch. So I would go to the construction company owner and tell him I could save him money. Then he would go to the engineer and say, ‘You need to listen to this guy.’ ”

On his own: In 2001, Conboy became an independent wood broker, meaning he would find a construction job that was being planned and match up the building contractors with lumber mills.

“I showed them how to build faster and for less money by using everything I had learned about the technical side of the business,” Conboy said. He found a way, for example, to build the same home with 33% less wood just by using deeper joists.

Buzz pays off: The 50-something founder of BluWood, based in Florida, asked Conboy to help expand the product’s reach on the West Coast in 2007. Conboy added a new piece to his pitch. Remember all that bad news about mold turning walls black and making people sick?

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“There were $6.5 billion in mold-related claims out there, and I was telling companies we have a solution,” Conboy said.

Riding the downturn: When the housing market skidded to a halt, Conboy switched marketing gears. He knew that lumber companies had massive piles of wood attracting termites and mold. He started selling them on the idea of treating their stockpiles with BluWood chemicals so it would survive until the market returned.

“It kills the mold forever, and sends the termites packing,” Conboy said. By early 2009, BluWood had treated 7 million board feet of lumber.

Cutting costs: Last year, SC BluWood went beyond just treating the wood to making its own boards. It converted a 100,000-square-foot abandoned pipe factory in Colton into a cutting, coating and shipping facility for BluWood lumber. “Now we’re offering BluWood at the cost of raw lumber,” he said. In April, the company went public.

Trading coasts: He lives in Carlsbad with his wife, Cheryl, and two children, Shaun, 19, and Caitlin, 12. His daughter Chelsea, 25, works in Seattle as an animator and graphic designer. He named her after the neighborhood in New York, and, even though he still prefers New York food, he can’t imagine leaving California.

“New York is a good place to be from, but once we got to California there was no turning back,” Conboy said. “We’re beach people now.”

Family business? His son drives a truck for his company, but Conboy wants him to earn a degree and find a solid career. “Even though I didn’t go to college, I tell my son you don’t want to do it my way,” Conboy said. “My dad wanted me to go to college, but I got a good job. And I thought that making more money than Dad was cool. These days, those jobs don’t exist.”


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