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In 1977, Lynn Gastineau became the first woman to start a log home company, Gastineau Log Homes. During the course of her career, Lynn has served as President of the Log Home Council on two different occasions. She is the only female to have received the SA Walters Award, which is given annually to a person in the Building Systems Council who has contributed to the industry in their lifetime. Lynn recently completed a term as President of the Missouri Forest Products Association, which represents all parts of the forest industry in Missouri, from land owners to loggers to saw mills to other related businesses.
Gastineau Log Homes is largest producer of Oak log homes in the world. They have sold homes and commercial structures in all 50 states and 11 different countries. They have designed a fully engineered wall system as well as unique and proprietary construction methods. With the experience of 35 years building log homes, the team at Gastineau Log Homes, under the watchful eye of owner and founder Lynn Gastineau, are truly experts in their field.
Gus: What inspired you to come back to rural Missouri and start Gastineau Log Homes after getting a BFA in Fashion Design and living in New York City? What did your turning point look like?
Lynn: I remember racing to La Guardia Airport to fly home, landing in Columbia, MO and then driving through Mark Twain National Forest to get to my parents home in New Bloomfield. The contrast made me really appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature compared to the lifestyle in NYC. Also, living in NYC was so expensive and I realized I could live somewhere else and save enough money that I could afford to visit NYC any time I wanted. Combine all this with the fact that I had always loved architecture and the construction business, and this was an opportunity to pursue that dream. Another reason was probably the fact that I could start my business on a shoestring. I wanted to own my own business and I felt I could do so fairly easier in MO than in NYC. It probably would have helped if I had been a little older with more experience under my belt. But then, if I was older I may not been as willing to step out on that limb!
Gus: What advice would you pass onto someone considering purchasing a log home?
Lynn: Buying any home is an emotional decision, but you need to temper it with some common sense reasoning. Building a custom log home can be much easier than building a more traditional custom home, if you choose a log home company that provides you with more than just truck loads of logs! For example, at Gastineau Log Homes, we provide you with services that are independent from just your builder. A consumer researching log home companies should look for one that can provide customized engineered blueprints. A company should have a well thought out system for how their log wall performs, and be able to explain it to you. They should have a process they follow for delivery of the materials to the job site, and be able to assist you with finding a builder, provide an inspection of your home during construction, and more. These are the types of services that I always considered as crucial as the home itself, and are a part of what we do for every Gastineau Log Homes customer.
Gus: How has your business evolved over the last 35 years?
Lynn: In about every way possible! In 1977, this was a “do it yourself” market. 99% of our customers built their own log home. Today, only about 10% of our customers build their own log home. Technology has changed so very much. From the design and production of printed literature, to the need for almost no printed literature. From hand-drawn blueprints to blueprints, material lists, cut sheets and delivery tickets that are all integrated and computerized. The size of our packages has increased from an average sale of about $20,000 to today’s average package of $115,000. When I started Oct 1, 1977, there were all types of issues that had to be addressed such as appraisals, financing, insurance, and building codes. Virtually all of these have been addressed and log homes are 7% of the custom home market in the U.S. Turn on a television and you will see a log home, from the actual program to the commercials.
Gus: Can you tell our readers a bit about your product line called a Log Cabins 2 Go and what makes it so unique?
Lynn: Our Log Cabins 2 Go product is really just a small log cabin built on a chassis that can be pulled to your site ready to use. It comes with both a full kitchen and bathroom and is built to residential quality standards. It is solid Oak logs with dovetailed corners and is a true traditional log home. We comply with park model regulations which fall under ANSI 119.5, but we far exceed those minimal building requirements. We use the same materials that we use in our regular log home packages. These are custom built to your specifications and choices and we even do custom designing. The footprint of the cabin is limited to 400 square feet but we can add lofts, porches, decks, etc to make it live like more than 400 square feet. We have sold these to State Parks and RV Parks for rentals, to individuals who just want a small log cabin on some property, to folks who want them as a guest house near their current home, and we have even built them as offices for both businesses and not-for-profit organizations. They are built in a factory which keeps the price lower than it would cost for the same cabin if it was built on site. You can see a bit more about our Log Cabins 2 Go on our website, here.
Gus: Congratulations on your new relationship with a distributor in China. What kind of opportunities does this kind of partnership creates? Do you have any tips for our readers who are looking to expand into the global marketplace?
Lynn: I have been exploring the potential in China since 1996. Their economy has now reached the point in its development that it makes sense. There is a huge potential for business in China for building systems such as ours. The fact that we can design a custom home and then put all the materials needed for that home into containers and ship to their job site is very unusual in their market and provides an excellent service that they cannot obtain locally. Expanding a business into other countries must be approached differently than growth in the US. In Missouri, we have an excellent resource in the Missouri Department of Economic Development. For other businesses looking to export, I would definitely recommend starting with your state and federal programs to see what’s available.
Gus: Can you share your perfect example of how a business can team with a charity to benefit everyone involved?
Lynn: We were approached by Country Home magazine to build a log home inside of the Mall of America. The promotion was multi faceted and incorporated a charity (The Great Twin Cities Children’s Cancer Research Group), Meredith Publications (Country Homes’ parent company), the Mall of America and ourselves along with major companies from throughout the country that provided all the materials to finish, furnish and decorate the home. It was a 2400 square foot two story log home with wrap around porches that we built in 7 days. It was then completely finished and decorated down to the dishes in the cupboards. It was open from mid November to January 2nd and over 250,000 people went through the home. Raffle tickets were sold for the home and all of the items inside. 100% of the proceeds went to the charity, over $300,000 in all. The following December, Country Home magazine did a 12 page story on the home in their magazine, which has a circulation over a million. Everyone benefited from the promotion, plus we raised a tremendous amount of money for charity. Gastineau Log Homes sold over 40 homes off of the promotion, plus we were able to use the photography and literature for years to come.
Gus: You’re located in rural Missouri out on a gravel road, but get to speak to customers from all over the world and travel internationally. What rare insights and perspectives have you managed to gain from having such an unusual work-life balance?
Lynn: First and foremost, how lucky I am that I have been able to live my life in this manner! I think it has given me an appreciation and understanding for the differences between people, even just here within the US. How different we are all, but also how similar we are in what is important to us. There are a variety of reasons why people want to build a home, but there is a common theme. Most want permanence and a feeling of comfort that they get from owning their own home. To many, this is the fulfillment of a dream that they have had for a long time. I get to vicariously live this with them as they bring this dream to fruition. I understand why many want to get out of the “rat race” and move into a log home on some property where they have a feeling of getting back to nature and having more control over their lives. I travel to where most of them live, then I come home to my house and know what they are trying to achieve. I truly love what I do, and what we provide at Gastineau Log Homes. As one of my customers told me, “Once you live in a log home, you don’t want to live in anything else.”