Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Shawnee poses beneath the raw inventory which is usually in motion

Shawnee (Gunnett) Roy (SMC 2018) with stacked inventory which won't sit still for long

Shawnee Gunnett Roy with Big C sign

Big C operates three manufacturing facilities, including where Roy works in Pokagon Township, south of Dowagiac on Edwards Street

Shawnee Roy Making a National Name for Herself with Big C Lumber

Published on February 29, 2024 - 3 p.m.

Shawnee (Gunnett) Roy, 2018 Southwestern Michigan College honor graduate from Lawton, seems like she’s been at this longer than she has since she started at Big C Lumber’s Truss and Panel Plant at 18.

Still only 24, she is known nationally through service on four advisory boards.

Roy, of Sister Lakes, was the first female estimator at Big C, working her way into design a couple of years later.

In 2022, she accepted a new position with Big C as Employee Development Specialist, which makes her a point person for training. She travels four times a year.

At a time when so many people work remotely from home, like her Big C designer husband, Jake, from Stevensville, Roy went the other way, immersing herself at the shop floor level.

“I’ve taken the initiative to learn everything I can by personally working with our employees to learn their jobs,” she said. “Building relationships and connecting one person at a time.”

Dec. 13, she wrote, “Today was day two working in production on one of our roof truss tables. What a great day for a Tuesday!”

In another post Dec. 21, she added, “Floors, floors and more floor trusses! Is it really work when you love what you do?! These experiences have taught me so much more about our industry compared to only the design side of things. I encourage you to get out and try something new, even if it’s for a day within your industry. It’s amazing what you’ll learn and relationships you’ll build.”

That’s no small feat when your “family” includes some 70 members. She also conducts surveys for feedback.

By Feb. 23, “The last couple weeks or so I started getting more into a routine of working Tuesday and Thursday mornings in production. This allowed me to complete my day-to-day work as well as staying involved with production.

“I am learning so much from being involved,” Roy said, “learning who our employees are as people versus just employees and building some amazing work relationships. These relationships are going to be instrumental when getting adjusted to the training processes. Lately, I have been working on our wall line, and there is so much to learn. It’s so exciting! I feel like I have barely dipped my toes in the water.”

The former Keith H. McKenzie Hall resident was looking forward to a “crazy” September, including California to see her late father’s brother and aunt in Los Angeles, the beach in Malibu, Hollywood and to take their daughter, 2 ½, to Disney Land.

“I go to Indianapolis when we get back,” Roy said. Already in 2023 she represented Big C in Nashville, Phoenix and Buffalo.


‘Components are a thing’

On plant tours like she gave The Southwester, Roy lets visitors know “components are a thing. Before I started here I didn’t know components were an option. I enjoy plant tours and try to get everybody through here I can.”

She maintains an office in the quiet, unmarked design building a short walk north on Park Place from the main plant just off M-51 south of Dowagiac.

There are several “pods” of designers and estimators, a conference room and a lobby stark except for a table covered with a partially-assembled jigsaw puzzle of the building that encourages teambuilding.

“The Structural Building Components Association (SBCA) is creating an education part that I’ve taken a huge part in,” Roy said. “Hopefully, I’ll run that at the national level some day to teach other truss plants how to get involved with local colleges and high schools. I preach to all of them to ‘get into your schools.’ ”

Established in 1983, SBCA is the only international trade association representing manufacturers of structural building components. Its membership also includes truss plate suppliers, original equipment manufacturers and resellers, computer software companies, lumber suppliers, builders and professionals in the fields of engineering, marketing and management.

“My advisory boards meet twice a year,” Roy said. “Everybody knows who I am and where I work. I’ve barely touched the surface of my career. I’m the youngest association participant. There are a few more females, but it’s still male-dominated. Getting involved at the national level is probably the best thing I could ever have done. I have (General Manager) Dallas (Austin)  to thank. He’s super-supportive of everything I do. I do everything I can to preach about how amazing this place is.”

Big C President and CEO Bill Wallace, a Hartford High School graduate, said Roy “is wise beyond her years and does a wonderful job” when she accompanied him to SMC’s “Sawdust Day” in 2019. Wallace told students in his keynote address that the Granger-based company does not hire based on experience, but “attitude and willingness to learn.”

Beginning in 1985, the company founded in 1921 embarked on an acquisition program. There are now 16 Big C Lumber retail lumberyards. In addition to the original lumberyards in Roseland (South Bend) Ind., and Three Oaks, there are eight other Indiana locations: Granger, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Cromwell, LaPorte, Shipshewana, Kendallville and Fort Wayne. In addition to Three Oaks, Big C has five other Michigan locations: Eau Claire, Schoolcraft, Coloma, Adrian and Delton.

In February 2012, it opened its first Ohio lumber yard in the town of Edgerton.

Big C also operates three manufacturing facilities —Pokagon Township’s structural building components facility on Edwards Street which designs and manufactures floor trusses, wall panels and roof trusses; a full-service custom millwork (Fort Wayne) and cabinet facility and a window and door facility (Mishawaka).


What SMC added to her skill set

Roy credits her construction trades green technology degree with Larry Wilson for instilling an appreciation for “the business side of things.” He came to the classroom from the private sector. “He also preached soft skills, work ethic, what’s important, what’s not. SMC really brought the business side and prepared me for work. Without SMC, I don’t know that I’d understand the big picture as well as I think I do.”

Passing the wall-panel line, Roy, her narration punctuated by a cacophony of nail guns, said, “Everything starts at our saws. We have an upcut saw that cuts seven 2x4s at once. Triples are cut here, too. They go above and below window headers or above doors, so he’s cutting all the components for wall panels.”

As components move down the line, two workers center the studs and put on bottom and top plates.

Jobs are assigned numbers and colors based on whether finished products are destined for commercial or residential destinations, then trucked all over the Midwest — Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis.

“Michigan/Indiana/Ohio is our biggest market,” she said. “All the lumber is southern yellow pine,” and it’s stacked as high as the eye can see, including a separate building. Three shifts hum around the clock.

Southern yellow pine is one of the principal sources for U.S. softwood products because it’s strong, stiff and dense, yet still has the ability to hold nails and other fasteners for residential or commercial construction.

At the end of the line, a stacker wrangles complete wall panels which can weigh thousands of pounds.

Lasers show precisely where to nail plates.

Warped boards are strategically cut into smaller end pieces to reduce waste to a minimum.

Roy points out an ALS or automated linear saw. Its blade inside a booth cuts at angles.

The nearest stack was started at 3 that morning by third shift.

Piled outside in every direction are high joists, I-joists and LVLs, or laminated veneer lumber.

Joists are horizontal structures made of lumber or engineered wood that run between beams or the top plates of walls. They support the weight of the floor above and often the ceiling below. Like bed slats on a frame holding up a mattress, joists keep homes from sagging.

“We have lots of storage and lots of inventory, but it’s always moving,” Roy said.

Roy started in construction in high school even before Van Buren Tech Center in Lawrence.

“I took a residential construction course at Lawton High School and we built a shed,” she said. “I tried it because I needed another credit. I also took drafting. It came very naturally and I fell in love with it my sophomore year.”

Otherwise, she might have joined the military.

Her job has changed a lot since I started” almost seven years ago, “but all for the better. We’re completely paperless now, and we weren’t when I started.”

Blueprints, for example, are displayed digitally in front of colleagues working on three screens.