84 Lumber: Meet the Manager

Things are busy in Bridgeville. That’s the way John Hay likes it.

Bridgeville, Pa. — The work day begins at the crack of 6 a.m., but the work actually begins at the end of the previous day, when 84 Lumber crews plan ahead for the early morning rush.

“You want to make sure all of your materials are already built and ready to go,” said John Hay, manager of the 84 Lumber facility in Bridgeville, Pa., which in some ways is a flagship in the 84 Lumber fleet. “We probably ship 30 to 40 loads every day. It makes it a lot easier for everyone if it’s all laid out nice and neat.”

That kind of attention to detail is the name of the game at the Bridgeville facility, which features an impressive designer showroom, a bright new facility, close proximity to the company’s Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, headquarters and also the distinction of being the facility that president Maggie Hardy Magerko called her own early in her development as an 84 executive. 

The examples of attention to detail here are numerous.

  • There’s the 3-second line. This is a physical and symbolic line on the floor near the entrance. “There’s a little yellow line,” Hay said. “And that reminds our guys to say “hey, how are you?” before customers cross that line.”
  • There’s the load-first, invoice-later approach. As Hay describes it, writing up the invoice too early is a disservice to the customer, and it also has a chilling effect on add-on sales. “We don't invoice customers first,” Hay explained. “We load them first because we can sell them companion products. He might want 2x4s, but as I'm talking to him and asking about what he's building, you realize he needs glue, nails, this and that. So that's why we always ask, "What's your project? What are you building today?"
  • There’s the so-clean-you-can-eat-off-it kitchen and bath showroom on the second floor, where the designs are selected to the tastes of the local builders and homeowners.
  • Even the rolling door to the outside has been carefully designed with a poster promoting excavation, construction and pipeline supplies. (The sign was created by 84 Lumber’s in-house printing press that has emerged as a profitable service business.)

And then there’s the attention to detail in the facility’s computerized EWP saw, which slices to 1/32 of an inch as it stamps lumber with directions for the builder. (See sidebar)

All of these steps and more are necessary to compete in an increasingly sophisticated and competitive building supply industry. “There are so many places customers can go,” Hay said. They can go to Home Depot and buy a kitchen. But our people will go out to your job site. They'll lay it out on your floor, what it's going to look like, they'll give you a very fair price, and we can install it if you want to.”

For Hay, the process is all part of a job he claims to love in an environment he describes as a second family. In fact, former store manager and current 84 Lumber leader Magerko is “almost a sister,” to Hay, he said. 

“When she comes into the store, she’s all ‘What do you need? How can I help you. What do you want to sell here?’” he said. “She approaches it with the understanding that the local manager knows the local market better than anyone else.” 

The autonomy of the store manager is a highly respected and well-established practice in the LBM industry. But 84 Lumber believes they took the autonomy to a new level.

“More than any of our competitors in the industry, we incentivize our managers,” Magerko said. “And, really, those incentives are the basis of our success. So, when you succeed here, you succeed very well. But when you fail, you fail just as bad.”

That corporate emphasis on people and policy of autonomy help explain the company’s investment in recruiting the next generation of leaders through an advertising campaign that kicked off with a famous Super Bowl commercial — a first for a lumberyard. 

Hay’s path to 84 Lumber reflects the company’s culture-first and our-doors-are-open-wide approach to human resources. A California University of Pennsylvania graduate who played football and earned a degree in business management, Hay happened into the 84 Lumber management trainee program almost by accident. 

Important point: he wasn’t always a source of trusted advice regarding insulation, plumbing and drywall. 

“Before I got here, I definitely had no clue about building materials, and had no interest in them,” he said. “My dad suggested I go work at 84 Lumber, and I told them I had no idea what they did.

“During my interview, I said, ‘look, I don’t know anything. I like to talk to people. I like to be outside and I played sports all my life.’ And I was told: if you played sports or any other kind of activity and enjoy that interaction with people, you’ll love it here. So I came onboard and loved it ever since.”

The building product expertise came over time, and so did success. When the opportunity came to manage his first store, Hay moved to New England and oversaw growth from $2.3 million in sales to $5 million in 18 months. At Bridgeville, Hay oversees a $32 million business. 

How does he do it? Gladly.

“I'm 51 years old and I'm still loading and unloading customers,” Hay said, oversimplifying his duties. “I'm still moving. This is the place to be if you want to smile and work hard.”

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See more coverage of 84 Lumber in this special issue of HBSDealer.

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