“I only know one business, because I started here when I was 5,” Maggie Hardy Magerko said.
The owner and president of 84 Lumber took over leadership from her father, Joe Hardy, in 1992 at the age of 26, and she led the lumberyard through both the go-go building boom and a devastating housing downturn, and now the industry comeback.
In a forward-looking, wide-ranging interview with HBSDealer, Maggie talked passionately about the importance of technology, her admiration for her “guys” (a term that applies to both men and women who work at the company’s more than 260 stores), and the biggest adrenaline rush of her career.
What’s the next big story to come out of the company?
One thing about us here at 84 Lumber: It’s never business as usual. If everything around us is business as usual, that’s when it’s time to disrupt things and cause some chaos. That’s where the biggest opportunities are. You don’t sit around and wait until things are bad. I like to disrupt things when things are good to make them even better.
In 2018, operational efficiency and technology are going to be the key for us. And that’s where my money is.
How do you describe your leadership style?
I’ve been doing this since 1992. And it’s up to me as the leader and the owner, to remove obstacles that prevent our people from accomplishing their goals. Information technology is just one area. I want to do anything I can to make things smooth, to grease the works. I am the grease, and that’s my mission. We come together and make a decision. We hope it’s the right decision. If it’s not. Oh well, we screwed up. Let’s make the right decision next time and move forward.
As far as going out and opening another 100 stores, that’s not very fun to me. Fun is going to be making our stores more efficient, and a better experience for our associates and our customers.
We talk a lot about giving tools to our people and making 84 Lumber much better as a company, and today a lot of those tools are in the technology and IT world. And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t try to be the leader that makes that happen for my people.
Does that mark a change from the early days of 84 Lumber?
I guess the biggest difference is that I don’t really care who screwed up. I really don’t have time for it. I really don’t. I want to focus on the positives and move forward. My dad is 94 years old, and in his era, it was management by intimidation. I manage by encouragement.
I don’t necessarily go around and shake hands and kiss babies and go on to the next facility. I’m not on a campaign trail. I go where I’m needed. And unfortunately, it’s not always a pleasant situation. I like to work with people, especially when times are tough. It’s very guttural, very real, very personal.
What about the physical stores? You can’t help but notice how those have changed from the early days of 84 Lumber.
That’s great because I helped design them!
So, yes, we need facilities. I didn’t want to go around and build little tin cans. We listened to our customers and we designed facilities for our customers. And yes, they’re absolutely very different from before.
In the old days, we would buy an eight-acre lot and build on four of them. And then we would say, ‘if you can hit these benchmarks, then in two or three years, you’ll get more resources.’ But after the depression — and I call it a depression — we’ve become more aggressive. We want to go into a market with all of our guns loaded — not only with our people, but with the EWPs, the mill shops, the kitchen design showrooms, installed sales. All of these services that make us ready to compete.
There was huge interest in the 84 Lumber Super Bowl commercial, both in the industry and outside of the industry. What did all of that teach you?
I learned just to be me. The whole experience was humbling and empowering. I had no idea the impact it would have, from all walks of life. I was in Manhattan the next day (Feb. 7), and I had strangers come up to me and start crying. The thing with the wall, with Trump, with politics and immigration — it all came to a head. That wasn’t planned. And what I find is people have a tough time talking about it, even to this day.
I had no idea it would be that enormous. It rocked my world. And it’s opening doors in a way that I never would have expected. It was an adrenaline rush that I never experienced in my life. I really wanted 84 Lumber to get known, in a big way. The time was right, and we did it.
The moon and the stars lined up for us. I was really angry at first when I found out that Fox censored our commercial, but from a marketing standpoint, it turned out to be an advantage. We had lightning in a bottle.
What’s the best part of your job?
I have to tell you, when I walk into a store, and I see the manager, and their families tell me ‘thank you for allowing us to be part of a company to better our lives,’ there is no better high, and it’s still that way today.
If I’m able to touch somebody in any way, to be able to affect somebody, I take that in a very humbling way. The older I get, it’s what life’s all about. I hope we make a positive impact with my company and with our people.
It’s fun. I love my guys. When I’m down in the dumps, all I think about are my guys at 84, and I get the biggest smile on my face.
See more coverage of 84 Lumber in this special issue of HBSDealer.