Battling the elements

Builders Warehouse offers a 150,000-square-foot home center in Kearney, Neb., with an indoor drive-through lumberyard.

KEARNEY, NEB. —This is how Myron Andersen, president of Builders Warehouse, describes Kearney Neb.: “It’s not the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.” Yet Kearney is the headquarters of his $30 million company, which includes a 150,000-square-foot home center and, 45 miles away in Grand Island, a 52,000-square-foot lumberyard and design center. Andersen visits LBM operations all over the country, looking for ideas he can take back to Nebraska, where the self-made lumber dealer is determined to stay abreast of current trends, regardless of the economy, the price of lumber or the weather.

Especially the weather. “We haven’t seen a winter like this in 15 years,” said Andersen, interviewed while driving past stacks of lumber and sheet goods in his indoor lumberyard in Kearney. The place was designed by Ron Johnson, the former Emery Waterhouse merchant and store designer. Andersen’s other location is also an indoor drive-through where contractors and lumber are both protected from the elements. So are the Menards employees who regularly stop by to do price checks, according to Andersen. He nodded at two of them as he drove by.

Everything about the Kearny store is big: the retail side of the operation, counting the design center, is 60,000 square feet. Outside the drive-through lumberyard (which is 44,000 square feet) are nine acres of paved lot. This is where the lumberyard’s fleet of vehicles—semis, boom trucks, delivery vans—spent a lot of idle time this winter.

“I would leave work at night, and a dozen trucks would be sitting there, all loaded up for deliveries the next day,” recalled Andersen. “And when I came in the next morning, the guys would be unloading those same trucks because they couldn’t get to the job sites. The rain or the snow had turned everything to mud.”

But Andersen couldn’t spend much time staring wistfully at his inventory. January was pretty busy with the opening of a new unit in Denver, the first location for Builders Warehouse outside the state of Nebraska. Andersen left his son Chad behind, along with three other employees, until it’s time to ramp up the operation. “It’s a good long-term prospect,” Andersen explained. “The idea is to get a presence and get ready for when better times return.”

The same thinking was behind this year’s $1.5 million upgrade of Spelts Schultz, the company’s truss plant in Grand Island. Acquired in 1995, the facility lacked the software and equipment to make wall panels. So Andersen installed a laser-guided saw, auto stackers and other improvements to support the new line. “Wall panels are big in the eastern part of the state and in Colorado,” he explained. “We felt that we had to be in it to protect our market.”

About 70 percent of the customer base at Builders Warehouse is professional, with the remainder split between homeowners and commercial accounts. Although one customer builds 50 houses a year, most are custom or spec builders, averaging 10 homes annually.

Andersen shares the market with five or six other pro dealers, and to the east, near Omaha, is another group of strong independents. Menards operates large format stores in both of his markets, Kearney and Grand Island.

Builders Warehouse has design centers at both its locations, and Andersen is continually upgrading them. He added Do it Best’s flooring programs to both locations and in 2007, lighting showrooms as well. At last count, 38 doors and windows were on display in the millwork section. Andersen imports his own containers from China to supply its showrooms with kitchen and flooring tile, along with quartz and granite for its countertop fabrication shop.

Andersen belongs to several national roundtables and travels extensively to participate in them. Yet he holds fast to Midwestern values, and hands out a set of “guiding principals” to all employees. Number two on the list: “Never do anything that will tarnish the pride that our parents have in us.”

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