LBM Advantage sees more ways to grow

At its annual meeting the buying group has its eyes on synergy, and another acquisition.

Orlando, Fla. — LBM Advantage CEO Steve Sallah says it was clear that the merger of PAL and ENAP would create business advantages for members.

But one of the pleasant surprises, he said, is the growth in the co-op's business acumen. "The skill sharing has been important," he said. "There were skills we had, and skills they had, sales skills that have benefitted the combined company."

That sharing of skills was on display at the LBM Advantage Annual Meeting and Trade Show, the second such event that combined the forces of ENAP and PAL.

"The mechanics of the integration are done, but we still have more ways to grow our synergy," he said. "We're about 80% of the way there."

And with one merger out of the way, the co-op has another in the works with Smithfield, N.C.-based Independent Builders Supply Association. If all goes according to plan, with board approvals, that merger could take effect in the fourth quarter.

Across the LBM industry, the landscape is changing with companies like U.S. LBM Holdings and Kodiak Building Partners engaged in acquisition plays, and Wall Street-backed BMC Stock Holdings and Builders FirstSource deep into their own integrations. But the competitive focus has held relatively steady.

"By and large if you ask our dealers who their competition is, they will name three other independents in their region," he said. "The independents have their customers, and right now it looks that customer has stayed with the independents."

At the Orlando convention, LBM Advantage rolled out a slogan to reflect its strength in numbers — a "National Buying Power" banner. The idea is to dispel the perception that independent yards have weaker relationships with vendors.

"We're not promoting ourselves, we're promoting that our dealers can buy as well as anybody else," said Sallah, who described the co-op's purchasing power at the $2 billion level.

"The merger has allowed us to improve 100 programs," he said. "They're not improving them 10 points, but everything got a little better, and nothing got worse."

One of the cross co-op learning opportunities took place during a panel of deal discussion on niches explored by a variety of dealer members.

"Everybody came out of the recession with a slightly different flavor than they had previously," he said. "If they didn't adapt, they probably didn't survive."

Across the membership, Sallah sees moves into commercial business, moves into turnkey installed sales, and even into niches as varied as firearms and store-within-a-store consumer electronics.

For single location dealers, There also exists a very clear growth path in the form of multiple locations, he believes. As a rule of thumb, it takes about 15 people to get achieve the first $5 million in sales for a typical lumber dealer. Getting to the next $5 million can be achieved with a lot less.

"We're all for the independent lumber dealer," Sallah said. "And we still have places to grow."

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