Omaha, Neb.-based Millard Lumber has looked at its three markets and drawn the same conclusion made all around the country. Builder customers are struggling with labor challenges. The national challenge is made more difficult locally by Nebraska’s unemployment rate, which hovers in the neighborhood of 2%.
And like any award-winning dealer, Millard Lumber is doing something about it — bolstering its manufacturing strength, pushing ahead on communication efficiencies and introducing new labor-saving services.
Millard Lumber, a family business that promotes itself accurately as “More than Lumber,” will accept the 2017 Independent Pro Dealer of the Year award at the upcoming ProDealer Industry Summit on Oct. 17 to 19 in Phoenix. The dealer operates a diverse trio of locations — in Omaha and Waverly, Neb., and Spring Hill, Kan.
“Everything we see coming down the pipeline shows the builder customer is having as much trouble or more trouble finding labor than we are,” said Joel Russell, VP and COO of Millard Lumber. “So where we can take a process that requires them to spend less time in the field, and turn it into a manufactured or finished kit product, saving them time in the process -- they’re finding value in that.”
Case in point, it recently introduced an aluminum railing fabrication system, Harmony Railing, that allows for delivery of customized panels, reducing installation to minutes or hours, as opposed to an entire day or days. The system has been an immediate hit, Russell said.
With the same motives, it’s increasing its manufacturing capacity, primarily in structural components — trusses and wall panels. Again, the idea is to simplify and speed up the work at the job site.
And talking of speed, Millard is pushing boundaries as a paperless pro dealer. That’s right: paperless. Not entirely, not yet, but it’s warehouse has moved almost completely away from paper and toward handheld scanner guns, a digital communication approach from order receiving to dispatch operations.
“It’s not that we hate paper,” Russell said. “It’s because every time there’s a piece of paper, there’s a chance it will get lost. The less paper, the less opportunity to make a mistake or slow down the process, and that relates to our ability to help the customer.”
Consider what happens when an order is changed, a common situation in a lumberyard. In the old days, an altered order means more paper, more confusion and more uncertainty at both ends of the delivery. With the paperless Millard system, the customer’s order can be updated in the middle of the picking process.
The company’s next paperless migration is occurring in the manufacturing area, currently still a paper-intensive environment.
Living up to its “More than Lumber” slogan, Millard’s locations run the home improvement spectrum from hardware store, drive-through warehouse and design center in Omaha, all that and truss manufacturing in Waverly, and a cabinet sales operation in Spring Hill. The strategy for success across all those disciplines is easy — keep the customers happy. The trick is in the execution, he said.
“I mean, there’s not a lot of rocket science in our industry,” Russell said. “I wish there was. And there’s not a whole lot of secrets either. It’s just a matter of finding those things that your customers in your market find important and making sure that you're doing extremely well on those.”
"The less paper, the less opportunity to make a mistake or slow down the process, and that relates to our ability to help the customer”The family business, which includes Joel’s father, Rick, and his brother, Mark, embraces the theory that success requires mastery of many different interconnected facets of the business. Operational efficiency has an impact on job satisfaction, and both have an impact on service.
The company’s efforts to improve efficiency impact many areas, including recruitment and retention.
“For recruiting, we don’t have a magic bullet, and I don’t think that anyone in the industry does,” he said. “But the easier you can make the process for someone who is coming in and doesn’t have industry experience to do their job and avoid mistakes — that’s what we’re striving for.”
Millard also participates in local high school and college construction academies and mentoring programs to introduce kids to the business. And Millard prides itself on its practice of promoting talent through the ranks.
Asked to point to the single-most important project at Millard, Russell preferred to describe a holistic approach: “It’s more making sure we are out in front of the market in the areas as we see growing, and we are conforming to our internal metrics to make sure our customers are delighted with our service.”