Hoping to broaden its focus, its clout and its membership, the New Jersey Lumber Dealers Association is changing its name and opening its doors to other building trades. The 123-year-old organization has dropped the word “lumber” from its title, making it the New Jersey Building Materials Dealers Association (NJBMDA). The decision was made a year ago, according to executive director Rick Alampi, but the change was formally announced on Sept. 27 at the trade group’s annual convention in Atlantic City, N.J.
“There are a number of [retailers] who don’t sell lumber but are in the construction supply business,” Alampi said, listing plumbing and electrical supply houses as examples. “Interestingly enough, these groups don’t have an association of their own.”
The NJBMDA hopes to bring the construction industry together on several areas of common interest: lien laws, transportation issues and land use restrictions that make it more difficult to build in the Garden State. “We need critical mass,” Alampi said. “We can provide a forum for them, but not if we’re [all] called lumber dealers.”
At the top of the NJBMDA list is a state bill that would make it easier for builders to gain approval from local zoning authorities for a variety of projects, especially higher-density housing. A3860, sponsored by the New Jersey Builders Association, would help increase the supply of affordable homes and slow the migration across the Delaware River, said David Guss, president of North Jersey Lumber & Millwork.
“Housing costs are really quite high, and it’s a hardship for a lot of people,” said Guss. The Bergenfield, N.J., dealer, who serves as president of the NJBMDA, said the organization hopes to speak with a louder voice once it represents other building material resellers.
The issue of a possible culture clash was discussed in Atlanta, but members decided to proceed with the changes despite differences between the trades. “You have to consider the construction industry as a whole cloth instead of just a lumber business,” Guss explained. “We felt we had to try and band together to have more clout.”
Bryan Jaeger, president of Jaeger Lumber in Union City, N.J., pointed out that “lumber is just one aspect of a home.”
“We needed to get a little more expertise from people like plumbers, who also work on our jobs,” said the NJBMDA member. “We’re all selling to the same people.”
The NJBMDA currently has 125 dealer members and 100 manufacturers, distributors and other associated members. Although enrollment is holding steady, the group’s executive director noted that acquisitions, consolidation and retirement will eventually take their toll. “There are not a whole lot of new lumberyards being established,” he acknowledged.
Other regional trade organizations have either looked at expanding their membership beyond lumber dealers or have already done so. Several years ago, the Northwestern Lumber Association considered paint and masonry retailers as possible brethren, but research showed that their legislative concerns were too different. But several members who moved into cabinetry or mill-work stayed with the organization “because they still wanted the services,” said president Paula Siewert.
Lumberyard owners in the states of Alabama and Georgia don’t have a splinter of wood in their association’s name: the Construction Suppliers’ Association. The 330-member group, which includes a couple of electrical supply houses, is about to embark on a rebranding program, according to president Jim Moody. “But our focus will be on lumberyards,” he said.
By its membership definition, the Michigan Lumber & Building Materials Association includes kitchen and bath specialty stores, home centers and any other retailer who sells building materials to contractors or end users. Although the organization doesn’t actively recruit non-lumber dealers, president Rick Seely noted that green building trends and installed services are changing the industry’s offerings.
“We used to be called the lumber and coal association,” Seely said. “[Broadening our focus] may be a conversation we have here over the next 18 to 24 months. Our dealers need to think about the business they’re in today and may be in tomorrow.”