Name recognition

New Jersey-based Buy-Rite keeps customers as its top priority.

Bob DiMedio yells to a customer, “Hello, Steven. Did you get what you need?” He then stops at a small refrigerator near the checkout counter, takes out a bottle of water and tosses it to another patron who wanders into Buy-Rite Lumber on this humid summer afternoon in late July.

“You look like you need it,” DiMedio says with an easy smile.

The atmosphere at this Pennsauken, N.J.-based store is decidedly friendly. But that’s not the only thing that keeps builders and remodelers in Camden County streaming into the store, despite the presence of three Home Depots, two Lowe’s, an 84 Lumber and three other lumberyards within a five-mile radius.

Buy-Rite, an Orgill store, is that rare breed of warehouse style store where the owners regularly wait on customers, and service is a top priority. It does about 25 percent to 30 percent of its business in special orders, and the store prides itself on satisfying those orders as quickly as possible—in anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, compared to four weeks for the big boxes, according to DiMedio.

“We try to work with vendors to do things quickly, and when someone calls to check on an order, they talk directly to our customer service manager,” DiMedio said. “For instance, we can get a countertop in seven to 10 working days. That’s what people like about us.”

There is a relaxed, family atmosphere at Buy-Rite, intensified by customer appreciation days, coffee every morning and fresh popcorn three days a week. The customers come from Camden County, Philadelphia, Burlington County and other parts of New Jersey.

Kevin L. Pitts, who works for Camden, N.J.-based Arline Construction, has been shopping at Buy-Rite for 10 years and is almost a daily visitor. His company does a lot of rehab and remodeling for non-profit organizations. “It’s very convenient for me, and I have excellent relationships with the people here,” Pitts said. “I do a lot of special orders, and they’re great in that area.”

Buy-Rite also faces its share of challenges. Situated near Camden, N.J.—which surpassed Detroit as the nation’s most dangerous city in 2004—the company has to be particularly diligent about theft when making job site drop-offs.

“When called to the inner city, you need to make multiple deliveries,” DiMedio said. “You can’t deliver two to three days’ worth to a job site; it has to be a day-to-day thing.”

For several years, the company made do with 22,000 square feet of rented space right off Rte. 130—a main Philadelphia-area thoroughfare. But when the auto auction occupying the adjoining 30,000-square-foot space shut down two years ago, Buy-Rite grabbed the chance to lease that space as well.

In fact, Buy-Rite now can supply about 90 percent of the materials needed to build a house. Departments include lumber, hardware, paint, carpeting, storm and interior doors, windows, window treatments, hard flooring, plumbing, lighting, HVAC, lawn and garden, housewares, power tools and a new line of GE appliances.

Bob DiMedio insists that the expansion was only possible because of Orgill, which helped do the layout and the financing. Buy-Rite began a relationship with Orgill seven years ago and now buys approximately 70 percent of its products from the Memphis-based distributor, including Valspar Paint. Since putting in a paint mixing feature two years ago, the store’s paint business has increased 50 percent.

The company also uses Orgill circulars to tell customers about specials, and with the expansion of the Buy-Rite Web site, it will offer Orgill’s Pro Ship program, which allows a customer to order products online and pick them up at the store. “We stock two sizes of chicken wire, but through this program they have access to 25 other sizes that we can have to a customer within two days. Orgill makes it easy,” he said.

The expansion has been a plus financially. Buy-Rite was running 15 percent ahead till the fourth quarter of last year and recorded $5.2 million in sales for the year. Even in the current housing slump, the store is running about 5 percent down for 2008—well below the industry average.

“With what the economy is doing, that’s not bad,” Joe DiMedio Jr. said. “I think what’s helping us is that we don’t focus on big builds, but more on rehab and remodeling. And we always cater to our good customers, not even charging them for certain services. We give them perks to help them out.”

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