Phoenix -- They might sell similar products through similar business models, but how dealers build a long-term strategy and conduct day-to-day business can also be as diverse as one coast of the country from the other.
In an armchair atmosphere, top executives from Hamilton Building Supply, Kodiak Building Partners, Millard Lumber, and TW Perry discussed some of the inner workings of their companies in a panel discussion led by Rick Lierz, CEO of Boise, Idaho-based Franklin Building Supply and the new chair of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association.
Zeroing-in on today’s business climate, Kodiak CFO Jeff Smith noted that business is booming in Colorado – particularly in the drywall business – but significant labor constraints are faced in the market. Meanwhile, Texas has become a tale of “two states,” according to Smith. “Dallas-Fort Worth is going gangbusters but Houston and south Texas is stuck in a depressed oil economy.”
For Gary Bowman, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based TW Perry, sales are up 7% for the year and his company has seen steady growth of 4% or better in recent years.
In the meantime, Hamilton Building Supply General Manager John Perna said the strength of the custom home market in New Jersey is not as strong as they company would like. Renovation sales in urban markets such as northern New Jersey and Philadelphia have been surging, however.
"Management’s challenge is to make sure we walk the walk.”In regards to shaping a strategic plan, dealers agreed that tactics must be flexible. Joel Russell, chief operating officer of Omaha, Neb.-based Millard Lumber, said his company – dealing 60% with single-family homebuilders and 30% remodelers and multi-family builders – has begun shifting away from three to five-year planning to more immediate responses.
“Heading down a five-year path doesn’t make sense if the market is dynamic,” Russell explained. “We have shifted to a more quarterly review of where we are [related to] our strategy. It helps our execution.”
Part of the review process is sharing the direction of the company with employees. Bowman says TW Perry provides a “narrative” to employees in monthly newsletters. “There is a lost art of storytelling in our culture,” Bowman said. “This connects us to the people in a better way.”
TW Perry operates seven locations including a design center and millwork division. The dealer also cements its message through quarterly update meetings at each of its facilities. Company values and the strategic mission are discussed with employees with the process being repeated at each location.
“Management’s challenge is to make sure we walk the walk,” Bowman says.
Perna said a benefit of operating a smaller company is that every manager is onsite: the Hamilton, N.J.-based dealer operates a yard along with design center in Newton, Pa. “We also meet annually off-site to review goals and use them as a frame of reference for the upcoming year.”
Given the diversity and size of Kodiak Building Partners, with 36 locations in 5 states, the company maintains an ability to quickly adapt to changing times and markets.
“We are fairly fast-paced, we tend to update our long-term vision on an irregular basis,” Smith said.
“We want to be the place where the best people work, we want to be the place where the best customers buy, and we want to be the place where the best investors invest, and if we get the first two right, the third will follow.”