Somerville Lumber builds on its strengths
Back in 2007, Somerville Lumber Company of Bridgewater, New Jersey, experimented with its approach to showcasing its decking products, a category that had grown from a small corner of the store to a 1,500-sq.-ft. display.
My, how times have changed.
From those early steps, the New Jersey pro dealer’s deck-center initiative is now running full speed ahead with a self-contained store of its own, plus plans for a satellite Deck Center taking shape in nearby Flemington.
The Deck Center, which shares a parking lot with the original Somerville Lumber facility, is one of a number of initiatives at Somerville Lumber that embrace specialization, expertise and the store-within-a-store concept.
The Bridgewater Deck Center — full name: The Deck Center Outdoor Living Showroom — currently measures 3,000 sq. ft., but will soon double in size.
According to Tony Loftus, Somerville Lumber’s manager, the standalone concept has generated a “significant increase” in sales. “And I think it’s because the customer comes in here, and not only do they have a much wider selection, but they can actually view the selection. It’s one thing looking in a magazine, but there’s something very special about standing on what’s going to be your own deck.”
That type of hands-on experience is especially important in a category with so many moving parts. “Every five minutes, it seems, there’s a new deck product released,” Loftus said.
The big three brands highlighted in the Deck Center are TimberTech, Azek and Wolf Decking — with a variety of other brands available through special order. More than just decks, the Deck Center showcases patio furniture, grills, lighting and railing — all things for the growing social trend and home improvement category of outdoor living.
“What separates us is our level of expertise,” Loftus said, referring to the overall operations at Somerville Lumber. “Especially for those customers considering projects.”
Somerville has 65 full-time employees, including 5 outside sales people.
Inside the main building, which itself is earmarked for a physical makeover as a giant retail project takes shape across the street, more specialization is apparent in the form of a Door Center, Window Center, Kitchen and Bath Design Center and Flooring Center. The company also operates a True Value Rental center.
The Door Center, staffed by two full-time dedicated door specialists, features 85 doors on display. Masonite, Therma-Tru and Simpson are the three brands that anchor the selection, which expands exponentially through the power of special orders.
True Value Rental is a new feature at the lumberyard, and one that the company is serious about improving. To that end, Loftus and another Somerville executive enrolled in True Value Rental College, a comprehensive and advanced 3.5-day training seminar that included contract writing, maintenance, marketing and inventory management. “Often we’ll attend an industry event and it’s a good introduction,” Loftus said. “But this was in-depth — this was not for the novice.”
Another way to leverage its True Value relationship is through its e-commerce website. And the company looks to take advantage of True Value inventory available to consumers online for in-store pickup. Loftus said the store will also embrace True Value’s Bargain of the Week and New Product end cap programs. New products coming through its co-op include housewares — blenders, electronics, small appliances — just about anything for the home, he said.
One of the keys to success at Somerville Lumber, according to Loftus, is the cross training that has led to a staff that has specialization in some areas, and general knowledge in all areas. Titles are “mere formalities,” he added, and ideas for improvement come from across the company, shaping product mix, procedures, customer service concepts and marketing ideas.
"Strategic planning in the past few years has addressed the question: What can we do better?” Loftus said. “And these ideas didn’t happen overnight. There has been a long thought process going into this, and most of the finer details have been worked out.”
Sherwood Lumber promotes a regional director
Melville, New York-based Sherwood Lumber Corp. has promoted Jason Rastad to regional director, Engineered Wood & Specialty Products.
In his new role, Rastad will be responsible for managing the Engineered Wood & Specialty Products programs throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
“We are excited to continue along this path as Jason has built Sherwood’s Engineered business from the ground up. He has played a key role in the company’s overall growth in specialty products, contributing to key decisions that have made our company a success,” said Dave Gaudreau, Senior VP sales for Sherwood Lumber.
Rastad has more than 20 years of experience in engineered wood and specialty products, with experience in framing, design, technical sales, and management.
NLBMDA applauds action on health rules
The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association offered high praise for the passage in the Senate of the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34), which includes a provision backed and advocated by NLBMDA addressing small business health care affordability.
Included in the larger medical innovation bill is the Small Business Health Care Relief Act, which protects small businesses from Internal Revenue Service penalties and provides needed flexibility for business owners to assist their employees with health insurance premiums and healthcare expenses.
Last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the legislation. The bill, which is supported by the White House, now awaits President Obama's signature. NLBMDA supports the legislation and has spent part of the last two years working to pass the Small Business Health Care Relief Act.
On July 1, 2015, the IRS prohibited companies from using Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) to directly pay or reimburse individual market health premiums and medical expenses. As part of the IRS guidance, employers found in violation face penalties of $100 per day per employee (up to $500,000 annually).
Historically, HRAs have been a valuable option for small businesses wanting to help their employees pay for health expenses by allowing them to offer pre-tax dollars to insured employees to help pay premiums and/or other out-of-pocket costs associated with medical care and services. Employer contributions to the plan are 100 percent deductible, and tax-free to the employee, making it a great benefit to help workers obtain health insurance.
The Small Business Healthcare Relief Act provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act will:
• Ensure small businesses and local municipalities with fewer than 50 employees are allowed to continue using pre-tax dollars to give employees a defined contribution for healthcare expenses;
• Allow employees to use HRA funds to purchase health coverage on the individual market, as well as for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses if the employee has qualified health coverage; and,
• Protect employers from being financially penalized for providing this cost-sharing option to employees.
"NLBMDA is pleased that Congress has taken steps to address health care affordability for small businesses," said Jonathan Paine, President and CEO of NLBMDA. "This is a victory for lumber dealers in their efforts to provide health care for their employees.