Ken's Blog

Here’s a Radical Idea. Maybe.

BY Ken Clark

Boise, Idaho — I’ve been to a lot of lumberyards, and I’ve heard all kinds of ways that the customer comes first. But at Boise-based Franklin Building Supply, there’s an interesting saying: The customer comes second.

They say it often. They say it with pride. They seem to mean it. 

There’s a zen-like ring to the reasoning behind the 12-location lumberyard’s customer-second approach to success. But there’s also airtight logic at work. The customer comes second in order for the customer to be better served. It’s the person who serves the customer who gets top billing at Franklin Building Supply

“The benefit of that approach offloads on the customer,” president Rick Lierz said. Like Brutus in that famous play about Julius Caesar, it’s not that he loved the customer less, but that he loved the employee more.

One of the architects of the some-might-call radical policy is VP of operations Levi Smith. “It’s simple math,” he said. “How do we actually deliver the desired customer experience? It’s through our employees.”

Imagine telling customers they’re playing second fiddle in the orchestra. Tempted? Yet, Smith has delivered that speech many times, and he actually enjoys the ride through the various stages of customer reaction. It starts with surprise. Then moves on to head scratching. Curiosity then takes hold, followed by an understanding, and, finally, appreciation for a policy ultimately designed to help the customer. “It’s fun to watch that progression,” Smith said.

The policy is one manifestation of a high-performance, progressive mindset at Franklin Building Supply. Lierz and Smith say the overarching goal is to be a company viewed by its employees as maximum contribution, as opposed to maximum extraction. 

Here’s an example. If an employee walks in a minute late for the 9:00 a.m. start time, and catches grief for it, then that’s a sign of a maximum extraction environment. It might work. It might not. But you can be sure of one thing: “When the minute hand moves from 4:59 to 5 p.m., everyone will be walking out the door,” Smith said. 

 That’s one reason the company converted to an employee stock ownership plan. “We contribute as much as we can to our employees’ lives, their well-being, their happiness, job growth, and, in turn, they contribute everything back,” Lierz said. 

Radical? Maybe not. “It’s a concept that a lot of people understand.”

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Franklin Building Supply's Rick Lierz is incoming chair of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association. Read more here.


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