The Top 200: About that high-tech stuff
Our July/August double feature included our annual Top 200 Pro Dealer Industry Scoreboard and an analysis regarding the current State of the Lumberyard. Here's a closer look at one excerpt.
Back in 2014, HBSDealer attempted to look into the future. In a feature story called “The Lumberyard of the Future,” we took a stab at describing the lumberyard of 2025, a place that, according to our imagination, was powered by alternative energy and inventory forecasting software, as well as interactive virtual-reality machines and materials-handling robots.
Of course, these were educated guesses stemming from observable trends in technology and dealer/builder relationships.
But what about the lumberyard of today? In a way, the future is already here, especially when evaluated according to the standards of Grandma and Grandpa’s heyday.
For one, the days of solely selling house packs or lumber packages are long gone. The modern lumberyard has bridged some of the gap between lumber dealer and hardware store to offer a wider variety of building materials and home improvement items.
Gone, too, are the days of “dump and run.” High-touch service has become a major differentiating point for pro dealers, who have taken on the additional roles of design consultant and project manager.
Moreover (and most obviously), technology has touched this gun-shy industry in many of the same ways that it has touched the rest of the world. Many lumberyards are going paperless, employing interactive touchscreen design centers and using forecasting software to manage their inventory.
Okay, but what about the high-tech stuff?
Ever slow to adapt, the LBM industry is now undeniably living in the present (or something like that).
Whether it’s the transactional front end, ERP back end, or iPads in droves, technology advances have paved the way for many productivity gains.
“The LBM industry was behind the curve from the standpoint of technology: how to barcode, how to track inventory, to the use of GPS to understand where trucks were in their delivery runs,” said Lou Rossi, managing partner at Principia.
Now, it’s altogether fairly common to have built-in technology to help with order management, check order status, create reorder lists, pay invoices, view account history, and more.
Of course, some degree of personal intimacy has also been compromised for the sake of efficiency – depending on who you ask.
“When I first got into the industry, everything was handwritten (including carbon copy invoices),” said Zeeland Lumber & Supply's VP business development Mark Vanden Bosch. “The person who was writing up the order would go to the yard and actually pull the material for the client. You had customers that would spend half an hour just having coffee with you. Today, most customers just want to have their material shipped. We still have an element of customer pickup, and they’re texting, emailing and calling their orders in.”
From Rossi’s point of view, there’s still plenty of value in having a physical location where customers can come and see the product.
“While more efficient inventory is the direction everyone is aiming for, online transactions are increasing, but that’s not the order of the day,” he said. “It’s a business that, I think by nature, is one where the customer, builder, contractor and sometimes DIY customer wants to be in the yard; they want to ask questions; they want to be able to see the product.”
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