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Cameron Ashley: Playing to win

After a dynamic 2019, the building products distributor surges in 2020.

BY Andy Carlo

2019 was all business for Cameron Ashley Building Products as the distributor introduced a new identity and rapidly expanded.

Now with a year under its belt as Cameron Ashley — and no longer Guardian Building Products — the Greenville, S.C.-based LBM distributor has its sights set on additional expansion and improvement.

“When we acquired the business (Guardian Building Products), we agreed to change the name. But, even if we were not required to do so, we would have moved quickly to make the change,” Donny DeMarie, CEO and president of Cameron Ashley, told HBSDealer.

DeMarie describes the former Guardian Building Products as “a corporate orphan, from a strategy that had long since run its course.”

Guardian was originally associated with being a manufacturer of fiberglass building insulation but sold its fiberglass plants to Knauf Insulation in 2013. And in 2000, when Guardian purchased Cameron Ashley, the latter was one of the nation’s largest distributors of building products. “The team identified much more closely with Cameron Ashley. Changing our name back to Cameron Ashley was consistent with our strategy and vision. Cameron Ashley was a powerhouse in building products, and we are excited to carry on that legacy,” DeMarie explains.

Fast forward to 2020 and Cameron Ashley is a growth-oriented business focused on taking market share in existing markets, entering new markets through greenfield locations, and pursuing acquisitions. Shortly after it the name change last January, the company acquired Warrior Building Products — a distributor serving the St. Louis market.

“We believe in competing every day and playing to win. Every time we take the field, we expect to win,” DeMarie says, noting that acquisitions add new markets, new product lines, and create leverage in existing markets.

In fact, the motto “Play to Win” can be found emblazoned across a wall at the company’s headquarters.

Cameron Ashley ended 2019 with 35 distribution centers in 20 states and a total storage footprint of over 4.2 million square feet. This includes openings across the country: Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Phoenix, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.

The company says 26 of those centers are strategically located within 150 miles of the 25 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the nation. Cameron Ashley serves about 5,000 customers in the lumber and building materials industry.

New year, new growth

As 2019 brought Cameron Ashley into new markets, including Phoenix and Las Vegas, the distributor is poised for more growth in 2020.

Donny DeMari

“Regarding our plan for 2020, we expect to grow our market share of existing markets, complete several transactions, and expand into new markets and products through greenfield locations and acquisitions,” DeMarie says. “We have spent the last 20 months building a strong deal pipeline, and we are excited for all the 2020 opportunities.”

Last year’s expansion plans allowed the company to expand West and serve new markets, including California, metro Las Vegas, and the greater Phoenix area. DeMarie doesn’t view the moves as driving the company westward. Rather, he views the openings as the company putting a focus on entering the “best new markets.”

“Since we are highly concentrated in the East, there are more opportunities in the West. However, we are looking at all opportunities, and our two most recent locations in Tulsa, Okla. and Harrisburg, Pa. are examples of following the best opportunity regardless of where it is located,” DeMarie explained.

Updating and upgrading its technology to better serve customers while creating strategic differentiation from its competitors is part of the Cameron Ashley package as well.

Cameron Ashley rolled out a new transportation management system in 2019, which assisted the distributor in implementing its new Fast Delivery system. The company says the Fast Delivery system is committed to delivering products to customers either on a same-day or next-day basis.

Scott Siebeneck of Cam Building Supply in Leipsic, Ohio recently ran into an obstacle when the specific shingles he needed were not in stock.

“Cameron Ashely worked within their distribution network to get me the color and type that I needed in the timeframe I needed the product,” Siebeneck says. “This was above and beyond anything I would have expected. They’ve been a great distributor partner for us this year.”

After working throughout 2019 to understand how to create the best online experience possible for its customers, Cameron Ashley will introduce a new ecommerce platform in 2020.

“We have combined significant input from our customers and incorporated best in class design from other industries to create a truly unique distribution experience,” DeMarie says. “Our ecommerce initiative will be more than online ordering, it will be a full customer portal.”

The new portal will allow customers to place orders, check open account balances, and check the status of pending orders. Cameron Ashley also offers its Plus Points loyalty program. During the winter buying season, the Plus Points program has been providing Cameron Ashley’s Customers with an additional incentive to earn even more points, which can then be turned into merchandise, gifts or trips to their Dealer Show.

“At Cameron Ashley, we are using technology to provide you with what you need, when you need it, ordered any way you like while adding to your Plus Point balance,” DeMarie says.

A Customer Experience department has also been put into place, which is designed to give Cameron Ashley’s customers “a seat at the table,” according to DeMarie.

“Traveling to Customers, we have implemented a robust capability to do in-store merchandising. We also assist with aisle resets and refresh. We have developed marketing and display material. We track your success, and we have found our sales have increased north of 35% through enhanced instore merchandising and displays,” DeMarie says. “Our Customer Experience department can schedule product knowledge trainings, fulfill literature requests, and help our customers sell to their customers.”

For DeMarie and the team at Cameron Ashley, the company’s approach to customers compounded with its strategic growth are examples of how the distributor is winning while separating itself from the competition. “We talk internally about ‘the Cameron Ashley Experience’ and how we are disrupting traditional distribution,” DeMarie says.

(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the January 2020 edition of HBSDealer. Since it was published, Cameron Ashley expanded again with last month’s acquisition of J&R Products.)

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