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Meek’s earns Pro Dealer of the Year award

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Meek’s Lumber has a lot going on this year — growing, transitioning, remodeling and competing with some of the best retailers on the planet. Now it’s adding another task: accepting the 2014 Pro Dealer of the Year Award.

That last activity came naturally to the lumberyard and home center operator, which has a unique business model and an intense focus on the customer.

“We value the working relationship with our pro customers much more so than our competitors,” said Carrie Meek, president of the company’s western division. “We strive to understand them personally and professionally so that we can provide them a better value proposition with all the building products they need for every project.”

No other company in America is structured quite like Meek’s Lumber. It’s a family business that ranks 27th on the HCN Pro Dealer Scoreboard. The company operates one division out of Springfield, Missouri, and another division based in Sacramento, California. And the company is so confident that it can appeal to the tradesman, the remodeler and the “shoulder-trade” professional, that it has its own name for this class of customer — the “Meek’s Pro.” The pro dealer showers this target audience with attention through its M-PRO Advantage program.

The company’s success is found in its numbers. Sales in 2013 hit $250 million, up slightly more than 10% from the previous year. And the company’s commitment to improvement can be seen in an aggressive store-renovations program.

The company finds a balance between serving the pro customer and the walk-in DIYer. Both divisions are finding a key growth segment in the M-PRO. “While they don’t build a home from foundation-to-finish, they do buy many of the same products as home builders, and they expect the same level of service,” Carrie Meek said.

 

A unique story

The story of Meek’s dual regional approach dates back to 1951, when Charles C. Meek Jr. explored Northern California in search of lumber sources for his yards back in Missouri. His numerous excursions out West led to the acquisition of several lumberyards that eventually formed the Western division.

The decision to go West was one big decision for the company. And it paid off, leading the company’s growth in the second half of the 20th century. Another key move was to stay put firmly in the retail space.

“With the majority of our business coming from professionals, it would have been easy to drop our emphasis on retail advertising, retail promotions, vendor co-op campaigns and store remodels,” said Charlie Meek, general manager of the Midwest operation. “But maintaining our retail focus keeps us relevant in the eyes of all of our customers and keeps our product mix sharp.”

The retail stake has served to deepen the company’s product mix and find success in categories that typical pro dealers don’t carry, he said.

Another Meek’s Lumber differentiator is the development and maintenance of its internal distribution infrastructure. A handful of central warehouses serve each location. “This allows us to be self-sufficient in several key lumber and building product categories and gives our retail locations quick access to those same materials,” he said.

 

An eye on future growth

Interviews with company executives reveal two divisions that are experiencing “healthy” growth in all aspects. Home construction and remodeling numbers are on a steady climb from the valleys of five years ago. But more than that, the company’s advertising efforts, including its online reach and the positive influence of HGTV backed by a steadily improving economy, have Meek’s Lumber anticipating a period of sustained growth.

Home decor is rising to the top of the list of growth categories, as cabinets, lighting, plumbing fixtures and wood flooring pick up steam. All of these areas are benefiting from the Meek’s BuildersPLUS Rewards program in the Midwest. The company operates a similar program called Core Rebate in the Western division.

“A good example of this is our reintroduction into the cabinet business,” Charlie Meek said. “Cabinets faded into the background during the building boom of the early 2000s, along with other home decor products. We’ve partnered with some great manufacturers in recent years and made cabinets a part of our builder and retail initiatives with great results.”

Meanwhile, the company is pushing hard on its M-PRO program, providing discounts, receipt-free returns and dedicated salespeople inside the stores to serve the shoulder trades.

 

The challenges

As much as Meek’s Lumber anticipates growth, it is also well aware of the challenges facing retail and distribution. One challenge is online. As both divisions currently offer the buy-online, pick-up-in-store service for customers through Do it Best’s “World’s largest hardware store” program, the question Meek’s and most industry leaders in building supply distribution are asking is, “How do you remain pertinent online?”

Meek’s is also going after what it describes as the “next generation of homeowners” — those who grew up shopping at big-box retailers. It knows it has to out-service the national chains, and it will not concede the price battle. “Meeks will continue to evaluate and rate new value propositions,” said Charlie Meek.

It’s a strategy that’s worked well for more than 95 years.

 

MEEK’S

2014 Pro Dealer of the Year

Slogan: “The Builder’s Choice”

Locations: 46

Headquarters: Sacramento, California, and Springfield, Missouri

2013 sales: $253.4 million, up 10.1%

Color commentary: “We value the working relationship with our pro customers much more so than our competitors,” said Carrie Meek, president, Western division.

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