Supplying materials, and Happiness

Drexel Building Supply is the 2018 ProDealer of the Year.

BY Andy Carlo

Happiness — if you scouted dozens upon dozens of pro dealers across the country, it’s not likely that you would find that word in a company’s slogan or branding efforts.

Professionalism? Okay. Quality? Sure. But “Happiness?” You don’t see that one very often among dealers.

But at Drexel Building Supply in Campbellsport, Wis., “Supply. Happiness” is a big part of the equation. It’s a prolific chunk of the company’s culture. And you can’t supply happiness to your customers in the wide world of lumber and building materials if good vibes aren’t being generated internally.

Drexel Building Supply is among a new generation of pro dealers who maintain a strong focus on company culture. Quality service, materials, and expertise start from the inside. And if the inside of the company isn’t happy, it’s only a matter of time before feelings bubble to the surface and are shared with customers.

A focus on its “team,” the company’s “Supply. Happiness” mission statement, growth, and embracing technology are pieces of the formula that have lead Drexel Building Supply to being selected as the 2018 Pro Dealer of the Year.

Drexel has approximately $170 million in annual revenue “and growing,” says Julie Korth, the company’s chief financial officer. Nearly 98% of the company’s sales are to professional contractors, remodelers, and builders. Korth believes a tree that isn’t growing is dying. “Growth keeps us just uncomfortable enough to continue changing and growing. However, we always want to grow with our clients and team members already on the team. Bigger isn’t better. Better is better.”

On May 1 of this year, Drexel officially opened its 7th and latest location in Columbus, Wis. The location features a 14,000 square-foot store and lumberyard along with a design center for cabinetry, countertops, and additional home design services.

“We don’t want to take over the country with locations — that is not our plan, however we are always actively looking to grow,” explains Andy Rettler, chief operating officer, and “defensive coordinator,” as stated on Drexel’s website.

“How we do a better job taking care of each contractor and each team mate,” is part of the plan, however. “If our team cares more, we know expansion will organically happen,” Rettler says.

It’s important to note that Drexel does not have any employees on its staff. Rather, the company has more than 300 “team” members, including 34 in the outside sales department. The dealer calls itself Team Blue, in reference to its branding and logo color. It’s a team- centric approach that also continues to move the company forward.

At Drexel, the company has a strong belief in servant leadership. The pyramid chart of leadership has essentially been thrown out the door.

“It’s more like circles of work,” says Caitlin Stoll — Drexel human resource leader, or as her business card says, Leader of the Happy People Department. “Our job is to love, serve, and care. Follow the Golden Rule, live in the core values of our company,
and lead by our mission: Supply. Happiness.”

Team Blue’s goals are completed with a continuous commitment to 1% improvement. “We try to empower our team to think change and believe in change is good,” Rettler notes. The team also operates around 10 core values: Ethics, Respect, Balance, Winning Attitude, Communication, Development, Team Work, Change, Have Fun, and Accountability.

The goals have been transformed into a mindset of running Drexel as a world class company with its people, or team, providing the purpose, drive, and uniqueness of the company.

The T-shirt reads: “Drexel. Supply Happiness.”

But it’s not all about work: part of the company’s culture, and an actual program at Drexel, is “Focus on Family.” Each year, full-time employees are given $100 to create a memory with their family. Whether it’s a dinner together, a camping trip, attending a sporting event, or a trip to the beach, the one stipulation is the $100 is spent on a family activity.

A page on Drexel’s site features a photo album of various team members on their actual Focus on Family event and excursions.

Having fun is part of happiness and another piece of the Drexel equation. The dealer believes that it helping to furnish a project of a lifetime for its end- user customers. And the project does not necessarily have to be painful or filled with stress.

“If we can make it fun, then they will remember us, remember the project, and recommend us to others,” Stoll says. “And it should be fun.”

Growing in Campbellsport

Founded on April 1, 1985, as Campbellsport Building Supply, what is now Drexel Building Supply was once the Brittingham & Hixon Lumberyard. Joel’s father Albert Fleischmann — a veteran of the pole building industry — pursued his dream of owning his own business. When Brittingham & Hixon closed its doors after 75 years, during a building recession, Albert purchased the business.

Through the site’s 100-plus year history, the same location has been home to a lumberyard under 4 different owners.

Joel joined the team in 1996 and — despite earning a college degree — he started his career at the bottom making $1 per hour stocking nails. But he rose through the ranks as the company expanded through 3 acquisitions over the next 13 years. Eventually, Joel stocked enough nails and became the sole owner of what was then a 4-unit pro dealer. He soon rebranded the company as Drexel Building Supply.

The name Drexel has deep roots in southeast Wisconsin. The third acquisition made by the company was Drexel Incorporated — a
flooring showroom that had been in business for more than 40 years in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield. The purchase provided the dealer with an avenue to expand its market share in Milwaukee.

Drexel went on to make 3 more acquisitions in 2014 before opening its latest store this year.

In recent years the company has paid more attention to its team and customers. By becoming a better listener, providing greater care, and protecting its culture, Drexel has been able to grow.

Although Drexel has witnessed some of its contractor customers being impacted by the nationwide labor shortage, attracting people to the industry and joining the dealer has not been an issue. The present team at Drexel acts as an excellent recruiter of new team members. Team Blue grows itself.

“Most people’s best days at work are when they have fun. Quoting, ordering, shipping, and servicing are not super glamorous. But can we make it fun?,” Rettler asks.

“It’s a game changer if we can.”


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