Among the many findings of Qualified Remodeler’s exclusive research on what remodelers want in supplier relationships, a key one seems to be that suppliers and LBM dealers in particular get sorted into two groups – those who know how to work with remodelers and those who do not. Open-ended responses from remodelers in the research show that some remodelers tend to be raving fans of their LBM dealers, because as one remodeler put it “they get it.” 

Dozens of local and regional LBM dealers were specified by our readers as ‘getting it,’ so we selected four to profile – Kimal Lumber and Hardware, Nokomis, Fla., Scherer Bros. Lumber Co., Brooklyn Park, Minn., Ridgefield Building Supply, Ridgefield, Conn., and Riverhead Building Supply, Calverton, NY. The purpose is to give you a sense of what to ask for in your supplier relationship, if you are not already getting it.

The ‘Right Partners’

Chief executive Al Bavry has been in the building materials distribution business going back to the 70s when he was a manager with the Wickes Lumber organization. In 1983, when Bavry and a business partner founded Kimal Lumber in Nokomis, Fla. the focus was always on small builders and remodelers, but did not necessarily cater to it. 

That began to change 10 years ago when there were signs that a new construction bubble in southwest Florida and elsewhere would burst. When it did in 2008, the company began courting remodelers “in a pretty aggressive way” says Bavry. “And I would have to say that over the past five and a half years, they have really saved us.”

Bavry saw that even though the local new-construction market had dropped 90 percent, because he saw that repair and remodeling was driving a steady base of activity in nearby Sarasota, Fla. As a result the company last year built a new location there built around the remodeler. They key feature is a 28,000 square foot, fully covered ‘drive thru’ where remodelers can load their trucks with a wide variety of inventory that is typically in stock. In some cases, they don’t even have to leave their trucks. The drive-thru is configured in a U-shape, facilitating more proximity to many product categories. 

Depth and quality of inventory was key. The company stocks big on Western Red Cedar for siding, fascia, trim etc., where in addition to standard sizes it also stocks 12-ft. boards. Kimal also stocks up quality items like Goodwin Heart Pine and Gorman Spruce for interior shelving as well as high-grade brands of milled Cypress. These are not low-margin items, but as our research shows, service and quality of products often rank higher in importance than price.

Over the past 12 months the company has brought through mini-tours of the facility with groups of 18 to 20 remodelers asking them how they can make their jobs easier. The result was the installation of a commercial grade icemaker so that remodelers can pick up free 20 lb. bags of ice to fill their coolers. Kimal quickly expanded its drive-thru check-in office to enable it to carry more smaller items like collated nails and caulk, which can then be added to the same order.

“When they are driving in there in the morning, they are going to a jobsite for for three days or longer and they need material now, not next week,” says Bavry. “If they are looking for 180 10-foot Cypress boards, we will likely have them, and we will get them on your truck or trailer.”

Kimal’s focus on the remodeler, however, does not begin and end with the Sarasota drive thru. At its location in more remote Englewood, Fla., the company operates a more traditional yard where a culture of tight collaboration with its clients has grown organically. There it is not unusual to see a contractor noisily sorting through a hundred boards to get the 25 he or she wants. This freedom of self service normally would create an unsellable mess, but the local manager there has “trained” its clients they must neatly re-stack any wood they don’t intend to buy.

“At the end of the day, we are focused on the people who brought us to the party,” says Bavry, “remodelers, custom builders and handymen who are the right partner for us.”

Scherer Bros. Lumber – Committed to ?Remodelers

A common theme among LBM dealers who’ve cultivated strong businesses serving remodelers, is the need to a dedicated set of sales people focused on remodeling. 

“We dedicated sales people to remodelers because a new-construction sales person, although very knowledgeable about the building process, is not necessarily equipped with the set of skills required to service remodelers,” says Mark Scherer, chief operating officer of Scherer Brothers Lumber, which has served the Twin Cities region and Western Wisconsin since 1930. “Our remodeler representatives are out doing walkthroughs with remodelers on a pre-construction basis. They are out there measuring windows, and they are answering e-mails from double-duty remodelers who e-mail questions at 9 p.m. New construction guys, on the other hand, often simply get handed a set of plans.”

According to Scherer, the company has been actively developing relationships with remodelers since the mid 90s when it began focusing on education as a key to getting closer to remodelers. At one point they were paying for its clients to join the local NARI chapter as a means to help them get educated. In recent years it has meant conducting a in-person educational seminars that help contractors meet local licensing requirements. The company recently trained 410 contractors during a two-day period.  

Another leg of the company’s commitment to remodelers manifests itself in the special equipment it takes to bring building materials in more densely built areas. While it is common for distributors to have piggyback vehicles, all of Scherer Bros. piggybacks are able to move four ways. This enables the firm to deliver trusses and other cumbersome supplies down alleyways and into rear years, if that is what is required. The cost is about $20,000 more per unit, says Scherer, “but it is the right piece of equipment for us to have.”

About one-third of Scherer Bros. business comes from remodelers. The rest is divided between residential new construction, commercial building, and retail sales. Not being dependent on any single segment – each with different returns on investment – allows the company to service remodelers in such a focused manner, say Scherer, particularly in allowing for the needed inventories required by remodelers. For example, it increases the volume of specialty items sold like custom molding, louvers and brackets, says Scherer.

Technology is another area where remodeler tend to lead the way says Scherer. They are early adopters of new tech tools, like smart-phone apps etc. And while the company does not yet have an app, it does offer e-commerce for billing purposes as well as the ability track product shipments like you would with UPS and Fedex. 

One final piece of the company’s relationship with remodelers (as well as builders) is a regional airline-style loyalty points program called Builders Club North. In the old days, the company would set aside funds to take its biggest customers on boondoggle vacations – at great expense – and with volume as the standard, remodeler would usually not make the cut. But under the Builders Club North, remodelers and builders are both earning points toward trips to far-flung destinations and other items. “Last year we went to Greece for nine days and a lot of remodelers were on that trip,” says Scherer. “And when you talk about building relationships and customer loyalty, I look at something like that as being extremely valuable.”

Ridgefield Building Supply: Knowledgeable People and a Quality Offering

Like hundreds of traditional LBM dealers in towns throughout the country, Ridgefield Building Supply occupies a space in the center of town, where it has operated continuously for decades.  To be precise, Ridgefield has occupied the same five-acre parcel in the center of Ridgefield, Conn. since 1883.

Margaret Price, who took over as CEO of the company, when her father passed away one year ago, is now embarked on a massive building project, replacing every building on the property and renovating an old train station building that is also on the site. They are about halfway through the project, which, when completed will put all of the company’s inventory under roof. 

The company, whose clients are primarily custom builders and remodelers, would have liked to have created a drive-thru similar to what Bavry did with Kimal Lumber in Sarasota, but local codes would not permit it. But having the products under roof is a big step in the right direction says Price, because so much of the new product on the market today needs to stay out of the weather before it is properly installed. This commitment to stocking new and innovative building products is a big part of the value proposition it offers its remodeler clients. 

“All of our product will be under roof,” says Price, who is among the fifth generation to run the firm from the time it was acquired by her family in 1933, “all of our framing, all of our plywood. And if you consider the ever-changing universe of building products, more product needs to go under cover.” 

Price gave the example of Huber Engineered Woods R-rated Zip Panel as a product that requires being out of the weather prior to installation. “I am a big fan of [Huber’s],” notes price. “So we make it a point to showcase some products that they may not be comfortable with yet.”

Remodelers tend to be walk-in customers and Ridgefield’s counter staff as well as their 11 road salesmen are trained to understand remodelers an to know that they may require more effort per dollar of goods sold. They are trained to  ask the right questions. They know to remodelers to have dialogue with the company’s estimating department etc, if they wish. 

In addition, the team is trained to know how to properly interact with a remodeler’s client. Discussions with client’s customers never involve pricing. In addition, Ridgefield is often willing to open a line of credit with a homeowner in order to offload some of the cash burden of being a remodeler.

Ridgefield is also building a 10,000 square foot showroom to further its product-education strategy. The building will also house workspaces for remodelers and their clients to work with the Ridgefield team.

“I am in scary tin box right now,” Says Price of the company’s current showroom and office. “Our goal is to make our clients and homeowners feel comfortable enough to walk down the street and want to come into our store.”

Supporting Inventory in All Segments of Remodeling

Long Island-based Riverhead Building Supply is a large and diversified LBM dealer firm that prides itself on a very wide array of building products “from the sill plate to the roof cap,” says Greg Goodale, director of purchasing for the closely held family run business. 

He is part of the third generation to run the company, which was founded in 1948 by his grandfather and uncle. Presently the company operates nine locations on Long Island and two in Rhode Island, where the company also manufactures its own wide-plank flooring, custom moldings and custom surrounds.

The company tends to serve all segments of remodeling including specialty or single-line remodelers, who focus on windows, roofing and siding products among others. At the same time, full service and design-build remodelers can expect to get purchase premium building products through Riverhead.

“Our commitment is to inventory,” Goodale says. “We stock a large amount of inventory and different types of inventory – from I-joists to premium specialty lumber. That is our biggest selling point for remodelers. We are catering our inventory to the products that people want. Right now we are stocking pre-finished Andersen Windows. We have taken a position in new types of PVC siding. And a few years back we made a commitment to ultra-light gypsum and now that is all we stock.”

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