Just over two years ago, Chris Costello left his position as vice president of a Gloucester, Mass., building material dealer and purchased Timberline Enterprises, a small lumberyard nearby that was flying under the radar. According to Costello, the best job in the world is being the vice president because you can always say "if I were president" or "if this were my company, this I what I would do" without actually making any hard decisions. But Costello decided to take charge and test his mettle.
The Market We are in a blue-chip market, affected by where the Dow is, not where unemployment is. Customers in our breadbasket are building the $750,000 to $4 million homes. It's not a huge starter market; it's a lot of teardown and rebuild and waterfront homes. Customers are working in the Boston financial markets. The remodeling aspect is really unique: Homes are 250 years old.
Measuring Success We are a sales-focused company. And when I say we are a sales-focused company, our No. 1 focus is pro sales and our No. 2 focus is pro sales. In a sales-focused company, you figure how you relate to sales or you get out. Sales per employee is the best indication of how well we're doing, how well we're staying focused.
Employee Success You've got to look at employee success as an intangible. You would be really surprised by how dissatisfied the average employee is in the workforce right now. They're waiting for the next round of layoffs, they're waiting for the next round of pay cuts, or forced flex time. It's a tough time to be an employee right now. There is a lot of tension out there.
My Problem I took a company that was struggling and doubled its sales in the first year. Then we had a 32% increase in sales from 2008 to 2009. I don't have enough men, I don't have enough equipment. I'm understaffed, if anything.
Growth Confines Growth is a huge challenge because of the way the market is set up right now. There isn't money available for investment. Lending is tight. If we anticipated the needs of the market based on the amount of quoting we are doing right now, we'd be looking at a record year. [But] it's very difficult to anticipate the percentage of those quotes that will be turning into real jobs, and when.
A Unique Breed One of my challenges is finding other yards I can relate to. As far as I can tell, if you put all the first-generation lumber companies together–guys like me who bought a lumber company in the past 10 years and didn't inherit the company or join the company through a merger or acquisition–if you took the United States and put all of us in the same room, my guess is we couldn't field a basketball team.