My Start. I grew up about half hour from here, in St. Agatha, and moved here my senior year. I was dating the woman who became my wife even before I moved. My father-in-law asked me to work here. I started at the store in 2002, my first year at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. To be honest with you, I had no experience in the building material field. But I always loved sales. I kept the attitude that if you had the right attitude in proposing something to a customer, that was your key to success.
Vive la Difference. People call us Acadians and we have a lot of French ancestry. We deal with Canadians on a daily basis, accept Canadian money at par and keep it in a till. The younger generation of local Canadians speaks English, the older ones speak French. I have employees here who speak both. Depending on where the exchange rate is, we can get significant amounts of traffic. Their pressure treated is a totally different piece. It's more dipped there than treated through and through. So they know the product they can get in the U.S. is much better.
Our Territory. Fort Kent has about 4,000 people. Our trading area covers about a 30-mile radius–10,000 people. Logging is big in the surrounding area, and farming is slowing down. We're known for our winters and have taken advantage of them. We're a main training area for the biathlon and are hosting a World Cup event in 2011. We have a world-class training facility. A couple of people who were at the Olympics have made Fort Kent their home. We also have Canadian-American dogsled races in March. It's a qualifying race for the Iditarod. Fort Kent is a bit more diverse than the surrounding area because we have a hospital and the university.
Changing Customers. Our carpenters do everything from drywall to finish work to framing. Then you've got people who work in the woods and are good at carpentry and everything else. The do-it-yourselfers have come out a lot more in the past five years. The TLC [cable networks devoted to homes] and garden shows have changed the way people do business. They used to buy what you had on the shelf. Now they say, "I saw this on TV or the Internet; can you get it for us?" We've tried to expand our offering to get anything we're looking for. It's not always the things a hardware store normally would have. I've gotten everything from powered wheelchairs. We've bought golf clubs for people.
End of the Supply Chain. We're not an easy location. I can get to Montreal in the same amount of time that I get to Boston. With some distributors, they ask "Who's your sales rep?" We say, "We don't have one." A lot of my sales reps might not even be located in the state of Maine. Usually, for whatever group that asks me to join, I ask if I can attend via the Internet. There's a lot of logging here, but it's sad to say that people in Atlanta are paying less for pressure-treated lumber than we are.
The Building Season. It's different depending on what you get for a winter. This year it was mild so it started in early March. We can still see snow as late as May. You get snow as early as October. But people will typically build straight into November. If you don't have the basement in, you can't move on.
Trial by (All But) Fire. The first year I took over as manager we had a 200-inch snowfall that winter, a flood in the spring and then a microburst like an upside-down tornado. It was a good way to break myself in. Having never run the store before, the first thing I was looking at was sales. With everything we went through that first year, our sales went up about 20%. We had profited from some of the damages. This past year we recorded another 21%. Last year we did $4.7 million, and this year we're up by another 20%. I don't think it's going to drag out the whole year. Because of the light snow this past winter we were able to jump ahead of schedule.
My Yardsticks. Sales are still something I can track, but expenses are what the difficult part is now. We were forced to do some things in the past few years that were high-cost: We remodeled the building and upgraded some stuff. And you have a forklift break down, stuff like that. I've been forced to crunch numbers in a different way and still increase margin.
Visual Aids. We aren't always the lowest-price place, but we can provide a service that nobody else can match. We greet every single person when they walk in the door. We keep our shelf height at a 4-feet level–you can't hide behind the shelves. We get a lot of vendors and they can't believe how neat and well-kept the store is. But we still have a high product selection–20,000 SKUs.
Parental Influence. My father was a self-employed auto parts salesman. He taught me that if you have right attitude and give yourself to people, you're going to get business in return. I was a telemarketer in high school and did extremely well at it. But the sales tactics I learned through the years I pulled from a lot of people.
Life as a Manager. My role has changed a lot. I used to deal with people walking in the door. Now it's people sitting behind a desk. My mother-in-law retained ownership and works a few days a week. She and I speak more than most people think. We discuss a lot of things, but a lot of decisions are made together.
Take Your Shots When You Can. I love to golf. Usually it starts in late May or early June here and shuts down by late September.