Van Isley can promise four-hour fill-in orders, 48-hour credit returns, and that your phone call will be answered by the second ring.
For a business that decided to go head-to-head with a then-growing Stock Building Supply in its own backyard, Isley’s nine-year-old Professional Builders Supply (PBS) is proving the model for pre-recession LBM startups whose flat management bred the agility needed to sustain operations and grow despite the market’s crash. For PBS, that meant more than doubling sales and locations since 2009.
Professional Builders' Supply
Sales Growth: 49% | 2012 Total Sales: $76 million | 2012 Sales per Location: $25.3 million | 2012 Sales per Employee: $649,573
“Our philosophy was to have more horsepower on our team, personnel-wise, than what the business needed anywhere along the way,” Isley says. “We’ve seen situations where you go get the business, then you figure out how to take care of it. We didn’t run our business that way. We got a structure in place to take care of the customer first so when we got the business we could hang onto it and service it in a way that it needed to be serviced.”
The recession put a slight damper on PBS’s growth. Sales dropped 7% and 16% in 2008 and 2009, respectively. And it cut about 15 employees. Isley and his founding team of former Stock and Carolina Builders associates had planned to grow the business by adding more locations but hunkered down when the market turned.
An unlikely break came in 2009. Stock closed its yard in Wilmington, N.C., and, Isley says, PBS “doubled down the bet” and bought the location. “We went in the same day they announced the closing and struck a deal with the sales team to keep them intact,” he says. “On a Friday afternoon they took the Stock sign down and on Monday we had our sign up and were off and running.”
PBS has been building on that momentum since. In the summer of 2012, PBS opened its third location, a greenfield site in Charlotte, N.C., and in early 2013 entered the Wake Forest, N.C., market.
The key to growing without cramping the flexibility that fewer locations provides is to let branches run autonomously, Isley says. Each leadership team knows it can adjust operations within the parameters of the company’s culture. That freedom extends from tweaking the branch’s customer commitment statement (in which PBS promises its fill-in orders, credit returns, and phone service) to choosing its vendors.
“If there are opportunities to leverage the three markets together, we capitalize on that,” Isley says. “But that doesn’t dictate the decisions those guys make.”