River City Building Supply may be the new kid on a block of specialty suppliers run by the likes of White Cap Construction, but so far it’s managing to hold its own. River City was able to emerge from the downturn ready to expand in part due to a push by management to seek out new sales verticals when its Northern California housing market foundered. The Sacramento-based supplier entered Livermore, Calif., in 2011 and San Jose, Calif., in 2012.

River City Building Supply
Sales Growth: 126% | 2012 Total Sales: $24 million | 2012 Sales per Location: $8 million | 2012 Sales per Employee: $461,538

Before the crash, River City did most of its business selling connectors and wraps to residential and multifamily framing and concrete contractors. During the downturn it began selling products such as ADA warning surfaces, trench drains, geo fabrics, and specialty concrete coatings to multifamily and commercial builders and developers. A budding residential construction market in the San Francisco metro area is helping to balance out that recessionary sales shift, with the net result being profitability across a more diversified firm.

The challenge, says president Vinnie Villano, was teaching employees how to sell new products to new customers. “They had to learn who the players were and where the price points where,” he says.

Still, adds Scott Cowell, vice president of sales, River City isn’t afraid to take a chance on new talent. “We hire for character and personality and we can train them to do everything else,” Cowell says. “We like the idea of developing our own—home grown, in a sense.”

How? “It’s a coaching process,” Cowell says. “You have to inspire them. You have to show them. You have to work side by side with them to let them know you’re learning just as much as they are.”