The market for installed sales may be right in front of you, but the perfect team members for your installed sales department could be harder to find. Matching skill levels with positions, juggling personality types, and maintaining quality workmanship are just a few of the challenges that make recruiting among the things that can ruin an otherwise well-planned department.

"I think one of the biggest challenges has been to try to build a quality workforce," says Bill Huber, general manager of ProBuild's United Building Center's branch in Mandan, N.D. "We've been at this almost 18 years, and it wasn't until the last five that we've been able to attract and keep good, quality people."

Building the right team is a three-step process. Experts advise you to:

  • Determine your staffing requirements
  • Find the right people to fill those jobs
  • Find ways to work with them once they're hired.

Lumberyard managers nationwide generally agree on basic staffing requirements for their installed sales teams. It starts with the installed sales manager or division manager, who schedules the jobs, coordinates the crews, inspects the work, and performs sales and estimates when necessary. The superintendent manages the crew (subcontracted or in-house), supervises the work, and orders materials. Laborers do the installations. And office coordinators administer the activities.
Huber's store exemplifies the typical staffing structure, with about 25 people in its installed sales department. "We have an installed sales manager who's in charge of coordinating all activities of the department," he says. "We use our existing sales to sell installed products, then we go right to the structure of our installers, which would be job foremen and the various workers" on those jobs.

There are variations. Bob Smith, CEO of Universal Windows based in Bradenton, Fla., runs such a big operation–15 installation crews, each with two to six workers–that his company also employs two full-time quality-control inspectors and one field manager.

"The field manager's responsibility is to oversee installation activities, including the quality-control inspections, but his bigger task is to be the liaison between the customer and our company," Smith says. He describes the field, or installation, manager as a problem solver, and says the quality-control manager's reason for being is to go to each job and make sure the installer has done the job according to manufacturers' specifications and building codes.

Dealers vary most on whether to employ full-time installers, hire subcontractors as needed, or use a mix. Rudi Lokkart, general sales manager for Hayward Lumber's operation in San Luis Obispo, Calif., says his installed sales department–which performs new and retrofit window, door and trim, and cabinet installations–uses employees to supply 80% of its installation capacity. Hayward subcontracts the rest.

"This lets us scale without impacting our core crew on all but the largest swings," he says. In addition to an installation manager, Lokkart's department staffs specific trim carpenters, carpenters' assistants, glazers, and assistant glazers.

But sometimes titles are not so well defined, says Don Morris, vice president of installed sales for Carter Lumber Co., headquartered in Kent, Ohio. This is especially true when the department is new.

"Staffing is going to vary," Morris says. "The installed sales manager may be wearing several hats until the volume picks up or he actually needs help. One person needs to multiply himself. You take on jobsite supervisors to make sure it's going the direction it needs to go. You make sure that if there are issues, the issues are headed off before it gets to the point where it could create a problem, before it costs them money."

Fishing for Talent

How should a lumberyard build its team? Opinions follow a common theme: go with people you know.

"Most of the talent in a market circulates through jobs over the years," Lokkart says. "Our installed sales manager has overseen or observed many of the people on jobs that he managed, so he knew who he wanted to hire. Networking is the best way to land them on your team."

Skip Norris, president of the Building Center, headquartered in Pineville, N.C., says his yard looks for people who have cut their chops in their marketplace. "When we search, we won't hire anyone who doesn't already have proven success with other folks," he says.

Other times, the potential employees are under their noses–as customers of their stores. Dave Jones, operations manager of Brookside Lumber Co., Bethel Park, Pa., says the yard finds most of its installed sales workforce through these relationships. "We come across customers who don't want to be in business for themselves," he says. "We've used them as subcontractors, and they decide they want to be employees. Subcontractors are a good way to interview potential laborers."

Norris says he doesn't pluck good workers off competitors' jobsites, but he does keep his eyes open. "If we identify somebody out there we like, we will try to let him know through mutual relationships, or we call him directly," he says. "There are times that, because of our reputation in the marketplace, they approach us."

Huber agrees that ProBuild's best source of labor is people it knows. These are often people who are working and want to be in a company that offers benefits and security. They may have even sold their own businesses to work for an installed sales department.

"It's rare that we have anybody walk in off the street and say, 'I'm a sider and I want to work for you,' " Huber says. "People that you work with and have a relationship with, you want to bring on staff. You know their skills, quality of workmanship, and all the other things that are important to our customers."

Jim Harris, an author and speaker on staffing, says workers themselves are an excellent resource for finding people. "Go fishing where the fish are," says Harris. "Find out where your good people hang out: church, with graduates of their high schools, the softball league. Wherever they hang out, other people just like them will be hanging out, too. Be laserlike in your recruiting by being visible in those places."

Sometimes people do walk in off the street, answer ads on the Internet or in the paper, or make themselves available through temp and job agencies. Yards have used these tools with varying success.

Morris and Smith say they've run ads as sources but felt lukewarm on their results; Smith calls them an expensive and difficult way to find people. Huber says ProBuild uses state and local job agencies when it's in a pinch.

"Sometimes they meet our standards and they stay on board, and sometimes they don't," Huber says. "Quality is paramount, and we have to be sure those people meet our standards."

When the search leads to temp agencies, it's frequently not fruitful.

"If I had to guess, I'd say our success rate is one in 10 people there, whereas if we hire someone we know, we probably keep nine out of 10," Huber says. "You can see how we'd want to keep the people we know, the people we've seen out in the field and know the quality of work they do."

Getting Personal

Quality of work isn't the only determining factor of whether someone is a good match for a company. Personality weighs heavily, not only on the initial placement but also on a worker's success on the job.

Also, the type of personality needed varies with the job. It is generally agreed that the installed sales manager should be an outgoing person, someone who can work well with the crew, the homeowner (in the case of a retrofit) and the general contractor (in the case of new construction), as well as be skilled enough to earn the crew's respect.

"The installed sales manager is the linchpin of any installed sales program," says Mike Butts, president of the consulting company LBM Solutions and a ProSales columnist. "The manager requires a completely different skill set from the rest of the retail lumberyard," including understanding production schedules, labor negotiations, and working with subcontractors.

"For the management end of it, we really look for the people skills and HR skills as foremost skills" in a person, Huber says. "It's helpful if that person grew up in the trades or has worked in the function of installed sales that we do–a person who was an installer but has the skills to manage people."

Smith emphasizes the importance of sales and organizational skills in an installed sales manager. "You have to have strong sales skills because you have to be able to work with all kinds of people," he says. "Organizational skills are very important when it comes to scheduling and coordinating the jobs, especially when we're working with contractors on new homes."

"Framing work requires a different personality from finish carpentry," adds Huber. "That interior guy is a much more detail-oriented individual. The other person might not be nearly as detailed a person and love working outdoors."

Several of the installed sales teams deem personality tests as critical as drug tests. Lokkart describes them as "must have, must do."

"Installed sales require employees that can work with less supervision than those within your retail facility," he says. "Any problems will get magnified before you can address them–all the more reason to screen them out early."

Huber says ProBuild has used personality tests in the past. He considers them beneficial in terms of rating potential employees on attributes such as dependability and people skills.

"It gives you a pretty good idea of the person who's going to be there when you need him," he says. "It seems like there are characteristics that a type of test will bring out about the person that will meet our needs."

Not to worry, Harris says. He considers tests for personality only one tool in the hiring box.

"Personality tests can be very helpful in framing good questions during the interview process," he says. "I would not use a personality test in any way to either accept or reject an application. They give you more information to probe deeper in the interview process."

Norris suggests that it's all moot, anyway, because personality quirks, good and bad, creep into the jobsite regardless of skill or management level.

"People, by nature, are going to create problems," Norris says. "When you're dealing with individuals, you're dealing with all the baggage that comes along with them. ... Managing people is not easy, and that's probably why the builders don't want to do it as much."

–Sarah Humphreys is a writer who is based in both the Los Angeles and Detroit areas.

Top Five Hiring Tips from the Installed Sales Experts

1. Hire people you know, whether they be former workers or those you've seen on competitors' projects.

2. Go where the fish are. Use your good employees as connections to others.

3. Employ drug testing and consider personality tests, but not as a basis to hire.

4. Put people in positions compatible to their personal and communication skills.

5. Hire slowly and fire quickly.