Keith Coleman, co-owner of Coleman's Hamilton Building Supply, occasionally asks his employees why UPS washes its trucks nearly every day. "The answer is it makes them look professional, it makes them look like they have their act together," he says. "Perception is a reality."
And the reality in Hamilton Township, N.J., is that Hamilton Building Supply maintains an ultraclean lumberyard, from its commodities, door, and millwork shops to the property outside the yard that borders rail lines.
Like Coleman, who co-owns the yard with his brothers Kim and Kip, dealers have found that maintaining a neat yard sends a positive image while translating into stronger sales.
Peter Ganahl, president of Ganahl Lumber in Anaheim, Calif., remembers when his business had what he calls "junky yards" in the 1970s. "It drove me nuts," he says. That's no longer the case since ongoing cleanup procedures have been put into place, including a second shift in seven of the dealer's nine yards that pulls bad materials from stacks and recuts them to usable lengths or puts them in a chipper for resale. Ganahl's yards also are paved with concrete, blacktop, or both, cutting down on dust and dirt.
"No. 1, the manager of the yard has to believe that it's profitable to him" to keep the yard clean, Ganahl says. "Once he believes, he'll get his yard foreman and superintendent to believe. If he doesn't believe that it's profitable to him, it's not going to go very far.
"There's an extreme correlation between profits and cleanliness," he adds. And Ganahl should know; his business rang up sales of $291.5 million last year, putting Ganahl Lumber 25th on the ProSales 100.
Maintaining the clean-yard philosophy around Ganahl is not difficult, since each of the dealer's general managers visit one another, injecting a bit of peer pressure and competitiveness into the formula. About 30 years ago, Peter Ganahl had a manager who argued that he could either get loads out on time or run a clean yard, but not do both at the same time. "He couldn't embrace that one goes with the other. It's blocking and tackling, it's the basics," says Ganahl, who believes neatness translates into efficiency. That manager no longer is with the company.
Given the number of customers and sticks that move about a yard on an average day, the cleanliness factor makes sense. Not leaving materials lying around cuts down on the likelihood that someone will get injured by loose materials. "Why leave the same bent board in a stack around if the next 10 pros are going to go through the same lumber and discard the same board on the ground?" Coleman asks.
"I do it because the boss makes me do it," Berlin Myers Jr., 60, says, half jokingly. He's referring to his father who, at 90, continues to come to work every day as president of Berlin G. Myers Lumber Corp. in Summerville, S.C. The elder Myers also has served as the town's mayor since 1972 and was re-elected in May. One reputation Berlin Myers Sr. has held while in office is keeping a clean town. The process has translated to his three-acre yard.
"Everyone has to do it on a regular basis, or we could never keep up," the younger Myers says. "Our expectation is that everyone pitches in and does their part. Hopefully, it's in our corporate culture now." Sticks are stacked properly, wrapping materials are discarded, and large sweepers are used continuously in the paved, yard. In the millwork shop, dust collection systems do their job.
The younger Myers says that the result of all this is that when a builder visits the yard, he recognizes that the company takes pride in its work, and this, in turn, can help the builder sell to his customer.
"You are not going to get materials at the job warped by rain or with dirt and mud all over them," he says. "The customer feels better because he can show his client that he is getting a good product and that he is being taken care of."
Lang Building Supply in Brunswick, Ga., maintains a 3/2;-acre site and is preparing to add three more acres. That relatively small size makes cleanliness important, because the yard has to be used efficiently. Lang has taken a traditional, common-sense route, stationing plenty of trash containers at strategic points in the yard. Debris such as steel banding, strips of stacking wood, and pallets each have a particular area in the yard where they are stored or discarded.
Co-owner and president Hubert Lang, a third-generation owner, says new hires quickly catch on to the neat routine. Lang's brother John, now a vice president and formerly a yard foreman, puts a bit of pressure on personnel as well. "He has taught organization in the yard, and he's pretty adamant about it when he walks around," Lang says.
Dealers with showrooms have another reason to push neatness. "A cleaner environment appeals to women, who are increasingly becoming a bigger influence on sales," Coleman says. Hamilton maintains a full kitchen and bath showroom at its headquarters, and employs a cleaning crew in the evenings.
The crew serves other purposes, too, making sure coffee pots are turned off, cigarettes are not burning, the doors are locked, and Hamilton's computer system gets backed up several times a week. "We figured they're here, so why not show them how to do this, too?" Coleman says.
While Lang and Coleman have not met one another, Lang knows why UPS washes its trucks every day, and embraces the same philosophy: daily washing cuts down on the wear and tear a vehicle might receive from dirt and debris.
"I think the worst PR in the world is running around town with a dirty delivery truck," Lang says.