What do you do when your margins are well below 20% and nothing you have tried has made a bit of difference?

A little outside advice could help.

For most family-owned lumberyards, an outsider’s perspective is exactly what’s in short supply. Their boards are most often made up of family members or even just the owners.

That’s the situation at San Marcos, Texas-based McCoy’s Building Supply. The board is all family members, plus the dealer’s longest-tenured employee, who’s been working there 43 years and is a friend of the family.

“We have an annual board meeting. It’s about 15 minutes long,” says Meagan McCoy Jones, vice president, field support.

Independents like to play things close to the vest, and sharing private information with anyone outside the company—or even a short list of family members—is just not in the cards.

“We are a private company and very private people,” says Jones. “We don’t really share a lot of private information.”

While dealers may bring in an accountant to look over the books or an IT specialist to set up a new computer system or provide training, few bring in outsiders to give advice on management and operations. “But they should,” says Jim Enter, an LBM industry consultant. “Most don’t have anyone to talk to. Roundtables are a great option; that’s the source I’d pick to start.”

Roundtables are facilitated meetings, typically set up by regional associations or industry consultants, many of whom have spent long years working in the LBM industry. Participating dealers are ideally non-competitors, and the group usually meets once or twice a year for a day-and-a-half-long session, says Jon Davis, an industry consultant in Hutchinson, Kan. They discuss management, operations, and leadership issues.

“There are things my courses at N.C. State couldn’t teach me, and my accountant couldn’t teach me, but the roundtable did,” says Leonard Safrit, president of Safrit’s Building Supply in Beaufort, N.C. He’s been a member of the Southern Building Material Association’s roundtable No. 1 for more than 20 years. He considers the advice and help he has received from other group members invaluable.

“As an independent, I think it would make it much, much harder on us if we didn’t have this outlet. If you can avoid a problem because someone who’s been down that road can help you, why not?” Safrit says.

Jones at McCoy’s sees the benefits of a roundtable but says: “I don’t know if my appetite for that is really strong right now. I am realizing how really pressed for time I am—all the time. If I had a specific question about something, I would call different Texas dealers [for advice].”

Bill Tucker, former president of the Florida Building Material Association and now an industry consultant, has a long history of running roundtables.

Without outside help, he says, “you become very insular, and you can convince yourself everything you do is right. You need the person who asks the question, ‘Why?’”