One of the sharpest lumberyard managers I ever met was a man in California's Central Valley who told me the only way to succeed in LBM is to grow up in the business. Our trade is too different to think that anyone schooled outside of construction supply could prosper within it, he declared.
Later, a dealer in Alabama recommended to me that when hiring a manager, pick the fellow who grew up in town and played high school sports with the boys who now are the lumberyard's customers. You can't win without those local connections, he stated.
This month's issue questions both those assumptions. Our cover story details how Jane Fesler turned around a Lamperts yard in Minneapolis in less than a year, even though she had never worked in LBM before. Meanwhile, John Caulfield's examination of one-steppers and specialty construction supply firms suggests the differences between traditional full-service LBM operations and those other companies may be more imaginary than real.
But there's a difference between big-city and small-town lumberyards, you might argue. I'm not so sure. No community in this country is static; populations and workforces evolve in every market. And even if we went to the same high school, we might not have hung around with the football team.
This issue matters because we're entering a period in which you likely will be getting busier, adding services, and rebuilding staffs. As you start seeking help, don't restrict your search to the folks you had laid off or people who have been dropped by other lumberyards. Instead, follow the adage that you should Hire for Attitude, Then Train for Skill. Think back to all of your business encounters over the past few weeks. Which employees did you encounter at the department store or FedEx truck who most impressed you? There's a young Middle Eastern woman at my local Dunkin' Donuts who runs rings around her male managers. Too bad the bosses haven't noticed her operational and sales skills.
Think, too, about those factors that keep you from spotting hidden gems in the hiring pool. Steve Patterson of Central Valley Builders Supply in California's Napa Valley routinely interviews Hispanic job candidates in Spanish. He's found that some folks who might not appear too impressive when speaking in English turn out to be top-notch prospects when they can express themselves in their native language. As their English skills improve, so does their previously unseen value.
This idea of expanding the family circle extends to our political and association life, too. One-steppers and specialty dealers operate in the same frustrating regulatory environment as you. They also face the same problems as you do in getting politicians to listen; there are too few companies with too little time to do the tedious but necessary legwork that comprises a big part of lobbying today.
Why not combine forces? After all, they're people like us.