Several readers commented on a story in the June 14 edition of our ProSales Business Update e-newsletter regarding whether gate guards are a good idea. Here are excerpts from the letters. To read them in full, visit editor Craig Webb's new blog at www.prosalesonline.com.
We also have our employees load our customers, but we do have a "Check Station" where all vehicles leave our facility. This station checks all loads to be sure that the customer was loaded with the correct product. We also have this station check all the loads that leave on our own delivery vehicles, again to be sure the correct product is on that truck. This saves us the possibility of having to return to a jobsite if the incorrect product was loaded. ... We sell our customers on the fact that the Check Station is to make sure our customers are indeed getting what they are supposed to get, instead of finding out when they get home or to the job that our customer loaders loaded the wrong product.
–Wallace D. Bork, General Manager
Knecht Home Center, Rapid City, S.D.
Gate guards will always be viewed with some degree of negativity, but this can be turned into a positive if explained carefully or if the customer sees the benefit at the gate. What I'm referring to is the customer that gets charged for 10 but only got one. Our gate guard is there to monitor the movement of materials. Since I process all of the corrections, my guess is about 40% is in the customer's favor. The other issue is customer-to-yard-help ratio: Yeah, it would be great to help each and every one of your customers, but we average 550 to 600 transactions a day. I vote for a gate guard!
–Mark Mei, Operations Manager
Hayward Lumber, Monterey, Calif.
I have been in the retail lumber business for over 30 years, and at all the lumberyards that I have managed, we always had a gate guard and also loaded our customers. The gate guard was not to be a negative person but was to be the greeter when the customers came through the gate, the person that our customers would ask to find the products needed, and–yes–the person who would check the "checker" or yard person to make sure everyone got exactly what they bought.
–Mike Schwindt, Builder Sales Representative
Hope Lumber and Supply, Dallas
We have always had gate guards at our locations. Many of our customers prefer to load their own material. They are usually in a rush to get in and out and back to the jobsite. By having a customer service rep load each and every vehicle, I see [the possibility of] a bottleneck, very similar to the bottleneck of customers that sometimes forms at the counter awaiting checkout during the morning rush. ? [A]nother added value we use in our locations is that our gate guard double-checks our outbound deliveries for accuracy and completeness. He directs customers who have never been to our establishment (lumberyards can be very intimidating to a newbie), directs inbound delivery trucks for receiving, and checks in customer returns.
–Glen Morgan, Operations Manager
Woodhaven Lumber & Millwork, Lakewood N.J.
The perception of trust and partnership between a contractor and supplier has kept many traditional lumberyards in business in the face of the rising number of big box and mega stores. A guarded gate sends the wrong message. In the past 35 years, as the manager of several small and midsized building material stores in the Midwest, I have seen this firsthand.
At one location, we opened a new store within a mile of a big box that was taking a high percentage of the area's contractor sales. Our business plan was to maintain a 50-50 mix of consumer and contractor sales. Security in the yard was essential, as was maintaining a feeling of trust. At that location, we had loaders in the yard to assist customers loading their vehicles. There was no physical barrier at the gate, but there was an employee serving as the load checker. ? That person would greet customers entering the yard, see what they had purchased by viewing their invoices, and then direct the customers to the proper yard area. At the same time, the checker would inform customers that a loader was available to assist. As customers left, the checker would make sure they had everything. This was presented to our customers as a positive service. Of course, it also prevented theft.
[O]ur gate checker directed delivery trucks entering the yard and inspected them upon exiting to prevent pilferage. The checker often inspected our own delivery trucks as they left. This was to make sure deliveries were not missing items. It also kept our drivers honest.
At another location, again in close competition with big boxes and larger pro dealers ... a barrier-arm gate controlled when customers entered the yard. Loader personnel were informed when a customer (often by name) was on the way. The loader was the employee that opened the barrier gate by remote control, and so was always aware when a customer was in the yard. The loader's assignment was to load the customer's vehicle, not merely to assist. The loader's use of the remote control was, again, needed to allow the customer to exit the yard. Both of these systems accomplished our goals of shrink control and valued customer service.
–Dana Heal, former yard manager, Monmouth, Ill.
At our yard, we strive for superior customer satisfaction, making it easy for the customer to differentiate Stock Building Supply from everyone else. We load all of our customers, so why do we have a gate guard? Because it double checks that the customer is getting the right amount of product and exactly what they came for. Our company views this as not imposing on the customer, but rather as a tool to satisfy the customer. Also, we take it a step further and use the gate guard to check every truck that leaves our yard for delivery. Having a reliable gate guard associate can ensure that each and every load is correct and can reinforce your commitment to superior customer satisfaction. It is important to show your customer you are looking out for them.
–Andrew Senn, Operations Support Supervisor Stock Building Supply, Green Bay, Wis.
Send your comments to editor Craig Webb: firstname.lastname@example.org or One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600 Washington, D.C. 20005. (Letters may be edited for clarity and space.)