Nothing says business success quite as effectively as a private corporate jet. Whether it's a Learjet or a Gulfstream, a Hawker or a Citation, the combination of a lucrative price tag and ticket-less travel emphasizes the adages that time is money and image means everything. While there are a handful of private flyers in the LBM industry, the footprint of most pro dealers makes ground transportation much more logistically feasible. Given the entrepreneurial nature of our industry, I'm sure someone will eventually manage to install a wind sock and some helicopter pads in the corner of the yard and put the company logo on a Huey, but until then hitting the highway will remain the best option for pro dealers to get from location to location and jobsite to jobsite.
Many American industries are similarly regional or local in scope, and Oxnard, Calif.–based Becker Automotive Design is betting that just because business leaders aren't flying the friendly skies doesn't mean they don't want to ride in style. “[Our clients] are looking for a seamless kind of motion in their lives,” says company founder Howard Becker in “The Rolling Corner Office,” an article by Todd Lappin on custom executive SUVs in the April 2006 issue of Business 2.0. “They want the vehicle to be a place where they can concentrate, rest, reduce stress, and focus.”
With that mission in mind, Becker guts standard 2005 Ford Excursions, adds extensive soundproofing, replaces the rear solid axle with independent suspension, and throws in all of the extras—including handcrafted leather chairs, electric footrests, a 32-inch LCD screen for the DirectTV and PlayStation 2, a GPS navigation system, and two closed-circuit video cameras for observing traffic. Top it off with high-speed wireless Internet access, tinted windows, and chrome rims and you're ready for any jobsite.
OK, so the chrome rims are a little ostentatious and the PlayStation 2 isn't going to do much for rest and stress reduction, but Becker's underlying philosophy—one of image and first impression—is nonetheless an important lesson, especially for an industry where the quality and condition of vehicles and their drivers has a daily impact on how customers perceive your standards of service.
“Whether it is a custom home builder, a remodeling contractor, or a production builder, delivery always seems to be one of their top service concerns,” says Bob Myers III, president of York, Pa.–based six-unit pro dealer John H. Myers & Son. “It's important to have your trucks looking good.”
With more than 100 vehicles in the fleet, Myers has a full-time employee who tends to all service records and ensures equipment is clean, gassed up, and ready to go every morning. Delivery drivers receive new uniforms every year, and they attend monthly and quarterly meetings covering safety and jobsite courtesy, a must for personnel that “have more face time with customers than almost any other people,” Myers says.
Just because construction supply is a working person's business doesn't mean vehicles should be void of image and technology, either. Myers, for one, has outfitted his fleet with GPS as part of a computerized dispatch-and-delivery initiative and is allowing TLC vendors to put product beauty shots on the sides of John H. Myers box trucks.
As we roll into the busy summer construction season, take a good look at your fleet and the message it subliminally provides to the marketplace. Is your daily point of contact with contractor customers dingy, dirty, or dented? If so, it might be time for an overhaul. You don't have to roll up in a Learjet or a Lexus—or even a tricked-out Ford Excursion—but your vehicles at the very least should emphasize pride and professionalism. In the parlance of pro dealers, that's where the rubber meets the road.