Rich Mahaffey couldn't wait to tell the story.
"I got a call today from our stair department," the vice president of operations for Ply Mart began. "We've got a division in Charlotte [N.C.] and we bled for years up there. It was under my responsibility, and I finally got to the point where I said, 'OK, we'll shut it down.'
"I didn't want to shut it down. I've never shut anything down in my life as far as business goes," Mahaffey continued. "And the guy I'd recently hired to run Atlanta's stair division was turning that thing around and he said, 'Give me a shot. Give me six months.' And he turned that thing around. Well, he called me today and said they had set a sales record, beating Atlanta, reaching a mark that Atlanta had never hit. They're now very profitable."
A bit later, Mahaffey added the clincher: The turnaround artist, Dave Ford, did it without laying off a single staffer.
That Ford succeeded is cause for celebration, of course, but what pleased Mahaffey just as much was the way Ford did it: by taking on responsibility for the good of the team. Such an attitude lies at the heart of Ply Mart's corporate culture, and it's one reason why Ply Mart is ProSales' 2006 Dealer of the Year.
Based in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, Ga., Ply Mart has grown over its 38-year history into a 1,100-person company whose 31 profit centers and six support operations stretch from Charlotte to the Georgia-Alabama border. What once was a shop that sold only plywood paneling–hence the name
Ply Mart–has expanded beyond paneling and lumber to include a door and window fabrication plant, a truss-building facility, an engineered wood division, a millwork shop, and a facility that builds custom-curve and box stair systems. It also sells and installs garage doors, shutters, and a range of interior products for a customer base of national and regional builders, custom home builders, and remodelers.
The company's sales growth has been just as prolific. For 1991, the first year this magazine compiled what is now the ProSales 100, Ply Mart posted pro sales revenue of $38 million. Just four years later, Ply Mart topped $100 million. By 2003 it neared $200 million. Then things really took off: Its revenues hit $254 million in 2004, it fell just short of the $300 million threshold in 2005, and it burst through that barrier in 2006 by racking up pro revenues of just under $350 million.
Ply Mart is more than just a hot company in a hot market, though. It also is one of the most technologically advanced pro dealers in the nation, both in information technology (IT) and on the manufacturing side, and it's notable for its willingness to risk failure in exploring new business lines and commit itself wholeheartedly when supporting new products. All this, too, is a reflection of the company's culture as well as of the personality of the Mahaffey brothers, who created Ply Mart and continue to run it today.
The story of Rich, Randy, Don, and Tom Mahaffey is rare among lumberyard executives, and not just because all four brothers are at least 6 feet 7 inches tall. They didn't grow up in the business; their father managed a textile mill in the small town of LaGrange, Ga. All four played varsity basketball at Clemson University, in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference, and company president Randy Mahaffey may be the only LBM dealer in the country who played pro basketball before he became a pro dealer. Older brothers Tom and Don created Ply Mart in November 1968, and while Don has since left the company and gone on to manufacturing log homes, Tom remains as senior vice president of purchasing.
Ply Mart's management style reflects the Mahaffeys' personalities: laid-back and open to conversation–Randy's business card lists his home phone number–but also intensely competitive and focused on core objectives. As with a basketball squad, the Mahaffeys prize both teamwork and individual initiative, only these days they operate more often as coaches than as players. Good management, says Rich, "starts with the culture that you set. I hope and I think we have a culture where we've nurtured, and we like to see individuals use their talents to be successful, to reach their potential."
One example of that can be found in Chuck Mooney, manager of the dealer's Engineered Wood Products Division. When he arrived several years ago, Mooney says, the division was fractured, disorganized, and so awash in paper he used to judge the volume of business by counting how many boxes of files were in his division's offices. Plans would take as many as eight days to move between offices, and Ply Mart's framing designers tended to work with salespeople only in the two offices where they were based rather than company-wide.
Mooney believed Ply Mart's big problem was information flow, so he and his boss, senior vice president Bill Hofius, persuaded the Mahaffeys to back a series of IT initiatives. Today, all of Ply Mart's offices are networked and each outlet has scanners and 11x17 printers. A dozen Ply Mart customers either upload their plans electronically or have them scanned and converted to electronic documents upon arrival. All sales crews have access to Ply Mart designers, one of whom now lives and works in Idaho. ("Designers are calling us for jobs now," Mooney says, "and you know how designers are at a premium.") The old time frame of two to three weeks needed to move from plans to delivery of framing documents has been cut in half. Ply Mart's Engineered Wood Products Division has tripled its sales to $27 million over the past three years. And the savings in gasoline alone from not having to drive paper plans around has more than paid off the new costs involved in using the software.
"Chuck Mooney looked out there in the marketplace, saw what was going on, saw what was available, and he came to us with these ideas and we said,'Go for it,'" Rich says.