Milton Johnson, president of San Bernardino, Calif.–based Home Lumber Co., a division of Raleigh, N.C.–based Stock Building Supply, doesn't have his own parking space. And with the firm's main plant running 20 hours a day and load builders working through the night so deliveries are ready to roll at 5 a.m. when the drivers report to work, the parking spots nearest the door fill up fast. By the time Johnson arrives after dawn each morning, he's usually parking in Home's hinterlands, along with the rank-and-file showing up for the morning shift.
Yet Johnson says he doesn't mind the long walk, especially if it means connecting with his team. The second-generation lumberman is not afraid to help build loads if that department is backed up or pick up a metal strap in the yard to protect the tires of the forklifts. For him, it's just part of moving his company, and the sales effort, forward, one body at a time, by making sure his team knows it's a group effort, from the top on down. “If they feel like you're part of them, that you're helping them do their jobs, it makes everything click,” Johnson says.
Everything certainly clicked for the company in 2005, when the firm's five outside salespeople managed to sell an average of $18.4 million each in material, to rank second among all dealers in the 2006 PROSALES 100 by sales per outside salesperson. And while Johnson says his salespeople have a lot to do with those results, he's much more apt to credit his entire team, from the clerical help that processes bills to the guys in the yard. In that sense, while the firm has a businesslike, organized approach to its daily activities, there's nothing fancy about Home Lumber's sales strategy. Instead, the company that Johnson's father started in 1947 simply relies on diligence, hard work, and a team effort from each of its employees to lend to the whole.
“The thing is, everyone here is an expert at whatever they do, and that's all they do,” Johnson says. “We concentrate on letting them do their jobs.” For instance, Home has an estimating department that does all the takeoffs for the outside salespeople, while the firm's team of inside salespeople back them up by fielding incoming calls to the shop. On the pricing side, Home's outside sales force doesn't have to worry about haggling with customers over a percent or two because all prices are set internally at the corporate level. “All our sales force has to do is concentrate on selling lumber. They don't figure bids. They don't set prices. They don't do anything but sell,” says Johnson.
For Wayne Nailon, Home's top outside salesman, that singular approach has helped him focus on his customers and keep his sales numbers moving forward. Because he doesn't set prices, he says, it lets him emphasize the service and reliability that Home provides, a tactic that often helps him close the deal.
“I just don't get into the negotiation. I don't like it, and I don't want anything to do with it,” says Nailon, who targets mostly framing contractors in the Southern California market. “I'm not a used-car salesman; I'm a lumber salesman. My guys know on price not to even ask. That's my attitude, and let me tell you, nine times out of 10, they'll say, ‘Alright, I'll buy the doggone thing.'”