As general manager for 84 Lumber's headquarters yard in Eighty Four, Pa., and a previous 84 area manager of yards throughout the Ohio Valley, you'd expect Dave Fisher to be extremely brand conscious when it comes to discussing marketing. But instead of touting a corporate line, Fisher says marketing programs and strategies at his location and the locations of his peers have to remain decidedly independent. “When it comes to marketing for my customers, I need to look up at that ball everyday and not see ‘84 Lumber,'” Fisher says. “I need to see ‘Dave's Lumber,' because marketing is just like any other service: It is in our hands to develop it or fail—we're the ones held accountable.”
Even in the midst of developing national branding initiatives that include the 84 Lumber Classic PGA golf tournament and a partnership with Ford Trucks, marketing executives at 84 say Fisher's outlook is right on target. “Our company strength is that each store is different,” says company vice president of marketing Jeff Kmiec. “We provide them with the resources, and leave it up to the store manager to how they want to conduct their marketing plan. Each store has its own annual specific marketing budget, and its own marketing strategies. Each store is in charge of its own destiny.”
No doubt, 84 managers have a lot of muscle to flex toward those marketing destinies. According to Kmiec, 84 Lumber's total corporate marketing budget is the company's third-largest expense after payroll and delivery costs, and runs from 1 to 1.1 percent of revenue. With 84 hitting approximately $3.4 billion in 2004 gross sales, that puts the company's marketing war chest at about $34 million. “Smaller yards can't compete with what we do,” says Fisher. “This is my shop from a marketing standpoint, but it is the enormous assets we have behind us that allow us to be flexible and both serve and grow with our customers.”
Entertaining the Customer It is notable that Fisher mentions service and growth as part of his single-location marketing mantra. “84's marketing platform is basically customer service, customer retention, and customer acquisition,” says Kmiec. “Those are our driving goals.”
Key to fulfilling those goals is an almost daily slew of relationship-building contractor events, sporting trips, and incentive vacations, highlighted by the 84 Lumber Classic PGA tour stop held at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, Pa., owned by 84 founder and president Joe Hardy. In 2004, 84 brought in 1,500 contractors to the PGA event, putting them up in Pittsburgh hotels for three days with their 84 store managers and outside sales reps, treating them to a Pittsburgh Pirates game, and bringing them to the tournament for a day, where they were able to watch 84-sponsored pros John Daly and Vijay Singh and also visit a vendor area with booths and presentations by tournament supporters including Pella, Jeld-Wen, and Weyerhaeuser.
As an added PR bonus, total tournament proceeds—$750,000—were presented to the United Way of Allegheny County, continuing a charitable giving tradition at the company that culminated in Hardy being named 2004 Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “[Charitable contributions] obviously paint the company in a positive light,” says Kmiec of the recognition. “[It's] important to have your company and your employees recognized as deeply committed to community.”
Whether it is the 84 Lumber Classic, the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl, or just a local event, Kmiec says that pro dealer tickets to the game alone do not guarantee marketing success, which is driven instead by the overall entertainment value that the contractor customer takes home. “We don't like to just go into a market and purchase tickets,” he says. “We want to enhance the visit for the customer—not just sit in the stands. It can be something as unsophisticated as a tail-gate party and cooking hot dogs to being in a hospitality suite at a Steelers game and having Jerome Bettis stop by and give the customer an autographed picture.”
Packing entertainment value into marketing programs also carries over into 84's Inner Circle Rewards program, a travel incentive system launched in 2003 that awards points to builders for purchases that can be redeemed for various vacation packages and merchandise. “All of my employees are raving about 84 taking care of them,” says Jim Marshall, president of Indianapolis-based Adams and Marshall Homes, which will close on 1,000 homes across 12 active-adult communities in 2004. Marshall's purchases garnered 14 vacations that he then used for rewards to standout members of his staff. “From taking care of car rentals to renting fishing boats, the vacations were awesome. If you want something, you ask for it, you got it.”
Tracking Results Catering to every contractor's entertainment whim, though, is just the beginning of 84's marketing recognition, acquisition, and retention tactics. According to 84 reps and their builder customers alike, any marketing program—be it national branding or small-town oriented—needs to be backed up by basic block-and-tackle service. “Daily service execution is the biggest thing we can compete on,” says 84 COO Bill Myrick. “You show contractors that you care about their business—that's the biggest competitive advantage in marketing you can ever have.”
Says Marshall, who was invited to spend four days at Nemacolin on the links with pro John Daly, “Without a doubt [it was] an unbelievable experience and I don't know of any other supplier that can offer that, but that is not what keeps us with them. They deliver product on time where it is supposed to be when it is supposed to be, and as a result, we have not blown a closing yet.” That type of service has kept Marshall an 84 devotee for five years, including sourcing 100 percent of his lumber packages, framing services, windows, and doors from the pro dealer.