At 7:15 on a south Georgia summer morning, the sun is beaming and so is "Cowboy" Jackie Allmond as he stands in the parking lot of Choo Choo Build-It Mart's Rincon yard. With 50 tasks on his to-do list, Allmond knows he's going to be busy today. But he can't dive in just yet: A fellow salesman has stopped Allmond seeking his advice on hurricane-rated floor fasteners, an important commodity in this coastal market.
Allmond doesn't dismiss the salesman's request with a hurried reply. Instead, he leads the man inside to show the exact piece he should offer the builder. Only after providing technical advice does he move to his office, get organized, and prepare to take off in his tricked-out red Ford F-150 pickup for a day of deal-making.
I'm riding shotgun with the Cowboy today to help verify what I already suspect: Jackie Allmond may be the best outside sales rep in the LBM business. That's near-impossible to prove, I know, in part because yardsticks like total sales and share of market are pretty much useless given the vast differences among dealers and their markets.
But I also know this: In the decade I have spent running LBM sales seminars across the country, personally traveling with more than 200 sales reps, meeting thousands of other salesmen and hearing stories about yet thousands more, I have never met or heard of anyone at any LBM dealer anywhere who sells better than Cowboy. Over the course of this and several other days, Allmond's work habits, technical and technological savvy, and above all his organization and attention to detail proved to me that he's The One.
Take that to-do list. Like many salesmen, Allmond keeps a running list of action items on a notepad. But unlike most, his notepad is a tablet computer in which he not only keeps a prioritized master list but also organizes his schedule into 18 subfolders, categorized by such topics as First Things, Orders To Place, Phone Calls, and Delegated Items. "You've got to put your personal items in there too or they won't get done," he adds. On this day, that Personal folder includes the need for new windshield wipers.
As a result, Allmond gets more done in his work week (typically 60 hours, he says) than other reps I've watched. Equally important, he attacks that to-do list in an organized, prioritized fashion.
"I have three categories of urgency," he notes. "Hot, meaning do it now; Normal, meaning get it done today; and the rest." Thus, on a day when he has more than 50 tasks to be accomplished, he is able to isolate and focus on the critical items of the day.
"I hate to say that I run an emergency room," he says. "But if you have a bee sting, I'll tell you to sit in the corner while I deal with the guy that is stuck beneath a tractor that tipped over on him."
Eye on the Target
That ability to focus on the now shows up often in Allmond's life. Four years after taking up skeet shooting as a hobby, he's competing against professional marksmen. At a recent competition, he shot 99 targets out of 100 (including 95 in a row) with a .410-gauge shotgun, the most challenging classification. When he decided he wanted to play guitar at age 8, his father, an accomplished musician in his own right, taught him the fundamentals. Allmond played that first night until his fingers blistered.
His intensity to succeed is the same at work. While reviewing his plans for the day, a trim carpenter popped in unexpectedly to discuss some upcoming jobs. He and Jackie bantered for a while as Southerners do before getting down to business. Even then the conversation seemed casual, but when the client left, Jackie swung into action. He jotted notes onto his computer tablet, highlighting in color the prices he quoted so they could be easily referenced later. He then inserted a to-do item on his task list.
Allmond also has developed an estimating spreadsheet he has preformatted to address a variety of construction plans, thus enabling him to create a quote sheet quicker than most. The spreadsheet includes a template that lists every possible product he might need on a particular job, helping to ensure he misses no materials. The tool also contains a template by which he makes certain all materials are provided and clients can plan their projects.
Because of that spreadsheet, he believes his quotes are accurate to about 2%, and would be ashamed if they are off 5%. Most sales reps I've met can't make the same claim.
Years of practice have helped him create numerous tricks of which most lumber sales reps are unaware. For example, he created a chart that he keeps next to his blueprint table to provide multipliers for dimensions of truss components based on the length of a roof joist. "It's just trigonometry," he declares. No big deal.
A phone call asking Allmond about an entry door ordered six months earlier gives Cowboy another chance to show his hand with technology. Within a minute, he has the details. In fact, he can tell you about every purchase order he's taken back to 2005 and every quote he's made since 2000, when he designed the estimating system.
"That's a task I'll deal with later," he says of the entry door call, his eyes focused on his computer screen. "It's not as hot as other things I need to do today so I'll get that done later in the week." Now it's time to make the rounds in the Choo Choo facility here 20 miles northwest of Savannah.
He checks on deliveries, coordinates service calls, and spends time with Debbie Williams, his assistant. Williams processes orders, works with manufacturers, and schedules service, but Allmond insists on placing the orders directly with suppliers. Every unnecessary link in the communication chain increases the likelihood the message will get garbled, he believes. But that's not to say he won't rely on others. He just makes sure he and people like his operations manager, Shane Belcher, are completely in tune when it comes to sales planning, attention to detail, and customer service.