During the housing recession, LBM dealers paired operations down to the bone, closing locations and cutting payrolls. Now, with the economy on the mend, they’re looking to technology to meet the increased demand without necessarily hiring new workers.
“Doing more with the same, that’s the goal,” says Candy Loweke, a process analyst at Raymond Building Supply (RBS), in Fort Myers, Fla.
RBS suffered a brutal retrenchment, shrinking from 1,000 employees across five locations to 200. The dealer focused on technology during those lean years and now plans to use those tools to meet the rising market with fewer workers.
“Some of the biggest technology changes that we made were during that time,” Loweke says. “We want to do as much as possible with the least amount of people.”
Whether it’s leveraging the power of a customer relationship management (CRM) program to build companywide teams, doing away with paper, or pushing information out to on-the-road sales professionals, companies are finding new ways to meet the challenges of the growing market.
RBS switched from clipboards and paper to tablet computers mounted on forklifts in the warehouse to boost productivity. The move saves time traveling back and forth between the warehouse and office to retrieve paper orders. “[The employee] doesn’t have to spend half his day going back to dispatch to get a piece of paper,” Loweke says.
“You can take a task that a guy spends three or four hours doing—paperwork and that sort of thing—and remove three quarters of that time,” she says. “He’s freed up to do more and I don’t have to hire someone else when we get busier because he has the time.”
Parksite, in Batavia, Ill., found that by moving its CRM software from sales to the entire company, new team relationships developed allowing the company to operate more efficiently, according to Blake Chadick, director of information technology.
A truck driver making a delivery can contact the sales department if he sees something on the jobsite they need to be aware of.
“Now everyone has the ability to contribute to the business, Chadick says. “From the truck driver to the warehouse to the logistic supervisor, all the way through our sales organization and finance department.”
Magbee Contractors Supply, in Winder, Ga., uses smartphone apps, such as Evernote, to encourage information sharing throughout the company, according to Robert G. Magbee Jr.
“We use Evernote a lot now, mostly to share notes or articles or our internal newsletter, but also when syncing and sharing documents with salespeople, sales managers, the CEO, and more,” Magbee says.
He’s not alone in using the power of smartphones to improve operations, according to Cristina Bowerman, vice president of communications and member services at Construction Suppliers Association. Many use smartphone apps that allow salespeople to take photos of documents and turn them into PDF files that can be sent back to the office. “Industries globally are using these apps to improve communication,” Bowerman says.
Andrew Brown, vice president of Brown Lumber & Building Supply, in Columbiana, Ala., uses a GPS mobile app and a Web service called Dropbox to monitor deliveries.
“We started out by taking pictures of every side of the truck with a Kodak camera. We had a little whiteboard with the invoice number. Now each driver gets a phone that can take photos,” Brown says.
For a customer asking about a delivery, Brown checks the GPS app to see exactly where the truck is. He uses Dropbox to store company documents and images, creating folders with pricing and product information that can be accessed by outside sales reps.
“We don’t have the money and resources that 84 Lumber or Carter Lumbers and those guys have,” Brown says. “I try to just bum everyone else’s good ideas.”