Lumber dealer Guy C. Lee Building Materials has had an entrepreneurial focus since its beginnings in the back room of the founder’s feed/general store in Smithfield, N.C., in the 1920s. That was where Lee started building window sashes, molding, and doors and selling them through the store.
Today, Guy C. Lee has eight locations, including its Smithfield headquarters: seven in North Carolina and one in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. The dealer plans to open a ninth location in Holly Springs, N.C., in 2017.
The company is proud of its business model, which allows yard managers flexibility and freedom in running their operations, says company CEO Cory Jameson. “Essentially, you are treated as an owner," he says. "I don’t get super involved in how my guys run their businesses. It’s hands-off from headquarters for the most part,” he says. “It was that business model that definitely attracted me to the company.”
Jameson came to Guy C. Lee after spending years working for hardware distributors. At one point, the dealer had been Jameson’s largest customer. Lured by the freedom the entrepreneurial model offered, he asked owner John Lampe--founder Guy C. Lee’s grandson--to think of him if an opening came up. Jameson has been with the company for 18 years now.
“Through the slow times, our business model kept us in business,” he says, as store managers had the flexibility to take advantage of local market changes that kept them afloat. Jameson says Guy C. Lee’s model also encourages its general managers to be a vital part of their local communities. “We have quite a few guys who become citizen of the year in their communities.”
The dealer prefers hiring from within, and does so as often as possible. Jameson himself started as a general manager in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and his operations manager there now runs the Morehead City, N.C., yard.
Building strong relationships with their builder customers is a key focus for the dealer, Jameson says. “We honestly do not, or have ever, consider the big boxes as competition," he declares. "They don’t do what we do.”
A significant part of those builder relationships is the construction loan program the dealer set up 18 years ago. “These are in-house loans made with our own money, just like you would get at a bank,” he says. When the recession KO’d the housing industry, the dealer dialed down that program. “Today, we are just cranking it back up.
“I see us growing slowly but steadily, maybe getting more into installed sales,” Jameson says. “We are also kicking around new POS [point of sale] software for our building supplies and manufacturing plant. We will research a project or idea for six months before we implement it, and change the culture. Because if it doesn’t work, it’s not super-duper easy to change it back.”