The issue you are reading right now has traditionally been when we announce ProSales' annual Public Service Leader award, recognizing dealers who have consistently given back to their communities and the industry.
When we put the call out for nominations several months ago, our hotline to take in responses was chilly and silent. It became apparent that with tough times come tough choices. Proud dealers with mission statements that always included giving back were no longer able to do so with the same resolve. Dealers we contacted as possible Public Service Leaders turned down the offer to be recognized, citing the downturn in their staff levels.
"To say the least, when one's volume has dropped by 50% and a similar amount of your employees have been let go, it is difficult to continue one's generosity to the communities it serves," says Jim Bruce, president and CEO of E.L. Morse Co., a one-unit dealer in Wareham, Mass.
Although E.L. Morse has not completely given up its charitable activities, it's operating on a much "smaller level," Bruce says.
E.L. Morse has company. In recent years, Tindell's, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based dealer, was contributing as much as $5,000 a month to a collection of local charities, Little League teams, and other community organizations. This year the dealer froze all donations as of June 1.
Tindell's annually has a "big project" it donates toward, such as the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway two years ago. "We've had to say no to our big project this year as well," says Johan van Tilburg, president of Tindell's. "In Tennessee, it's not getting any better." Last year, Tindell's sales fell to by one-third to $40 million as the company was forced to shed about 20 employees. It was among the 85% of dealers on the most recent ProSales 100 that reported a decrease in sales, with 21 companies reporting a fall-off of 25% or greater. Chace Building Supply, a three-unit dealer based in Woodstock, Conn., has also ceased all donations to charities and civic groups, according to company vice president Ron Tetrault. He estimates Chace Building Supply has donated "tens of thousands" in the past 16 years.
"But we can't justify donating to a Little League or other great causes when we have cut 58 full-time employees in less than four years and every remaining employee has taken a 10% to 25% pay cut," Tetrault says.
"We do believe in helping our local community," says Rick Roberts, president of Sunnyvale (Calif.) Lumber. "Unfortunately the recession has limited us this year."
During recent years, Sunnyvale pulled in as much as $2.4 million a month in sales. "Now we're down to about one-third of that," Roberts says. The dealer was recently forced to close its Fremont, Calif., yard and has downsized from 54 to 24 employees in the past year and a half.
About 10 years ago, when Rick and his brothers, Jim and Rob, took over the company from their father, the brothers took a more formal approach to how they allocated contributions to the community.
While being charitable had been part of the company's 64-year history, the Roberts family started to focus on programs that went toward children in the community. For instance, in 2005, the dealer began contributing to Sunnyvale Community Services, an organization that assists families on the verge of being homeless with food, bills and housing assistance.
But last year, Sunnyvale Lumber lost money for the first time "in memory," Rick says. "We could not give money away as we were laying off people that worked for us for 10 years." Last year, Rick gave a $1,000 donation out of his own pocket to Sunnyvale Community Services.
Sunnyvale had also been a routine contributor to the Christmas in April program, donating materials, enlisting contractor customers, and paying out of its pocket for special project needs such as the cost of $1,500 crane job. "I don't look at us as unique when it comes to lumberyards giving back," Rick says.
Miller Wholesale Lumber Co. in Tempe, Ariz., has been the primary sponsor for the Phoenix Polar Bears Junior A Hockey Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and has helped raise more than $1 million for the team over the past 10 years. But Miller Wholesale has cut 50% of its staff in the past 18 months while reducing the wages of remaining staff by 25% to 40%.
"We had given as much $40,000 in the past 10 years, but we've had to stop," says Glenn Miller, president and CEO of Miller Wholesale. Last year, Miller himself made a personal donation but has turned down all other donation requests.
In the Northeast, Mid-Cape Home Centers continues to give to non-profits "even in tough times," says Lynn Mason-Small, the South Dennis, Mass.-based dealer's director of marketing.
"What we have done is restructure our giving, however," Mason-Small explains. Mid-Cape recently spent a week volunteering, along with contractor customers and vendors, to paint, rehab, and rebuild a local YMCA camp. "We were able to give them what they really needed with our time and energy."
Chip Penny, the branch manager at MarJam Supply Co.'s Mattituck, N.Y. operation, says his company is still trying to help others in need. "Donations to worthy charitable organizations remain important even during these tough times," Penny says.
MarJam determines its donation budget based on a percentage of sales from the pervious years. "With fewer sales come some tough choices, though," Penny says.
With three locations in northern Michigan, Bernard Building Center has adjusted its donation technique. Although it still donates cash from time to time, instead of giving $50 to $500 checks to one of the three schools in the communities it serves, or to individuals in need, the company now gives gift certificates to its stores. The same goes for those looking for door prize contributions at fundraisers such as the Relay for Life.
"Donations are needed in good times and bad," says Bruce Bernard, vice president of Bernard Buildng Center. "We need to help out more in bad times than the good."
When Sunnyvale closed its Fremont yard, Rick Roberts asked a local charity if it needed "a pickup or six." His own pickup truck is more than five years old and he says he could probably use a new one. "But that would just send the wrong message to the guys in the yard," he notes.