From file "108_pss" entitled "PS01VIEW.qxd" page 01
From file "108_pss" entitled "PS01VIEW.qxd" page 01

I've got a thing for Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers. They're small enough so you can order some Biggie fries without feeling super-size guilt and tasty enough to satisfy that burger craving while on the road for business, on the way home from a game, or after having a couple of beers with the guys. The best part about the Jr. is that it's on the Wendy's late-night pick-up menu. Until midnight—and in some cases much later—I can pull the car up to the drive-through, fork over a couple of bucks, and be on my way in seconds flat.

From burgers to building materials, the time that customers spend waiting to get in and out with their purchases can seriously impact the decision of where they conduct their primary spending. Especially for businesses with a high volume of will-call or walk-in traffic, the drive-through concept can be a key strategy in the lean retailing quest to simultaneously improve sales and reduce costs, so much so that Las Cruces, N.M.–based AutoCart plans to take drive-through retail to the next level, according to “A Speedier Superstore,” an article on the company by Georgia Flight in the December 2005 issue of Business 2.0.

With Wal-Mart in its sights, AutoCart is in the process of developing a 130,000-square-foot drive-through superstore where consumers can pick up groceries, dry cleaning, DVD rentals, prescriptions, and more. AutoCart customers can make their product selections online, via phone, or on site using tablet PCs. Warehouse computers then funnel the orders via headset to loaders, who stage merchandise for routing via high-speed conveyer belts to the customer pickup area. The whole process takes approximately 15 minutes—less if orders are placed prior to arrival—and shoppers can watch flat screen TVs at their pickup station while they wait. As an added bonus, a shopping cart icon on the screen displays the progress of their order.

Of course, drive-through convenience—and the sales it can generate—is not lost among enterprising pro dealers, many of which have incorporated drive-through lumberyards into new and remodeled facilities. The latest player is Coventry, R.I.–based Coventry Lumber, which recently unveiled what it claims is the first drive-through lumberyard in Rhode Island. “As we moved to a new facility, we really decided that it was time to get ready for the future, time to become more automated and more efficient,” says Coventry sales manager Brian Vandal of the decision to incorporate drive-through capabilities at the company's new headquarters yard.

For dealers exploring express services via drive-through lumberyards, Vandal suggests visiting other yards that have implemented the strategy. Additionally, he emphasizes that traffic patterns need to be established and efficient to keep customers moving. Coventry, for example, places high-demand items like studs and panels toward the middle of the facility to prevent bottlenecking at the entrance or exit. Coventry also gives customers the option to pull in and pick their own orders or call ahead of time and have Coventry staff prepare a load for pickup.

According to Vandal, Coventry is already seeing an increase in sales versus pre–drive-through walk-in and will-call purchases, especially with New England winter weather settling in. “Time is money, especially for our remodeling contractors and smaller custom contractors,” Vandal says, “and the drive-through has the added benefit of keeping all of our customers and our material under cover, clean, and dry.”

While Coventry doesn't have any plans in the works to offer bacon cheeseburgers at the drive-through, it seems its contractor customers are nonetheless pleased to continue visiting the yard with purchasing dollars in hand. AutoCart may have a revolutionary idea at work when it comes to mass retailing, but on the LBM supply side, dealers like Coventry prove that when it comes to industries at the forefront of customer service efficiencies, we've got it covered.

Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES. 415.552.4154 E-mail: