Major pro dealers exhibiting at the 2007 International Builders' Show in Orlando this week are touting foundation-to-finish product and service offerings to builders of all sizes as they jockey for attention from the expected draw of 120,000 construction industry attendees. Although day one attendance was notably light compared to years past, Pro-Build, Stock Building Supply, Carter Lumber, and Home Depot Supply nonetheless held high expectations for pitching various value-added sells to the meandering audience.
"We're not here to take orders, although we'll do that." said newly minted Pro-Build CEO Paul Hylbert. "More, we see [IBS and the larger home builder industry] as a long-run market where we want to stay and play." To that end, Pro-Build is using IBS as a primo venue to launch the company's new brand identity centered on an "endorser-based" logo and Pro-Build moniker that company divisions will be adopting in varying degrees over the next several weeks to next several years. (See WebbLog, "Pro-Build Inches Toward a Consistent National Brand," for more.)
Carter Lumber is still aiming to keep its family of companies operating as separate DBAs, particularly when it comes to Griggs and Holmes Lumber. "Keeping those names opens the door to high-quality acquisitions," says Carter president Neil Sackett. "To be honest, we learn as much from our acquired companies as they learn from us, and we are proud to have their name on our trucks." To build more contractor buzz at the show, Carter was hosting a reception on Feb. 8 at NBA City in Orlando, and at press time was expecting more than 400 contractor attendees. Pro-Build was keeping contractor interest high with a raffle for a 2007 Chevy Silverado.
Stock Building Supply was packing contractors in on day one with a seminar on the "five pillars of green building" by Steve Easley, and was sharing booth space with sister company Ferguson. The two Wolseley divisions have been finding both economies of scale and a cross-pollination of customer accounts beneficial as they have collectively attacked North American builder markets, particularly in the last 18 months.
"Through our joint showrooms and joint sales calls, I think contractors are beginning to see a lot of common ground in how we are bundling our products and services together," says Steve Short, Wolseley vice president, builder business group. "Internally, we're more excited about the opportunity for sharing new customers between the companies than leveraging the commonality in our accounts." As Stock and Ferguson go to market-particularly in a declining builder economy-customers "have been more interested in who we are and our capabilities, on how we can help their projects be on time and be complete" than they have on squeezing prices and margins, adds Steve Petock, Wolseley vice president, residential business group.
More Deals to Come
Hylbert agrees that the concept of value added services has provided pro dealers with some much-needed pushback on the recessionistic refrain for lower prices and thinner margins. "The discussions with our builders right now are still tough," he says, "but the more products and services we can offer, the better our partnership seems to be, with the small, the medium, and the large builder." Pro-Build also is still focused on M&A, Hylbert says, not only to fill in the company's national geographic footprint, but also to ensure a full complement of distribution, manufacturing, and install across disparate regions.
At HD Supply, company representatives were somewhat tight-lipped on current developments regarding upper-tier management changes, but characterized the daily M.O. from big orange as "business as usual," adding that LBM acquisitions continue to be a public-and therefore undeniable-facet of the division's growth model.
"We're much more in the acquisitive mode than in the acquired mode," says Carter's Sackett. "I get five or six offer letters a week [from companies interested in purchasing Carter], and I'm pretty good at either weeding them out or passing them on for a laugh." Indeed, Carter's recent acquisitions-particularly Griggs Lumber in North Carolina--have provided diversity to keep the company growing despite a generally poor builder economy. "The markets in the interior of the Carolinas are doing great," says Carter vice president of marketing David McCafferty. "It helps because we're not expecting a rebound soon anywhere around Michigan."
Regardless of region or market, McCafferty lines up with his Pro-Build peers when it comes to the sentiment among contractors on the price vs. value equation. "Customers are evaluating their businesses, and they are definitely asking for price considerations, but we want to show them how we can help with efficiencies, how we can help build better businesses and not just better homes, and they have been extremely receptive to that conversation."