Think a 125,000-square-foot millwork distribution facility sounds impressive? So did Lone Star Plywood & Door when it built one on Tomball Parkway in Houston back in 1977. San Francisco–based Building Materials Holding Corp. was likewise impressed when it acquired the facility in 1997, folding the operation into its BMC West building materials distribution division. Geographically positioned to meet the surge in housing as Houston expands west, the location had nonetheless maxed-out on space and growth possibilities by 2002, leaving BMC West to consider what options were available to replace the titanic facility. Their answer: move directly across the street and virtually double capacity. They built a 195,000-square-foot facility with new equipment and service capabilities that anticipate new growth in production, custom, and remodeling contractor markets alike. Then, when construction was completed in 2004, the design team took a look at its opus and came to an immediate and collective conclusion: add another 56,000 square feet.
The resulting 251,900-square-foot production warehouse and showroom sits on 15.5 acres, employs 258 workers, and cranked out $60 million in 2004 gross sales. "It's really one of the largest one-step millwork distribution facilities in the United States that we know of," says BMC West director of finance Danny McQuary. "If you add up square footage, [Marietta, Ga.–based] Robert Bowden might give us a run for the money, but under one roof we've never seen anything else like it."
For longtime Lone Star employees, relocating to their new digs has been a boost in both pride and profit. One of the key benefits of the colossal facility lies in its location–workers and will-call customers alike were not forced to readjust to a new area, and the same quick access to the Sam Houston Tollway and State Highway 249 ensures continued fast delivery for drivers hitting major growth areas in the northwest and southwest Houston contractor markets. "The thing that really strikes me is the pride among all of the employees since moving over here," says BMC West regional vice president David Ondrasek, who has been with Lone Star for more than 18 years. "Clearly the most exciting aspect is that opportunity to grow, to do a showroom, to focus more on the production builder and remodeling markets, to be able to invest in new equipment. It's a big change from being in a metal building built in the '70s with no avenues to expand."
Expansion at the new building, by contrast, has been almost continuous since groundbreaking began in 2002. In order to secure purchase of the property, BMC West had to pony-up for a full 29-acre tract, run utilities to the property, and incorporate retention ponds during development. While requiring a sizeable initial investment (2003 property, development, and construction costs totaled $8 million), the large tract has enabled the company to adopt a cross-dock receiving and shipping traffic pattern; construct a delivery truck washing, fueling, and maintenance area; and allow for the additional 2004 expansion after the first phase was completed.
One of the most significant expansion upgrades has been the incorporation of a two-story, 9,400-square-foot showroom displaying the custom windows, doors, molding, millwork, and trim produced at the facility. According to Randy Lutz, a regional sales manager who spearheaded its design, the showroom is one of the best examples of how the facility as a whole is providing a professional image for employees and enabling greater growth avenues into the custom builder markets. "We really aimed for a luxury, five-star experience that was not cluttered and did not have a whole bunch of signage or otherwise look like a row of retail aisles with price tags on everything," he says. "We lived with that for so long at our old facility, and the difference now is like walking into a Lexus dealership as opposed to a used Chevy dealership."
Staffed with three full-time sales reps, the showroom has enabled deeper sales and relationship-building with high-end contractors and their customers primarily through ambience, McQuary says. "You cannot effectively sell $5,000 entry door systems in a 30-year-old building," he explains. "We needed an environment where architects, custom builders, and their clients could come and make selections and develop ideas for their projects with our products and services in mind." To facilitate that strategy, the company incorporated a conference room into the showroom design that features molding, wall paneling, and even a conference table custom milled in the building's manufacturing warehouse, which connects to the conference room, as well.