A Year's Worth of Yardsticks

“On supplying “The Avengers”: We delivered to the set once or twice a day for about a month and a half. A company like that obviously pays. They want to build these sets as quickly as possible and any delay is going to be a huge problem for their shooting schedule. The only hard part of dealing with film is that usually with contractors they say, "Can I get this tomorrow?" and with film usually it's, "When do you need it?" and the answer is, "Well, about two hours ago." It's almost always the same day when they order. But it's a challenge that we really cherished. We were scrambling so we wouldn't disappoint them. If you can meet that demand, you're like gold to them.”

Greg Ackroyd, general manager Hancock Lumber, Kennebunk, Maine “So many of our builders have become both custom builders and remodelers. The pace gets incredibly quick because, when these guys are remodeling, every day they’re running into something new. Instead of having a two- or three-day notice for deliveries, all of the sudden our guys in the yard have to build a load and drivers are getting out of here with same-day deliveries. You have to react quicker.” More about how Ackroyd sells lumber in a tourist town.

David Mosher, owner and manager, Mosher Lumber, Clarence Center, N.Y. “Everything we carry is select structural. It's a stronger, straighter grade that's going to have less barky edges and it's going to be a nicer stick to work with. Same with plywoods. I carry all the better plywoods–they lay flat, look better, stay nicer. I buy them from better mills. For treated lumber, I buy No.1 treated; everything has been dried after treatment. There's nobody else in this area that carries that kind of stuff. Our builders know if they want to get something good, go to Mosher Lumber.” A home in the snow belt requires Mosher to have a plan for dealing with the white stuff.

Bill Mackie, president, Madison Lumber & Hardware, Ketchikan, Alaska “We look at customer count, sales, gross margin, and receivables daily. We look at gross margin return on inventory, inventory, and turns monthly. We can drill down from there if we need to. We are also part of a small community. Word of mouth is very important. So for us, a satisfied customer and—equally important—a happy co-worker means a fair bottom line.” Mackie also sells product to totem-pole makers and deals with a lot of rain.

Dave Haag, manager, Spahn & Rose Lumber, Monticello, Iowa “In a small town, you meet people and you will say, "That person might be good for my business at some point." You just keep that in the back of your head. No. 1 is sales. You've got to have sales to cover your overhead. No. 2 is your gross margin. And the last of that triangle is expense. You've got to keep your expenses in check. I look at it as the longevity of the people I have working with me. I like to hire good people and I like to keep them around because it makes my job so much easier.” Did we mention he's also a fireman?

Andy Haase, president and co-owner, Shell Lumber & Hardware, Miami “It’s after hours for us, so they can come do Shakespeare. We also do concerts and fundraisers, if it’s a cause we like. It hasn’t translated into sales, but I think it translates to our big-picture community involvement. We measure our business by transaction. We have more than 1,200 each day. As long as the footsteps are still coming to the door, we’re doing a good job.” He ditched literature for lumber but still has a soft spot for the Bard.

Norman Taylor, co-owner, Duncan Box & Lumber Co., Huntington, W. Va. “The former owners were planning to retire and were having trouble finding a buyer, so they stopped investing in the business. To get everything up to standard, including the mill, it’s going to take about $200,000. We’ve spent the last month and a half putting in a new retail shelving system to better manage inventory and, literally, turned the store around to make it more customer-friendly.” Spread the word: The yard is still open.

Matt Arnold, assistant manager, Build Rite Do it Center, Rawlins, Wyo. “Rawlins is tied to the oil industry and [because of booms and busts] that’s made locals very frugal. In order to survive here, you’ve got to be the better choice. We try to make sure that we can schedule same-day deliveries for all the materials we have in stock. Two or three times per week, we send a semi to Denver to bring up materials. Our store also has a Radio Shack and sells fire-retardant gear.” And a family business means enough flex time to help raise six kids.

Scott Barnett, President, Barnett & Cheeves, Newnan, Ga. “Opening day was very nerve-racking. The first two months out of the gate we lost $25,000 and I was second-guessing myself—“Lord what have I done!” But after four months we were back to break-even and we’ve been profitable ever since. Everybody thought we were crazy for opening a lumberyard in 2010, and I think some of our customers were standoffish and didn’t want to get in bed with us for fear that we might not make it.” How to open a lumberyard right after a recession.

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