History is an important piece of the Lansing Building Products puzzle. From its humble origins as the Ted Lansing Supply Co. in 1955 to securing the 15th spot on the ProSales 100 list today, Lansing Building Products and the Lansing family have an acute sense of where the company came from and where it’s going. That’s why, at its corporate headquarters in Richmond, Va., nameplates on offices or cubicles don’t have titles. Instead, each nameplate mentions how long that employee has been with the company. It’s not surprising to see employee start dates in the 1980s or 1990s, as many Lansing employees have stuck with the company through boom and bust.
That dedication has helped shape Lansing’s corporate culture in a way that permeates each of its branches. Each associate is expected to know the company’s mission statement and to ensure it remains a living, breathing thing and not just a slogan on the wall. In return, employees are given the tools to succeed, from extensive training to growth opportunities to safety programs, all in the effort of keeping Lansing’s best asset—its people—thriving.
This focus on team member experiences and training has paid off. From 2014 to 2017, Lansing sales soared nearly 50%, from $349 million to $522 million, without radically altering its physical footprint. Its last outside acquisition was in 2013, and its branch count has remained steady. That’s organic, research-driven growth leveraging an already substantial national footprint.
“There’s nothing really proprietary about our business,” says Chase Lansing, vice president of real estate and one of three company executives bearing the name Lansing. “We don’t have a special gadget that makes us much more competitive over our competitors. Where our equity lies as a business is really with our people.”
Each employee at the corporate headquarters has the same tools president Hunter Lansing does in his office. The same desks, monitors, and chairs. At the branch level, that means ensuring the same level of support from Palm Beach, Fla., to Seattle, Wash., no matter the time of day. This could include support from marketing to refresh a client’s outdated business cards, the right training to get a new salesperson up to speed, or a safety program designed to minimize accidents without feeling overbearing to employees. It means constantly investing in new technologies and predicting how and when builders and remodelers are going to buy their products in the age of Amazon.
All those reasons, combined with solid growth and an appetite for excellence, have earned Lansing Building Products the honor of being ProSales’ 2019 Dealer of the Year.
Keeping it in the Family
Hunter Lansing has always dreamed big. As a child, his career goal was to be the head of Coca-Cola. In 2016, he became the third generation of Lansing men to lead the business as president when his father, Chris Lansing, stepped down. He grew up immersed in the company, working the counter or in warehouses during college, graduating to an outside sales rep, branch manager, and then VP of sales. He saw the industry at its lowest in 2008 and saw companies fall by the wayside. “You could be mediocre and highly successful in this industry,” he says of the pre-crash era. He insists that surviving the crash made the company stronger and has only reinforced the beliefs and perspectives he acquired at each level. That perspective, of knowing how each level of the company runs, is part of his philosophy as president today.
“I don’t learn anything sitting in this office, for the most part,” he says. “Where I learn the most is out in the field, on the front lines.”
That connection can be hard to retain from the corporate level when there are 77 branches spread throughout the United States. To keep it personal, Hunter takes time each week to handwrite note cards to employees who were found “doing something right.” Currently, that’s those who made top marks in November’s inventory.
“I think it’s sort of a lost art. I know, for me, when I receive something in the mail that’s physical and someone’s taken the time to spell something out, it’s meaningful to me.”
Personal connection is at the heart of the “why” for Lansing. Why, how, and what are questions any company needs to answer, and for a family-owned company like Lansing, the why supersedes everything else. For Hunter, the why was as simple as looking at what the business was able to provide for his family. Why keep expanding and hiring and selling?
“If [our employees] show up to work and are happy and have meaning and purpose, I believe that trickles down into their own personal lives,” says Hunter. For Lansing, that means living the culture and providing tools for employees to succeed and opportunities to advance.
The Training Advantage
Putting their money where their mouth is, Lansing just created a brand-new position, VP of training. Just over a year old, the position has already seen success with training initiatives and contests to engage associates and elevate the branches that aren’t growing as fast as the rest of the company.
“There are no bad markets, there are only bad people,” says John Witt, executive vice president and chief sales officer. “You put good people in any market, and you’re going to have some kind of success.”
Having the right people in place can work wonders, and Witt is confident the new VP of training position will help bolster existing staff knowledge and accelerate training time for new employees so they can get into the field right away. With older methods, sales reps could take up to a year to be profitable and fully trained. New training methods are aiming to cut that time in half. Production of more online content is crafting training on demand for everything from leadership seminars to forklift driving skills to sales pitches. And employees are encouraged to participate through competitions that are more engaging than traditional methods.
“Each month, we have a video challenge and it could be, ‘What is the elevator pitch for Lansing Building Products? Send in a video,’ ” says Witt. “Our team will vote for the winner. The winner gets $250 and [his or her video] goes on the website. That’s competition, that’s training. We had 37 entries last month, and each entry gets a follow-up.”
The focus on training extends beyond ensuring that employees are armed with the latest knowledge to helping customers, as well. Educational seminars tackling new products, installation tips, and business tactics were spawned during the Great Recession. In the first quarter of the year, each branch was expected to hold at least four training sessions, taking advantage of the slower season to lure clients and potential clients to Lansing locations. Today, the sessions are known as Toolbox Seminars, and branches are encouraged to host them year-round while the first-quarter quotas remain.
Branches partner with suppliers and invite speakers from across the business spectrum. Sessions can take place at the local Lansing branch, a nearby restaurant, or even at the local Cabela’s, the outdoor-recreation merchandise store. It’s an opportunity for salespeople to get in front of clients, develop relationships, and help build client businesses, all while gathering information to grow sales.
“When we have people attend, guess what you’re doing? You’re getting their email and their information,” says Witt. “The sales rep or manager has that loaded into their CRM to be able to blast announcements and say, ‘Hey, this happened and here’s a follow-up.’ In many cases, the supplier works with us to do some kind of special thank-you.”
Lansing also puts its own resources to work for clients, offering help with marketing and materials. Got a window job coming up? The marketing department will design custom window mailers for surrounding homes. Haven’t updated your logo in decades? Designers will take a look and offer suggestions or replacements.
“We want to make sure our customers are marketing themselves, are branding themselves,” says Witt. “It’s about going out and taking customers and contractors and maybe they can diversify. It’s not just going out and showing a product; it’s actually going above and beyond that and showing them how they can get more leads and how they can brand themselves better.”
When Hunter Lansing took over, there were few things he wanted to change about the company writ large. The culture was in place and the people were on board with the mission. But with an almost 30-year gap between the outgoing president and the incoming one, Hunter was ready to bring a fresh perspective to the tech side of the company.
“There was an opportunity for Lansing from a technology perspective,” Hunter says. “We’ve really started down that road.”
The latest upgrades to Lansing’s technology come in the form of integrating applications that have been available for some time together to make everyday tasks faster and easier.
For example, the latest CRM update added a mapping system, so salespeople can create a list of contacts and automatically map everything without relying on a third-party app. This reduces planning time and creates more time for sales.
Another update integrated capabilities from three separate technologies, combining proof of delivery, GPS, and scheduling.
“It all flows from one piece to the other,” says CFO Mason Chapman. “It helps the delivery driver know where to go and helps optimize the route. It gives really good access for our customers if there’s a delivery. They can know if something was delivered.”
The Lansing team isn’t content to rest on its laurels and continue with business as usual. Once-impermeable industries have been disrupted through clever technological implementation and innovation. The LBM sector hasn’t seen one of these seismic shifts just yet, but as companies like Amazon continue to change the value behind things like delivery times and edge further into the industry, the question seems more like “when” and not “if.”
“The e-commerce thing, that’s something that’s on everyone’s mind,” says Chapman. “If a business out there isn’t thinking about how they might be disrupted by an Amazon or somebody like that, then they’re in trouble. We’re not looking at it from the point of, ‘We’re worried about a competitor coming in and disrupting us.’ But what we think about is, ‘How are our customers going to want us to offer products to them?’ ”
The model of clients knowing a sales rep and building relationships is one that’s served the industry well for decades. Take Thompson Creek, a three-year Lansing customer.
Rick Wuest, president of Thompson Creek, recalls once urgently needing a custom pink sealant to finish a project on time. Kyle Watson, a branch manager at Lansing’s Lanham, Md., location, quickly matched the color and personally delivered it to Thompson Creek. “We would have missed that deadline if [Watson] hadn’t gone to those efforts,” Wuest says. “We’re really aligned with creating the best customer experience,” which is why, he adds, “it’s been fantastic” working with a company that shares the same values.
That human touch is something that dealers from all sectors can attest to, and retaining that in an ever-evolving world can be a challenge. Is there benefit to reducing that relationship to just a transactional level? The Lansing team isn’t convinced that a sterile future is inevitable.
“Folks who are racing towards the other side of it where it is purely transactional are making it easier for us,” says Billy Mosby, Lansing’s chief operations officer. “If all you’re focused on is being cheaper, if all you’re focused on is the transaction itself, then you’re allowing our relationship to be more meaningful.”
Maintaining that relationship as more elements of the transaction become automated is key to retaining the culture Lansing has worked so hard to cultivate, so it’s no surprise the team has put a lot of thought into just what that personal touch means. It could be as simple as truck drivers shaking hands and scanning a jobsite to know where to put the supplies so the contractors don’t have to walk as far. And if that delivery is the only touch point the customer has with a Lansing associate, it makes that interaction all the more important.
“I do believe the touch points will be less, for sure,” says Hunter. “But I don’t see the human value or the human interaction, I don’t see that going away. I only see the need for us to train our people even better as we embrace and implement more technology into the business.”
The other key aspect of supporting a potential overhaul of this level is logistics. Setting up a storefront is one thing, but maintaining meticulous records and showcasing accuracy is something else. Accurate pricing is a chief component: Is variable pricing in the future, or should an associate be involved? These are the issues Lansing is dealing with today to be prepared for the LBM world of tomorrow.
“We’re not there yet,” admits Hunter. “If you were a customer and you needed 17 pieces of 4 quarter by 4 arctic white and you see we have 23 pieces, well, then, we better have 23 pieces to fulfill your 17-piece order. If your price is not actually $2.99 but $2.99 a piece, it better be $2.99 a piece when it gets invoiced to you.”
The Lansing team has dedicated around 18 months behind the scenes to developing and executing a strategy to meet the needs of a changing customer base. The goal isn’t immediate implementation but a chance to refine the process and be ahead of expectations.
The LBM industry moves in cycles, and after several boom years, growth is slowing. Economists whisper “recession,” but consumer confidence remains strong. Hunter predicts continuing growth even if it isn’t at the lofty levels of 2016 and 2017.
“I don’t quite understand Wall Street, but I think I do have a pretty good understanding of Main Street and what our customers are saying to us and just what I’m personally seeing out there. And that is relatively strong, decent consumer confidence out there. People are improving their homes. If there were a bubble, that’s not much of a bubble to burst, because the housing demand hasn’t quite been met yet in our country,” he says.
That optimism stems from market sources, but Hunter has other reasons to feel positive. Former president Chris Lansing always had a vision for Lansing Building Products: $500 million and 100 warehouses. In late 2017, the company broke that long–sought after $500 million mark. And after several years without acquisitions or major expansions, the company has outlined numerous greenfield markets ripe for expansion. With the organization bolstered by a strong company culture at every level and employees who seem genuinely committed to the mission, don’t be surprised if Lansing finally breaks free from its No. 15 position on the ProSales 100 list, on its way to becoming the next $1 billion LBM behemoth.