“If you want to be like Hancock, you have to decide if you’re going to run your business differently than in the past,” says Ruth Kellick-Grubbs, a longtime consultant to Maine's Hancock Lumber, the 2017 ProSales Dealer of the Year. Some of those differences can be found in how it markets itself and, more generally, how it communicates both internally and externally (often at the same time). Here are examples.

Bio card for a designer at Hancock Lumber

1. Bio Cards
Create special cards for your K&B designers showing their faces, backgrounds, and design philosophies. The cards personalize staffers while helping customers pick a designer who is likely to have compatible tastes.

A team huddle at Hancock Lumber

2. Team Huddles and Bottom-Up Problem Solving
Instituting a culture of bottom-up problem-solving requires lots of communications and goal-setting from above combined with constant encouragement for lower-level staffers to speak up and provide solutions to challenges. Hancock does this in part through weekly team huddles, such as this one in Brunswick, Maine. Company president Kevin Hancock often gets ready for a meeting by creating a list of topics to be discussed, but then he puts that list under other papers and lets the person he's meeting with bring up the issues. Often, he says, that person not only will raise all the issues that Kevin wanted to discuss but also will recommend solutions. “Leadership has evolved,” says Harland Storey, general manager of Hancock’s store in Yarmouth. “They understand that the good ideas come from the people doing the work.”

End cap at a Hancock Lumber yard

3. Warehouse End Caps
If you have a self-loading area, don't overlook selling opportunities. At Hancock's newest renovation, in Kennebunk, Maine, the company added two elements to the end caps in its self-service warehouse. The first was to paint a section of the end cap with chalkboard paint so that Hancock could easily promote special deals. The second was to put all its category signage of magnetic plates. That way, if products had to be moved, it would be no hassle to move the signage as well.

A wall at Hancock Lumber's HQ recognizes the employees of the year for each branch

4. Celebrate Excellence
A wall near the entrance to Hancock headquarters in Casco, Maine, contains this display showing the most recent employees of the year at each branch.

Front and back views of business cards at Hancock Lumber in Maine

5. Beef Up Your Business Cards
The humble business card has become an afterthought at many yards. Hancock goes the opposite direction: It prints its cards on extra-thick, high-quality stock. Note how the cards repeat Hancock's roofline motif and have a thin wood stripe at the top. The type is easy to read, and the information includes things other dealers forget, such as area codes. Finally, Hancock takes advantage of the back of the card, too, by adding an extra image.

Inside Hancock Lumber's store in Kennebunk, Maine

6. "No Lonely Customers Allowed"
One of Hancock's marketing principles is that customers should always be able to see a human as soon as they enter a store. To help accomplish this, shelving tops out at 5 feet. By the way: Note the TV sets on the end caps. These are used to deliver messages and promote sales.

7. Internal Messaging that the Public Can See
Rarely will you find an LBM operation in which heavily trafficked consumer areas have as many signs extolling a company’s customer promises—and employee expectations. For instance, a sign near the Yarmouth store’s front door commends “The Road to WOW Differentiation” by celebrating qualities like focus, discipline, and engagement. The goal here is to both inspire employees and suggest to customers that this is what they can expect from Hancock staff.

In another location, you'll see a circle chart that urges staff to “guard every intersection”—that is, take care as a transaction passes through multiple staffers before reaching the customer, who presumably is reading the same sign. Hancock spends up to half its marketing budget on what most dealers would regard as internal communication.

One way Hancock Lumber uses a creative approach for its signs

8. Draw Inspiration from MacGyver
Hancock's marketers don't want the store to look like a big box or a superstore. So they give their inside spaces a more creative feel by using unexpected materials--such as homemade clamps, pipe, and pallets--to create what are intentionally meant to look like jerry-rigged sales promotion displays. Marketers here also get creative with messaging. using phrases like "Same as Amazon Prime" and "Don't Tell the Manager Sale."

Sign at Hancock Lumber setting out essential minimum work standards

9. Promote Freedom ... Within a Framework
Hancock makes a big deal about how much it empowers workers to solve problems and promote bottom-up management, but that freedom has limits. Hancock's internal messaging signs constantly reinforce company expectations of employees, not just when dealing with customers but also in the ways things are handled internally. This sign gives an example of those standards.

Want more stealable ideas from our Dealer of the Year? Check out these 9 great operational tips.