Jay Curtis President Curtis Lumber
Jay Curtis President Curtis Lumber

It's not easy beating Jay Curtis to work in the morning. The president of Ballston Spa, N.Y.–based Curtis Lumber—now 18 units strong with the November 2004 acquisition of seven-yard competitor Webb and Sons—has usually already scanned his e-mail and phone messages by 6:30 a.m. when he helps to open up the Ballston Spa headquarters yard. Steam from his coffee follows him as he moves quickly between contractors pulling in and first deliveries pulling out. Like the company that bears his name, Jay Curtis is anything but complacent.

"Jay is always moving," says Rick Galerneau, vice president and construction manager for Galerneau Homes, a custom home builder covering three upstate counties and an exclusive Curtis customer. "But at the same time he's approachable, he is down to earth, not a stuffed shirt on the fifth floor in the back office looking out the window over his pro dealer kingdom. He's work boots-and-jeans, and if there is something going on he wants to know—and that is good for my business."

That's Curtis Lumber: no suits, no ties. "This is not a fashion contest," Curtis says unapologetically. "This is a business."

And what a business it is. An influx of technology firms migrating into the Albany, N.Y., capital region coupled with brisk consumer sales and continued high-end custom home building in nearby resort areas saw the company's gross sales rise 20 percent in 2004 to $120 million. More than 6,000 active accounts continue to benefit from the dealer's commitment to safety, customer service, and technology and its investments in showrooms, prototype yards, new product segments (including a specialized hardwood department), wall panels, and most recently the acquisition of Webb and Sons, a move that should solidify Curtis' presence as the premier lumber and building materials supplier in east-central New York.

"If you're not growing, you're going," Curtis says of the company's constant commitment to product and service evolution. "I learned that from my peers, and it is something in this industry that has been painfully clear. If you are not going ahead, you are going backwards, because there is no such thing as static in this business. There are no fixed positions."

Total Accommodation

Acquiring Webb and Sons last November is Curtis Lumber's latest exercise in movement. Though the purchase of the Sherburne, N.Y.–based pro dealer and retailer takes Curtis Lumber away from its traditional model of single-location organic growth, Curtis saw a culture fit and a long-term, sustainable builder economy within its geographic reach that was too hard to resist. "I'm really looking forward to it. I wasn't excited about expanding that much just yet, but my mind is at ease with the current political climate and I see a nice, long-term steady growth climate," he says.

Curtis estimates Webb's financial performance can be improved by 30 percent based on incorporating Curtis Lumber's operational best practices alone. Plus, the two business cultures are compatible. "It's like an Austin Powers situation—they are like the Mini Me, they are the little Siamese twin of us—it is such a good match, and I think there is so much we can teach them in time."

Indeed, Webb, which has been lauded by the Greene County Chamber of Commerce as a customer-centric supplier willing to travel to Utica on Christmas Eve to secure a door package for one of its builders, fits right in with a Curtis corporate philosophy of pushing the boundaries to execute superior customer service. "Our biggest strength is our commitment to going above and beyond the expectations of our customers," says June Neeson, manager of Curtis' Queensbury, N.Y., yard. "We have loyal customers, but the loyalty comes from the people at Curtis that they work with. We don't give up and we rarely say no. We have a lot of outlets to finding information and getting answers, and we make a commitment to internal promotions and hiring, so there is longevity and a knowledge base that is second to none [in our market]."

Assistant Manager Bill Schempp (top) helps to man Curtis Lumber's prototype facility in Queensbury (above), which maximizes turns and efficiency with carefully planned retail space and a state-of-the-art drive-through yard.
Assistant Manager Bill Schempp (top) helps to man Curtis Lumber's prototype facility in Queensbury (above), which maximizes turns and efficiency with carefully planned retail space and a state-of-the-art drive-through yard.

Central New York custom and tract builders agree that Curtis doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to customer service execution. "Curtis goes out of its way to extend a feeling that we are all in this together, that building homes and being successful is a group effort that includes all parties—builders, suppliers, subcontractors," says Galerneau, who adds that Curtis consistently and uniquely delivers on the value-added service pledge often pitched but rarely executed by most suppliers. "When I want product or I want an answer, I want it now, I don't want it tomorrow, and Curtis has been able to accommodate me efficiently and quickly every day for the past six years."

George Amadore Jr., vice president of Amadore Construction in Albany, one of the region's largest builders that will close on approximately 100 single-family homes and multifamily town-house complexes in 2004, says Curtis consistently meets his company's tract builder expectations, and in turn receives a large percentage of the company's purchasing. "They allocate resources to earn every aspect of our business," Amadore says. "They have instilled the idea that the customer comes first, and from their truck drivers to their inside staff they show pride and care in accommodating our needs."