The address may say Greensboro Street, but Fitch Lumber in the middle of Tobacco Road. That's because it's just three miles away from the University of North Carolina's basketball arena and only 10 miles from Duke University's stadium. A lifelong native of Chapel Hill and a fulltimer at Fitch Lumber since 1971, 61-year-old "Mac" Fitch has been able to enjoy many of UNC's 2,000-plus victories and five national titles (one more than Duke, he might add). Carolina and Duke clash next on Feb. 8. Here's what life is like at a third-generation lumberyard where the police ask you to hide all the Carolina blue spray paint before the Tar Heels play in big games.
A Father's Legacy When my dad gave his stock to me and my sisters, he gave me the lumber company and said "I'm going to give Mac the opportunity to work his ass off the rest of his life." Now I have two sons working here. One of them is in sales and the other is sort of an operation manager. And a sister is in promotions and advertising.
My Day, My Metrics We open at 8 a.m. and I'm here at 8. I usually go out to operations and see what kinds of deliveries we have scheduled. I then mosey back at my office. I look at reports every day–sales, gross profit, sales, exceptions. I check out our gross profit on the day and the number of tickets. It's been real easy with the small reports lately. We get our monthly P&L and balance sheets. We've got last year's numbers on the same page. We're so small that it's not rocket science. We're probably 80-20 pro. Under normal times, that pro component would be would be 60% new construction and 40% remodeling. The last two years it's probably 90% remodeling.
Life in a College Town Carrboro is the western side of Chapel Hill. It's full of students, but they're usually renters. We get a lot of walk-in traffic, wanting a key made or a piece of shelving. You definitely don't talk politics in the store; it's extremely liberal.
Keys to Victory It's all about service. We're never the cheapest place in town. Service is what's kept us in town. Good people. The lack of turnover. As small as we are, if somebody needs something out there in an hour we try to make sure that happens. If one of my sons has to drive the truck, we make sure that happens. Our salesmen probably have spoiled a lot of builders. We still do takeoffs for the builders, and they appreciate that.
Have Builders Changed? A whole lot. It used to be a builder had 10 people on his payroll. They had crews that did everything. Nowadays, it's a builder and a pickup and no employees and he's dealing with framing crews and siding crews. And the people doing the work are some crew that the builder doesn't know…. Our salespeople have to stay on top of things, and we have to make sure things are out there when they need it. The builder may not be on the job site. It's tricky to make sure we try to deliver it to the right job, get directions. But sometimes it's hard to get to the job.
Who We Serve We pretty much cater to large custom home builders. We probably don't go far outside a 30-mile radius.If our customers are building something we'll go there, but we don't go out and look for new business.
What About UNC? We get a lot of fill-ins and maintenance items. But we don't sell the steel and concrete.
Fitch's Environmental Commitment It's about building green, trying to be a good steward. There are a lot of good programs out there. We're not certified green, but a lot of companies that we buy through are. Everybody is starting to ask for it, but it hasn't really affected how or what we buy.
Operating in a Downturn We probably should have laid people off when things turned. We haven't, simply because it's their family. We felt blessed that we could afford to keep people on and not when every business was laying people off. Now it's starting to come back a little bit. We just try to keep our little family here. And everybody does somebody's job. If anybody's sick, others don't have a problem pitching in.
Improving Signs We've started working on a lot more plans that we haven't seen in a while, and some people who haven't had plans on the table for two years are starting to do things.
"Our builders want good service, a fair price and a friend–and that's what we are. We try to help them with whatever they're doing. They even ask if they can borrow a forklift."