In the summer of 2003, Zeeland Lumber was going full throttle. With a reputation for being the price champion in its market, the company had been experiencing tremendous growth over the past decade. But success was beginning to take its toll, taxing employees and limiting customer service.

The two-location, Zeeland, Mich.–based dealer realized it needed to take action, starting internally and working out. Management began by conducting an employee survey. It then added new employees and equipment, and scheduled regular meetings in all departments to fix communications gaps. They launched “Employee News & Views,” a newsletter mailed directly to employees' homes that contains employee information and news, along with customer service–related articles. Finally, Zeeland implemented the “Outstanding Customer Service” program, which spontaneously recognizes employees who go above and beyond to make a customer happy.

Once the internal drive began, customer-specific programs were introduced or enhanced. The company continued to refine its “concepts” showroom to better serve builders and plans to expand the idea into other markets. In order to remain a low-cost provider but still offer customer incentives, Zeeland implemented its BonusBucks program, which utilizes vendor co-op dollars to reward customers with items like trips and sporting events. The company also conducts customer open houses, publishes a customer newsletter, and offers co-branded jobsite signs, among other programs.

Zeeland is noticing positive changes inside and out. Employee morale is up, says director of development Tom Touzel, and there has been a noticeable shift in attitude. What's more, word of mouth of Zeeland's improving service is spreading. The company had a record year in 2003 and is anticipating a 37 percent sales increase this year. By starting from within, Zeeland Lumber is building on its price reputation with a backing of strong service.

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