This past week I visited three lumberyards and found that, for the most part, dealers have taken down signs that tell customers to go away. That is, I don't see the signs anymore that reads, "Absolutely No Customer Pickup--Delivery Only." Today, dealers will take just about any sales they can get.

I also believe that retail is coming back for dealers that have a great location, a high fill rate, excellent service, reasonable prices, great product selection ... and a doorman.

What is a doorman?

A doorman is a doorkeeper or door watcher. He is the person that waits for customers to drive around to the back of the yard to pick up materials. With budgets so tight over the last few years, every expense has been reviewed and many have been cut. In some cases, that meant eliminating the doorman that you might not have realized you even had.

If you have such a person, make sure he or she is always available at your loading door. I feel this is the loneliest place for your customers as they drive around to load materials.

Your doorman should be a people person and have access to the sales and loading staff. This person should greet each and every customer with a smile and see how he can help. If the customer is waiting for supplies to be pulled, the doorman should entertain the customer. Entertainment can mean providing a bottle of water, cup of coffee, or snack food. It can also mean asking customers about their weekend, existing jobs, family, or sports. As the doorman meets more and more customers, he will begin developing relationships and know what questions to ask.

All great hotels have a doorman. This person makes customers feel welcome, directs traffic, and seems to always be available to assist customers. Can you remember the doorman at your favorite hotel? What did this person do to make you feel special and return, thus investing more money in that hotel?

Here are other places where I have a seen a memorable doorman in action:

  • Our regional airport has a security guard named Bob. He always asks where I am going to or coming from. He will call a cab for me if I need one. When I think of our airport, I think of Bob. He just makes me feel special. He greets me by name.
  • Oxford Lumber in Oxford, Ala., has a person who waits for you as you enter the store. When I visited, he was more than helpful in locating the manager and understanding a little about me. While I am many miles from Oxford, I wish that store and that doorman were located in my hometown.
  • Our local hardware store, Guidry Hardware, has about three doormen. These guys are the talk of the town. The store does have a broad product selection, but it's the doormen that make the customers feel special. That is Guidry's key. These guys are like a search engine, helping me find items in the store.
  • Our local meat market has a doorman named Mike. He knows more about meat than I will ever know and he always asks questions about me. He always asks about my family and work. OK, he might be a meatman, but think of him as a doorman.
  • Both our UPS and FedEx drivers can be doormen. Of course, they come to our door instead of our going to their door. But they are great in that they show us pictures on their phones from their vacations. They also ask about our vacations and have even approached me in church.

Just as we have many choices in airports or overnight freight carriers, your customers have many choices when looking for building supplies. So why not take the lead on your competition by enhancing the role of your doorman or adding a doorman if you do not have one? If a doorman keeps your customers coming back again and again, you have succeeded in building a relationship and more importantly repeat business. Put your doorman in place, and watch your sales grow.

Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at [email protected].