With contractors large and small continuing to build at record levels, pro construction suppliers are in the midst of another busy sales year in 2005. For most lumberyards and distributors, the last several years have been fast—rapid sales increases, quick inventory turns, and swift market growth. But in corporate speak, being a “fast company” isn't merely about successfully riding the revenue velocity in the market—because just about everyone is already on that wave. Instead, fast companies look at their competitors, outside industries, and their own inherent talents and capabilities to drive successful new business ventures, even when the going is already good.

“Fast is a state of mind. If you're fast, you don't accept the status quo. You plan for your moment to shine and when it comes—pow!—run for daylight and don't look back,” writes David Lidsky in “The Fast 50,” an article on business innovators launching new initiatives and reinventing their organizations compiled by the editors of Fast Company magazine for the publication's March 2005 issue.

The Fast 50 includes new product inventors, customer service champions, marketing mavens, and all-around tough competitors that have bucked the odds to make their corporate visions a successful reality. When Dell Computer entered the printer market in 2003, for example, no one imagined they could make a dent against well-established market leader Hewlett-Packard. However, by developing software that lets users track ink usage so Dell can send new supplies when needed and offering free recycling of toner receptacles, the company's market share in ink-jets grew from 5 percent in 2003 to 19 percent in 2004. “Every one of the Fast 50 is an innovator, dreamer, and doer,” writes Lidsky. “Being fast is taking on an impossible task and bit by bit making it work.”

The construction supply industry is no stranger to that philosophy. Take single-unit Huntington, N.Y.–based Kleet Lumber, which in June 2001 endured a devastating fire that Huntington firefighters called one of the area's worst blazes in more than a century. Not content to wallow in the ashes, Kleet instead maintained high levels of customer service while reinvesting in a new facility. “It's absolutely important to keep planning and executing whether things are going well or not,” says Kleet vice president Jon Bieselin. “We lost a lot of momentum, but we seem to be getting it back.”

In fact, Kleet posted a record year in 2004, increasing sales by almost 26 percent to $44 million. The company also won awards from its local home builders association for best showroom, best Web site, and best overall marketing. Bieselin says Kleet's ongoing success is partly due to keeping an eye on other fast-moving companies, and not just other pro dealers. “Our accountant works in related fields, including window fabricators and masonry companies, and he comes in once every quarter and gives us new ideas,” Bieselin gives as an example. “And we also tap into seminars from outside people given by the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association. It's always tailored and related to our industry, but it offers a fresh point of view.”

For pro dealers looking for a “fast company” model, Kleet Lumber offers the perfect case study. After the yard fire, management kept their heads up, looked at the success stories of their peers, maintained high levels of customer service, and used the disaster as an opportunity to invest in new facilities. As a result, the only smoke Kleet is seeing now is on the balance sheet, where the company is again tracking in the 20 percent growth range for 2005. Now that's what I call putting the pedal to the metal.

Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES
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