Jay Curtis has thought a lot about the value of timely deliveries in the LBM game. "You need to work on the principle 'get there first, but first get there right,' " says Curtis, owner and president of Curtis Lumber in Ballston Spa, N.Y., the 2004 ProSales Dealer of the Year. "Speed is of no use to you if the orders are inaccurate."

Many other successful dealers and consultants have pondered the same question and reached the same conclusion: efficiency and accuracy are partners of time in today's market. Getting the goods to a jobsite quickly doesn't count as much as getting it there quickly, efficiently, and correctly.

How do they do it? Here are eight steps that LBM dealers can take to increase their speed and their precision when delivering orders.

1 – Simplify the Process

Establish a system that deletes all unnecessary steps in the supply-chain process and sets the guidelines for a business before promising the world to customers. Lines of communication should be kept as direct and uncluttered as possible. While too many cooks can spoil the broth, too many LBM employees can ruin the order.

"Chronic issues are sometimes never addressed in a systematic way because they are handled on the fly all the time," says Ruth Kellick-Grubbs, founder of Kellick & Associates, a building materials advisory firm in Tyron, N.C. "If you can eliminate one or two of those things by simplifying the process, that's huge."

It starts with getting the order right. Having the proper takeoff systems in place, including sales personnel who understand and exceed at the process, is a great way to increase supply-chain efficiency.

"It's low tech," Kellick-Grubbs says. "Get all the right information up front, and make sure it's complete."

Aside from taking down an accurate list of the materials that make up the order, also obtain simple but important information at the start, including the customer's delivery address, when the materials are needed, and where on the site they should be delivered.

2 – Automate

By taking the time to automate tasks within the supply chain, dealers can eliminate wasted time down the road, not to mention bumps that impede efficiency. Automating tasks around the yard also can produce a side benefit: streamlined processes.

"Move all of your audit and tracking functions out of the delivery flow," Curtis says. "Don't let data entry be a bottleneck. Automate it and make it transparent."

"You have to take the time and effort to put in a structure and processes that standardize and automate as much of the system as possible," says Kellick-Grubbs.

Allen & Allen Lumber and Hardware, a two-unit dealer in San Antonio, employs Dynamics AX enterprise resource planning software, which integrates accounting, sales, quoting, materials requirement planning, customer relations, inventory management, and production.

"It basically takes care of everything, and it is all tied together," says Josh Davis, director of information services for Allen & Allen. Billing is completed each evening after deliveries, and e-mails are sent to the customer or the sales person when a load is shipped. Notices also can be sent if a delivery is delayed.

Keep in mind, however, that computers are a tool and should not dictate procedures around the yard. "The metaphor is, 'When you need to tighten a nut, you get a wrench,' " Curtis says. "It's not 'When the only tool you have is a wrench, everything begins to look like a nut.' "

3 – Improve Your Tracking and Routing

More and more dealers are turning to global positioning system (GPS) technology to identify the proper route to a delivery spot. In the meantime, companies keep tabs on drivers and trucks through tracking systems that can pinpoint exactly where a vehicle might be in traffic, and exactly how far it might be from the dropoff point. This makes it possible to give the customer an honest answer in times when the delivery might be stuck in traffic.

Preplanned routes go hand in hand with tracking vehicles. Routing software can minimize miles, gasoline usage, and drive time. "In a perfect world, you might invest in both routing and optimization software," says Kellick-Grubbs.

Allen & Allen's system divides local delivery addresses into zones to help organize routes and drops. Ricci Lumber in Portsmouth, N.H., has equipped three of its vehicles with GPS systems. All 10 delivery vehicles are expected to have GPS systems in place by the end of the year.

Local public outcry has led to the elimination of large trucks on some roads, leading Ricci to establish new routes to old locations. The dealer also has had to alert vendors to the changes, because the same road changes have affected incoming freight.

"From some locations, there is only one way to come in and out of the yard," says Patrick Moretti, Ricci's general manager.

4 – Organize the Yard

Is your lumberyard a cluttered mess, or are there designated locations for each material with products racked, stacked, and arranged neatly? Designate locations in the yard for each specific material, and keep the areas stocked and neat. This saves loading crews time, because they know exactly where to go for items on a ticket rather than running from one side of the yard to the other.

For large deliveries, Ricci Lumber prints its pulling tickets in such a way that they correspond with how materials are arranged in the yard. "Having the yard organized helps. Everything has a specific spot where it has to be, and the ticket reflects where it is in the yard," Moretti says.