There may not be an I in team, but there is a U in community. Billion-dollar LBM dealers could learn a lesson from smaller, localized yards. Just because your company name is on a building in a community doesn't mean you are part of that community.

Mark Gelhar
Mark Gelhar

Ever wonder why huge corporations with deep pockets can't survive in a community, but small mom-and-pop shops seem to hang on? My belief is you need to be involved in the community you operate in.

National chains I have been associated with tend to focus on national accounts. They believe those national accounts are the bread and butter of their survival. To the contrary, I believe local accounts are the bread and butter; national accounts are your favorite jelly topping. Why open a business in a community, then anger the people that have served that community for decades before your arrival?

So how does a company become a community member? Obviously, you can't provide handouts to everyone that shows up looking for donations. So, get out in the community and find out what is important to them. Some places have food shelves or veterans clubs that are important to them. Others live and die for their high school sports teams. An average cost of sponsoring a youth sports team is $500. Talk to your local builders and see what, if anything, they are involved in. As soon as you become involved in what is most important to your new community, your support will not go unnoticed and the members of that community will know you are with them.

Times are tough and some places really just can't afford to spend the extra money. But there are plenty of ways you can get involved without spending money. Here are six:

  1. Do you ever have a builders breakfast or open house? Ask that everyone attending bring a canned good or cash donation for the local food bank, then deliver the goods in your company truck.
  2. You know those nail aprons with your company name on them that no carpenter wants to use? Deliver them to the local high school's athletic department. Their volunteers love them for collecting tickets and at concession stands.
  3. Invite the Girl Scouts or other youth groups to set up a table at the front of your store to sell their fundraising items.
  4. During the Holidays, make your location a Toys-for-Tots drop off center, or if your community has a local family service, collect toys for them and deliver them in your company truck.
  5. Got building materials that you are unlikely to ever sell? Organize a yard sale and let a local charity sell soft drinks and BBQ at the event.
  6. Ask your vendors for donations, hold a silent auction with your employees, and donate the proceeds to a local need.

These are a few ideas that have been used successfully in the past. But to be most successful you really need to find out your communities needs and wants. Get in touch and stay in touch with key members of the community: Police departments, fire departments, church groups, the list goes on. You can't have too many local contacts. When these groups of people know you are a caring part of the their business community, You will be surprised at the number of people with projects that will tell their contractor where they want them to buy materials ... instead of where not to.

Reach out past your direct customers into the community they are building. Your contractors will be putting up buildings, and you will be building relationships with loyalty you can't replace. Start with a foundation, and build it up. The letter U is in the middle of the word community, and making your business the center of the community is a move you will never regret.

The son of a master carpenter, Mark Gelhar has worked in the building material industry for more than 25 years. Some of those years were spent with America's biggest LBM dealers. Currently he is a shift supervisor for Quality One Woodwork in Hastings, Minn. His e-mail address is [email protected]