The continuing housing market downturn has caught up with Wheeler's Building Materials, the Rome, Ga.-based pro dealer. According to a report Dec. 4 by the Rome News-Tribune newspaper, Wheeler's has closed several of its locations, including several sites in metro Atlanta plus Calhoun and Dalton (see map of all 23 locations in business at the start of this year). Additionally, the company, which once employed nearly 1,000 people, is down to less than 500 today, the newspaper quoted Wheeler's CEO Mark Manis as saying. Attempts by ProSales to reach Manis have been unsuccessful.

At the height of the market, Wheeler's opened two new locations in 2006. The company ranked 24th on the 2007 ProSales 100 list with 2006 sales of $270 million, up 17.4% from 2005 sales of $230 million. Manis told the Rome News-Tribune that the housing crash has cut his business by nearly 60% compared with last year. The company was founded in 1949 and has focused lately on serving big production builders alone; it doesn't even have cash registers in its stores.

During an August interview in Rome with ProSales, Manis said he was already grappling with issues stemming from what was then a 50% drop in single-family housing permits in the Atlanta metro area.

"If you'd blown off 25% of the froth of last year, I'd say that's OK," Manis said. "[But what if] you go to any business in town and say 'your market is going to shrink by half; what do you do?'"

"We were ramping up a year ago," Manis continued. "We were concerned about having enough capacity for this year. And while we were building capacity, the market just crashed."

Through July, Manis said, Wheeler's business was down 14%. But the Atlanta area market has only worsened since then. By August, a motto that the company had followed for a quarter century--"Manage for Tomorrow's Growth"--had been replaced. The new one said, "Manage for Today's Profit."

Manis said in August that Wheeler's had been able to beat the overall market's decline in part by winning market share and that the company was pushing value-added services, particularly for products it manufacturers, such as vinyl windows and roof trusses.

Manis said then that stores serving the Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., markets were being reconstituted to specialize in just lumber or just millwork, but not both. (The three stores in the Birmingham, Ala., area were to continue to stock both lumber and millwork.) Manis said Wheeler's is doing this because it has found that running a pair of specialty yards permits each facility to provide one particular product better and more efficiently than when it provided two.

"We think we will reduce our head count by 10% for the Atlanta area," Manis said in August.