The Simonsons have been in the lumber business since Danish immigrant Nels Simonson began selling timber he harvested around St. Croix Falls, Wis., in the 1890s. But it wasn't all they did. Over the years, various Simonsons have sold coal, gasoline, even old wood salvaged from barns. Now, Rick Simonson is selling knowledge–specifically, how to run an installed sales program.

"With a mature installed sales program, you can make really good money, but it's not easy." Photo: Sara Jorde Simonson has created a franchise operation called Install Pros that operates in three cities and will expand this winter. It's based on the installed sales operation he's run for several years at Fargo's Simonson Lumber & Hardware branch. Here's what he does and how he plans to grow.

What Makes You Different From Other Dealers?

"We are not tackling the big jobs. I think that a lot of lumberyards are doing installs for framing, roof trusses, and the like. We are painstakingly staying away from competing with our core business, which is contractors. We are acting as a jobber, adding fill-in work for the contractors doing work with us.

"We're kind of like a referral service in that we do all their legwork for them. When we got together with our contractors, we asked them what were their struggles. They [told] us they get home at night after a 10-hour day, eat dinner, spend time with family, and then go into their offices and do billing, bids, collection work. ? We do that work for them.

"The difference between us and a traditional yard is that a yard will refer business ? and if the contractor that you get does a lousy job, where do you go? They come back to you, and you feel responsibility for that work anyway. We warranty the work that our contractors do. We only use contractors that are experts in the field, and we'll back them up or find someone else who can do the job."

How Do You Compete With the Big Boxes?

"This is the one thing that I've found we can beat them at because of our service and our personal dedication to the community. We've been here for more than 80 years. Jobs don't always go right, so when homeowners have a problem, they can come in to a manager and get answers. A hailstorm came through Fargo last year, and a contractor came to me and said, ?A week ago, I bid 10 of these jobs and got two of them. Think of all the time I spent. With you, I get a little less money per job, but I'm making way more money than I could.' "

–Craig Webb