ENTREPRENEURS OF THE YEAR: 2017
Somerville Lumber Company
LBM Journal Entrepreneur of the Year 2017
Sales of $10-$50 Million
Family Loyalty Builds Customer Loyalty at Somerville Lumber Company
For any successful LBM dealer, before you can measure growth by the number of store locations, you first should measure the growth within. At Somerville Lumber Company in Bridgewater, N.J., that internal growth and development has propelled the single-location lumberyard to become one of the largest family-owned businesses in the area.
Across the company, employees share in decision-making processes such as product selection and the streamlining of efficiencies. Somerville’s internal team concept is designed to foster a sense of unity and feeling of inclusion among employees, regardless of role within the company.
“We have such a talented team that we are honored to work with every day,” said co-owner Stacie McKay. “They are smart and innovative. This is why we have been in the business for so many years. We look forward to working together towards our future growth.”
The company recognizes that employee product knowledge and continuing education is critical to its ongoing success, and provides multiple options for employee education. Cross-training is critical and employees are encouraged to learn all aspects of the business.
“Everyone is involved,” said co-owner Didi Shaprio, “and because of that, productivity and customer service is way up.”
The company culture at Somerville not only brings in some of the best applicants for staff positions, it also contributes to the company’s expanding customer base. And the culture, along with the company’s special order capabilities, contributes to the longevity of its existing customer base.
Founded in 1925 by Abe Schumer, Somerville Lumber Company, which is affiliated with the True Value co-op, is in its 82nd year of operation and family ownership. Current co-owners Didi Shapiro and Stacie McKay are granddaughters of Abe Schumer. Their mother, Susan Schumer, was married to Abe’s son, Jack, and is still president of the company. Didi and Stacie took over the business 15 years ago.
Abe Schumer originally started the business by selling reclaimed lumber to the armed forces. His first storefront was a small, one-room location. A few years later, he developed one of New Jersey’s first drive-through lumberyards. With success in building materials, he soon opened a mortgage company that financed many of the area’s early homes.
Susan Schumer said she attributes the current success of the company to the entrepreneurial spirit and foresight of vice president Ken Kovacs. “He has succeeded in creating dynamic new business centers within the company, while maintaining our strong family values and customer service. His attention to employee team work, detailed policies and procedures is a hallmark of his managerial style and the family is confident that the company will continue to flourish under his leadership.”
Today, Somerville Lumber Company’s full-line lumberyard offers an in-depth selection of lumber products, windows, doors, decking, flooring, kitchen, bath and tile, as well as an extensive custom order program.
The store’s customers have come to rely on the custom order program, something that keeps Somerville Lumber ahead of its competition. Approximately 60% of the store’s clientele are professional builders and remodelers, while homeowners and DIY customers make up the remaining 40%.
“Our builder and remodeler customers stay loyal,” Kovacs said. “That has been a constant. As the industry has changed, we’ve changed our face along with that to serve the retail customer who walks through the door.”
Serving those customers are Somerville’s 65 fulltime employees, including five outside salespeople. Over the years, Somerville has been marketed as more of a destination than just a store, with both a diverse array of products and complete category lines. Merchandise categories within the store are organized by individual “centers” that operate as specialized areas.
Somerville Lumber Company’s full-line lumberyard offers an in-depth selection of building products, including lumber, windows, doors, decking, flooring, kitchen, bath and tile, as well as an extensive custom order program.
“It’s generally a store within a store,” Kovacs said. “For example, we have a deck center that is so unique and so full we had to move it to another building.” The deck center is currently 3,000 square feet in size and features full-size displays including patio furniture, fire pits, and hardscape products.
Somerville has done the same with its door center, an area of the store that features 75 display doors as well as an interactive kiosk that allows customers to visualize, on a real door, the many custom options available.
The move to a center-focused retail concept was dictated to some extent by product lines. As Somerville grew and carried more lines, a concept that persisted throughout the growth was to maintain fully stocked lines. While each staff member is cross-trained, Somerville Lumber features expert employees in each category.
Offering installed sales through its CornerstoneHome building company, Somerville serves homeowners and contractors alike through installs of decking, windows, doors, kitchens, baths, custom wine cellars, and more.
“Our bottom line is that if you need something, then this is the place to shop,” Kovacs said. “You’re going to see more here than you’ll see in any other stores.”
While fulfilling customer needs inside the store, Somerville Lumber Company looks to provide the best service outside its building as well. With consumer buying habits focusing more online, Somerville seeks to get consumers off the couch and into the store. They do so by offering a personal buying experience through a strong website presence that is mobile friendly.
The end goal of the website isn’t necessarily to sell products as much as it is to encourage customers to visit the store. Advertising online as well as cable TV, radio, magazine and circulars are all directed towards moving feet on the floor inside the store.
“Our store is a powerful thing people need to experience live,” Kovacs said. “We want to encourage them to visit our location so they can experience fully what we’re all about. It’s a different experience and it’s more involved than people think.”
Somerville also focuses on social media activity to reach an online audience and bring them into the store. To contribute to a personalized shopping experience, the Somerville website encourages customers to reach out to store members in advance of their visit. The store members then prepare information for the customers and have answers ready when they come in.
“We want customers to feel comfortable and confident,” Kovacs said.
|The deck center is currently 3,000 square feet in size and features full-size displays including patio furniture, fire pits, and hardscape products.|
In an area like Bridgewater, N.J., where Somerville is located, an expansion plan doesn’t always mean purchasing a competitor’s location or building a new store. For example, Somerville’s deck center is currently at 3,000 square feet and is scheduled to double in 2017. The company’s door center recently expanded from 200 square feet to 900 square feet. Tentative plans are in place for growth of the store’s window center, door center and kitchen and bath center. All center growth involves renovation to the current building and a modification of floor plans.
One way the company has been able to grow its decking offering at such a rapid clip—decking makes up 20% of all Somerville sales—is through its annual Deck Expo. Now in its 20th year, the Deck Expo brings a trade show for deck professionals to the store, complete with deck builder and product manufacturer participation.
Somerville staff members also participate in trade shows as well as host contractor and architect classes. Through direct mail and email marketing campaigns the company’s deck sales helps lift other category sales as well.
Through company experience, longevity and a special order program, Somerville is able to stay atop big box and other independent lumberyards in the area, and a focus on team concept has helped elevate the company to true entrepreneurial status.