Breathing too much of your own exhaust?

By / January 11, 2018

Regardless of how successful you believe your company may be, your place of business is most likely not the most innovative building supply business in North America. I’d say the odds are really good that there are building supply operations somewhere out there that have figured out some of the same problems that you and your management team are struggling with right now, today.

I love to read business books. I’ve learned a lot about how to solve business problems from the books I’ve read, but what I’ve learned from books pales in comparison to what I’ve learned from visiting with the owners and managers of successful businesses in our industry.

When I meet managers who rarely get outside of their own businesses to visit with the managers of other yards, I accuse them of spending too much time breathing their own exhaust. It has been my experience that to discover the best money-making and problem-solving ideas, it’s usually necessary to take a trip; that is, to invest the time to expose you and your key managers to other successful businesses.

Consider this: there are no sales or operational problems that someone in our industry has not solved, so if you want to shorten your learning curve, budget time each year to visit five or six businesses that your research suggests are operationally on the leading edge.

Another one of the greatest benefits of getting outside your own community—or for that matter, your state or region of the country—is to develop a network of managers who are in the same business you’re in. You can call on these managers when you are looking for solutions.

When I conduct a consulting assignment, I almost invariably encourage the client to visit specific dealers whom I know personally to be doing a much better job in an area of their business that my client would benefit from knowing about. And seeing it firsthand is a lot more effective than reading about it.

Bill Lee works with owners and managers who are looking for ways to put more money on the bottom line. For more information, you can contact Bill at 864.303.8366 or email him at [email protected] I recall a time in my old company when we were spending what we believed to be an excessive amount of expense dollars sending our drivers to jobsites to pick up merchandise our builders wanted to return for credit. Historically we had calculated returned materials amounted to just over 2% of our sales dollars. At this particular time, however, returns had elevated to more than 3% of sales.

We approached our federated association director and asked if he knew anyone who was doing a great job of managing returns. He told us about a company that was located about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from our community who was doing some very innovative things that got the builder involved.

There are no sales or operational problems that someone in our industry has not already solved.

When we arrived on site, the owner of the company explained that he had met with his customers—especially those customers who were returning an unusually large quality of materials—and together they had agreed on a solution. The builders agreed to stack the materials they wanted to return on pallets and then set the pallets on the curb to make it easy for our drivers to pick them up with a piggyback forklift.

The idea helped with two problems we were experiencing: First, our drivers no longer had to walk all over the jobsite gathering the materials the builder wanted to return. Secondly, it called our customers’ attention to returns and that alone motivated them to significantly reduce the amount of material they returned for credit.

Business slows down at many yards during the winter months, making wintertime an excellent time of year for most managers to take a short road trip.


Bill Lee

Bill Lee works with owners and managers who are looking for ways to put more money on the bottom line. For more information, you can contact Bill at 864.303.8366 or email him at [email protected]