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Educate customers on the cost of treated lumber

By / June 15, 2018

I want to talk about something that happens at our store all the time, and I bet it happens at yours too. It plays out like this: A customer calls the store and asks, “how much is your treated lumber?”

The answer to that question is always these two words: “It depends.”

The customer on the other end of the line is only concerned with price. But that’s not the most important attribute for determining the price of treated lumber. If we simply said a standard price per foot, we’d be doing the customer a disservice, and ourselves. Basically, quoting a price at that point is the fastest way to guarantee an end to the conversation.

The typical consumer thinks that all treated lumber is the same. The reality is that there are different species of lumber, different chemical treatments that are available for above ground and below ground applications, different tints are added. These things all make a difference. And another important value-added option is Kiln Dried After Treatment (KDAT) lumber.

Here at The Deck Store, we’ve come up with some creative ways to educate customers as soon as that phone call comes in. One of the ways we do this is that we’ve trained our employees to say, “that depends.” That usually gets the customer to ask, “what do you mean it depends?” That is our key to proceed with educating the customer on the different grades and species and options related to treated lumber. This allows us to educate them as much as we can before we give them the price.

Ideally, we want them to come into our store and see firsthand the treated lumber that we have here. This is a challenge sometimes competing with big box stores. There’s one just 1,500 feet from my location. But unless the customer knows that there’s a difference in treated lumber, they’re of course going to want to buy the one that has the lowest cost.

In our market (and this is different than it would be on the West Coast), we primarily use Ponderosa pine and southern yellow pine. The predominant material in this market is Ponderosa pine. Ponderosa pine, 16″ on center, can span 12′ 3″. Southern yellow pine, on the other hand, can span 16′ 1″ under the same conditions. So, if I want to have the lowest price product, I would sell Ponderosa pine. If I want to have a deck that costs less, I’d use southern yellow pine. One of the comments we like to make is that even if the materials may cost more at the quote, our deck will cost you less. We take that opportunity to explain how the different spans make a difference.

Always let customers know that they can’t build a great deck with cheap materials. When they ask why the big box stores sell lumber on the cheap, let them know that box stores don’t sell great or even good products cheap, they sell cheap products cheap. When a customer is building a composite deck for example, and build that on a frame constructed with wet, heavy treated lumber, no matter how level you think the deck is, it will not be level the next summer. The first thing people assume is that the decking is defective. But rarely is that true. The problem was that the framing was wet because it wasn’t kiln dried after treatment, and when it finally dried out, the boards shifted and the deck telegraphed. By using KDAT, we avoid any of those call-backs and warranty concerns that customers would have.

“Always let customers know that they can’t build a great deck with cheap materials. When they ask why the big box stores sell lumber on the cheap, let them know that box stores don’t sell great or even good products cheap, they sell cheap products cheap.”

In short, the species of wood, the drying process, the length of the boards, and the colors we can add to it all make a difference in the cost of treated lumber. In other words, the best answer to how much treated lumber costs is always, “it depends.”

Bob Heidenreich

Bob Heidenreich, owner of The Deck Store, in Apple Valley, Minn., has been selling decking and home improvement projects for 30 years. Follow Bob on Twitter: @TheDeckStore.