FIVE QUESTIONS WITH: David Helmers, Vice President of Distribution, Weyerhaeuser
|David is responsible for 17 distribution centers and multiple reloads located throughout the U.S. to support LBM dealers and one-steppers. Prior to this role, he led Distribution’s team focused on developing the business including national product management, business process improvement, pricing process and specification support; a role he started in 2010.|
1. With housing and remodeling on a solid growth curve in most markets, what would you peg as the leading opportunity—as well as the biggest challenge—for LBM dealers?
The opportunity and challenge for LBM dealers comes from the same source—change.
Here’s why. The slow, steady market growth we’re seeing is a great thing because it allows for rebuilding without overshooting demand. On the other hand, these changes mean a limited economic upside that has to be shared between the manufacturer, distributor, dealer and builder. That’s a recipe for industry change.
What we’re seeing is that LBM dealers who can adapt to and actually drive change are emerging stronger than ever. They’re finding new ways to interact with their customers, providing new products and services, and becoming more efficient. I’m excited to see what happens next as dealers move from adapting to and adopting change, to actually introducing and accelerating it themselves.
2. There has been a tremendous amount of consolidation in the building products industry, especially among LBM dealers. What do you see as the impact of consolidation on the LBM distribution channel?
The consolidation activity we’re seeing now is just more of the massive change our industry has experienced since before the downturn, and it’s not going to slow down. What won’t change is that there is always a place in our industry for a great operator, whether that’s an LBM dealer or distributor.
As a distributor, we have to focus on what we can control—our service—to support channel growth. Providing the same level of service, attention and care to a local yard as we do to a large organization is how distributors like ourselves will have to adapt and adjust to consolidation. Products will shift, but our role remains very much the same—to be a great service provider in the local market. That’s how we’ve steadily grown our business, and the path we’ll continue to walk. Bigger isn’t always better. Better is better.
3. From your perspective, how would you describe the future of the independent LBM dealer?
The future is bright. The independent dealer is in a great position to service both custom and production builders really, really well. Our customers that can do both are going to grow.
For the industry as a whole I think the infusion of millennials brings great opportunity. This industry will be in the hands of people who value community, friends and family. Who better to lead in an environment where much of our business is done on a handshake, and, at its core, provides a basic necessity—a place to call home? The next generation’s leadership will also challenge how we think about technology. It isn’t something that’s a part of business—it’s integrated into our business. That will change how our industry approaches customer experience, marketing and operational excellence. Those are changes we can all embrace.
4. Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek Timber recently merged, which analysts describe as “an epic consolidation in an otherwise fragmented industry.” What does this acquisition mean for Weyerhaeuser Distribution—and its LBM dealer customers?
Weyerhaeuser’s long-term success is driven by access to greater timber resources, the most capable mills in the industry, and the most efficient supply chain for bringing our products to market. Combining significant investments in our existing mills and distribution yards with our investment in Plum Creek Timber clearly reinforces who we are—a timber and wood products company with a long, proud heritage in distribution. Our goal is to translate this strength and operational excellence into our everyday life, so we can be counted on to run strong in all economic cycles— creating stability for our associates and our customers.
5. Launched in 1921, Weyerhaeuser Distribution is five years away from celebrating a century in business. Now that you have a year under your belt in your current role as vice president of distribution, what are your goals moving forward?
We’ve rebuilt our business in the last five years, but there’s much more to do. Our journey continues as we transition to a sales and logistics business that is focused on residential construction. “Sales” will focus on being an extension of our vendors’ sales force. “Logistics” will foster the independent dealer’s success by helping them use their inventory dollars most effectively, and by providing a level of service that matches or augments what they take to their builders.
This is not an easy task, but it’s one we focus on every day. We’re deliberate on the “sales and logistics” terminology and mindset. We believe that we can combine our talented team with new technologies to support the industry far beyond a traditional role in wood products distribution.