ONE ON ONE
How One Distributor is Bucking the Trends
and Finding Success
Let’s face it—there are only a very few areas in North America
enjoying growth when it comes to new housing. However, in talking to members
of the building materials industry recently, one of those exceptions is
a state growing due to its potential energy sources—North Dakota. Andy
Nelson, sales manager for Lavelle Co., a family-owned building materials
distributor located in Fargo, talked to DWM/shelter about growth opportunities
in the state. Though it’s not easy, Nelson has implemented some unorthodox
approaches that have paid off.
DWM/Shelter: Tell us more about the opportunities in North Dakota
and other areas.
Nelson: We have enjoyed a strong/stable
economy overall in our North Dakota service area and continue to see growth
opportunities in the other states we cover: South Dakota, Minnesota and
a portion of Iowa. North Dakota is strong due to the energy capabilities
coming out of the state. We see growth due to the need for housing in
the old field areas and strong agricultural areas, etc.
We have had to go and find opportunities in the other states. Some of
that has required us to go outside of our comfort zone. We found the only
way to break into some of those other states is to have someone active
in [those] areas including Iowa. We tried to cover that area with a rep
out of Fargo, but learned we are better served hiring a rep living in
that market. For example, we needed someone local that would be able to
participate in homebuilder events, builder events and many others.
The Minnesota market area is our toughest economy, particularly Northern
and Central. But another thing we did that helped us service our customers
was realigning the territories. The owners were a little cautious when
I suggested this, as I also added another sales rep because I saw us losing
some business and market share. You should have seen some of the looks
I got: You have an area that is down 25 percent and you want to add another
sales rep. But it worked great and it has caused us to rebound to gain
back market share lost in the downturn and highly competitive area.
DWM/Shelter: I know you are adding another door line to your offerings.
What prompted this?
Nelson: We added Therma-Tru entry door
systems to our offerings in mid-December.
We will continue to supply quality Perma-Door’s (Taylor) entry doors to
round out our entire entry door offering to our market. We realized we
were losing market share because we just didn’t have the right product
offering in fiberglass entry doors. Our goal is to grow across the board
in all our offerings; the addition of this new brand rounds out our offerings
and we also know it will help us gain new customers.
DWM/Shelter: How will this change the company from a sales and growth
Nelson: The response has been extremely
favorable, as customers tell us it rounds out our offerings. They have
been loyal, though, to our company, not the specific brand. They sometimes
had to find other sources and now they don’t have to do that.
For two and a half days after we announced the new addition I fielded
calls from customers and one of the things I heard was, ‘This is one of
the best things you have ever done.’ That affirms that we made a good
DWM/Shelter: You are implementing new things in your plant as well.
Tell me about how much of a capital expense that required and how this
will impact sales.
Nelson: We have added UV flat line
pre-finish equipment so we can offer improved finishing abilities to the
Since we were founded in 1939 we have always been a very financially sound
company, and that has helped us during this downturn. When the downturn
came we looked at where we wanted to make key investments to keep our
sales and volume going up. The high quality automated finishing equipment
is one of those key areas.
A lot of energy is involved when a customer has to find a third party
pre-finisher. When we do it for them it just makes the process so much
smoother, and we offer an improved quality finish. The new equipment also
speeds the process up significantly. It’s like the magic box—the door
goes in one end and comes out the other.
DWM/Shelter: What is the one thing that will most contribute to your
Nelson: We still feel strongly that
relationship sales continue to be a strong factor. Most territories we
serve are relatively small from a population standpoint but we need to
make sure our accounts are being taken care of so our customers have no
reason to look to a competitor for products and services. In the end we
have happier customers and happier salespeople. Our reps can make many
same day trips and then come back and spend time with their families most
nights. We are not trying to push everyone to their limit. We are trying
to grow market share with existing customers then add new ones as well,
we want to be sure we are taking great care of existing customers before
we add new ones.
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