Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 3                                        April 2005

With the Local Market
                 84 Lumber's Individual Stores Carry
                    Products Targeting the Local Community
by Brigid O'Leary

"We’re just like all the other 84 Lumber [stores]. We’ve got a big red ball out front that says 84 Lumber on it,” said Don Williams, facility manager at the 84 Lumber in Pineville, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte.

They may have a big red ball out front, but as members of the 84 family will have you know, no two stores are exactly alike.

“Each store is tailored to the surrounding community,” said Robyn Hall, public relations manager for 84 Lumber. “If the demand in an area is more for windows, the local 84 Lumber will carry more windows and stock more supplies for that market. They’ll stock other building supplies, too, but the focus of their inventory will be on what is selling the best in that community.”

Unlike the other big box stores, however, 84 Lumber doesn’t try to be everything for everyone, and while it doesn’t turn away the do-it-yourself homeowner, it caters to the professional builder. Many locations have a warehouse feel to them, remnants of when the company first took off and was set up warehouse style, but some now also have a separate store for sales transactions and use the warehouse for work space—such as the door hanging shop at the Charlotte branch. 

Contouring sales and inventory to meet the needs of the professional builders in the community is nothing new for the company. It started moving away from the trend of being the one-stop-shop for everyone and started focusing specifically on the building community about ten years ago, when big box stores such as The Home Depot and Lowes started gaining popularity. 

The shift in focus was instituted by Maggie Hardy Magerko, daughter of the company founder, who became president in 1994. In the decade since Hardy Magerko has taken the helm, 84 Lumber has grown to more than 500 locations, with 50 more expected to open this year. The company has created a niche for itself unlike any of the other big-box stores and it does so by letting their individual stores create their own niches.

Tailor-Made Sales
“We evaluate daily, and we’re encouraged to take ownership of our own stores when we become managers,” Williams explained. “That doesn’t mean we buy it, but we run it. What you see in Pineville, I take pride in it. I get to tailor it to what my builders need and that’s something you don’t get everywhere.”

In Charlotte, N.C., what the builders need are doors, making them the top selling product at the local 84 Lumber store, located in the suburb of Pineville. The facility sells everything that goes along with the doors, of course, including an array of trim and moulding so that they’re “not just shipping doors” as Williams put it. It also carries a smaller inventory of other building products, just in case.

“We’re there to help remind even professional builders, to make sure they have everything they need for a job so that they don’t have to come back three times before they start,” said Hall.

A WISE Decision
The doors, however, are the focus. 

“We don’t make bunches and have them sitting around,” said Williams. “We make them when the customer calls and have them out within 24 hours.”

To help them keep up with demand—and set the Charlotte office apart from other 84s—“team headquarters” (as corporate headquarters in Eighty Four, Pa. is called) decided to add new technology to the 20,000 square-foot shop. The recent addition of a Wise Corp.’s 8800 and assembly table has doubled the company’s door production capacity.

Installed in November 2004, the fully-automated combination allows Williams’ crew to assemble a door in six minutes from start to finish.

“A door comes off the 8800 every two minutes and spends 45 seconds on the assembly table,” Williams said.

Looking at the machine itself, it’s easy to see how production as been streamlined. The 8800 prepares doors for frames and hinges. A touch-screen control panel allows assembly-line workers to change anything about the door—from hinge size to orientation, size and height of the door to where the handle is set—instantly.

“It does everything but put on the trim and shipping blocks,” said Mark Hodges, the southeast door sales area manager for the Pineville location.

Once the door comes off the 8800 it hits the assembly table, which is also automated for vertical movement. Hinges and handles are added there. Only after it gets the necessary hardware do human hands once again begin playing an integral role. Coming off the assembly table, trim and shipping blocks are added to the door manually and the doors are ready for shipping.

Williams can say that, too, for in his door shop, alongside the 8800, is a Ruvo that performs similar functions to that of its neighbor.

“What is done on the table in 45 seconds used to take three minutes, minimum,” he added.

Supply and Demand
Quick turnaround and increased production are important for Williams and the rest of the 35 employees of the Pineville location. Using C&S doors for interior slabs and Masonite for exterior slabs, they move an average of 125 to 150 doors a day, each load varying depending on the size of the house being built—and in the building business, size does matter (but style doesn’t).

“Home styles aren’t changing that drastically,” Williams said. “They’re still the same ones mom and dad lived in, they’re just getting bigger.”

Houses are getting bigger, and in some areas, they’re getting more numerous by the day, too. The market has been so strong in Charlotte that team headquarters has delineated it as its own special region, separate from that of the rest of the southeast and a first for the company.

“Until we started the Charlotte region, we hadn’t anticipated creating a whole region based around one city, but if we see an area boom with housing starts, we could do it again,” said Hall.

The new region spans from eastern Tennessee to South Carolina and includes the Pineville store, which has been operational since 1975. 

The houses may be getting bigger, but that’s not where the challenge lies or Williams and his crew. For them, it’s not the home builder who needs attending to, it’s the homeowner.

“This is the information age. Homeowners are more educated than ever before. Builders have to explain more than before. That’s where we come in,” Williams said, explaining that everyone in 84 Lumber sales and upper management goes through specialized training at team headquarters.

The training courses offered are not new; Williams took the course nearly 20 years ago when he joined the company as a facility manager. He says that aside from the fact that it’s now on CDROM, it’s still very much the same test he took. 

As it grows and prospers (500 current locations with 50 more opening this year), 84 Lumber remains true to its roots. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Brigid O'Leary is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.

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