Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
March 2005 Volume 44, Issue 2
Distributor Excels with Value-Added Products and Technology
by Lenora McKinzie
Gregg Slone learned about flying airplanes from his dad, Adonn. These days the two of them are truly flying high with their south Texas company, Slone Lumber Co., based in Santa Fe, Texas.
When Gregg’s grandfather, Lindy Slone, started Slone Lumber in 1962, it was a small, rural lumber yard serving a 50/50 mix of contractors and homeowners. Lindy had worked in the lumber business since 1938 before opening up his own place in the little town approximately 40 miles southeast of Houston.
Adonn joined the company in 1980 after 20 years in the Marine Corps, where he flew F-4 Phantom fighters, logging 367 missions during the Vietnam War and eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. At the time he came on board at Slone Lumber, it was still a small town hardware store and lumber yard, selling electrical, plumbing, paint, lumber and other products for the home, with annual sales of approximately $1 million.
“At that point in the early 1980s, we were only handling in-and-out type products,” says Adonn Slone. “We were buying our door units from two-step distributors, where we were always dealing with lead time issues, quality problems and so forth. Everything else was just a commodity item, so the margins were tighter, and we needed to do something about it. So we did.”
Pre-Hanging Door Units Brings Growth to Slone
“We built a new warehouse in 1985 with the plan of pre-hanging our own doors,” says Adonn. “We bought our first door machine in 1986. I had never even seen one before.”
Gregg helped start up the door shop in late 1985. “I remember building doors on the floor of the warehouse sometime around Christmas 1985,” Gregg recalls. “I was in college at the time (like his father, Gregg is a Texas A&M graduate) and while I was home for Christmas break, we started building door units. Back then, we would get maybe one door order a week, and I remember putting a bi-fold door unit together on that cold concrete floor.”
“Then in 1986 we bought the door equipment and started doing it the right way. We began pre-hanging both interior and exterior door units,” Gregg adds.
Slone Lumber now uses Full House door machines for its pre-hanging operation.
Value-Added Products Help Profits
From that humble door-shop start-up in 1986, Slone’s millwork and door-shop operations have continued to grow. Since that time, the company’s sales focus has shifted to a greater emphasis on the residential homebuilder and contractor, where value-added products like doors and custom millwork have become the driving force in Slone’s sales growth.
Over the past nineteen years, Slone has built up the door shop business to the point where they are now pre-hanging 125-150 doors per day, which is a long way from one door order per week. Not only that, but the company’s custom millwork shop also handles an increasingly larger amount of business, including curved moulding, arches and bending machines.
“We can build anything they want,” Adonn says.
Today Slone Lumber Co. has a product mix of roughly 40 percent trim and door units, 55 percent lumber and 5 percent cabinets. Slone also installs stairway systems and entry-door units. “We want to change this product mix as we move our company forward,” Gregg says. “Lumber is just a commodity product, and we want to grow the sales of our more profitable products like cabinets and door units. We want to provide better value, better service and better quality for our builder customers.”
“That’s right,” agrees Adonn. “In the long run, service leads to better profits. We can provide installation services, job-site deliveries and a lot of other things that will hopefully lead that builder to feel that we really take care of them and that they really need us as their supplier. One of the major issues that builders face these days is theft at the job sites, so we install it for them instead of leaving it sitting at the site.”
“Slone Lumber Co. provides more value-added services than the big guys we compete against,” Gregg says. “We can be more flexible for our customers and build custom door units to meet their needs.”
The company has expanded their territory beyond their local builder market to include a wide geographical piece of south Texas. “We cover an area from downtown Houston all the way to Galveston and the coast,” Gregg says. “We go east to Baytown, south to Bay City, and out in the Lake Jackson/Sugarland area. We cover pretty much anything south of Interstate 10. Our customers include some high-end custom home builders, as well as a healthy mix of track builders from starter homes on up.”
“Houston has sort of grown all the way out here in the country to us,” says Adonn. “As the Houston market has grown towards the coast, it has been great for our business. We still have a small town feel, but now we’re part of the overall Houston metroplex.”
Relationships Make the Difference
Like most successful businesses, relationships have helped make Slone Lumber Co. the success story they are. “We truly are a relationship based company,” Gregg says. “We know our customers personally, and they know that we will take care of them.”
Adonn Slone agrees: “Whether it’s through a golf outing, a barbecue for our customers, fishing trips, hunting trips, or whatever, we spend time with our customers, getting to know them, and where they know us, too. We want them to know the management team, not just their sales reps. If they’re buying from Slone Lumber Co., we want to make sure they know the Slones.”
This spirit of building relationships extends beyond the business world for Gregg and Adonn Slone. Adonn is very active in local government planning and zoning work, and even ran for Congress in 1998.
Since 1994, at least once a month, Adonn flies “Angel Flight” passengers in need of medical care to and from Houston for free. Often these are cancer patients or heart patients from distant towns that require on-going care at hospitals in Houston.
Both Gregg and Adonn are licensed pilots, and they have their own twin-engine, six-seater Beech-Baron. Adonn is also a flight instructor. But their airplanes aren’t the only things going up. Slone Lumber Co. continues to soar high in the building industry in south Texas, thanks to the leadership of the father and son combination sometimes known as “Air Slone.”
Software Gives Slone A Business Edge
Slone’s successful, profitable growth has also come through the use of technology solutions such as the WoodWare System as their primary business software. When Pamela Webb, whose has more than 20 years of experience in the millwork industry, joined Slone a few years ago to help manage the financial and accounting side of their business, she expanded their use of WoodWare software, which Slone implemented in 1998.
“We needed to look for ways to streamline our business, better manage our cost structure, and control our inventory to a greater degree,” she says. “WoodWare has truly helped us achieve that. Slone could not have grown as fast or as well as we have without WoodWare, especially in the area of inventory control. This is even more important in our door units, where we have so many component pieces and lineal pieces, and where WoodWare helps us track labor costs in the shop as well as material costs.”
“Gregg really wants to push the use of technology,” Webb continues. “That’s why he added WoodWare, since it is designed for millwork companies like ours. Our sales have more than doubled since we added WoodWare in 1998, and we have not added any inside sales staff to handle this growth.”
Gregg Slone serves on WoodWare’s WebConnect™ team, advising the software company as its Internet capabilities have expanded to include wireless internet quoting, ordering and inquiries from the field. “It’s important to have this capability when your sales guys are out at a job site doing takeoffs and need to check on product availability or pricing,” Gregg says.
“We are excited that this capability is available through WoodWare to make it easier for our sales reps in the field.”
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