Volume 46, Issue 1 - January/February 2007

Crazy for Trying?
Shelly's Expansion Proves Anything But
by Drew Vass

You’re crazy,” said Greg Shelly, when his cousin Bill told him his plan to convert an old dilapidated brickyard into a new distribution center. Bob Keebler is sales and product manager of interior and exterior millwork for Shelly’s. He explained the story as he shared some before-and-after photos of the successfully-converted Quakertown, Pa., location.

A successful business doesn’t just spring out of the ground and grow. It starts with good ideas and grows with more good ideas fertilized with sound vision. It was this sort of vision that fueled the conversion process and effectively turned what looked like a war zone into another successful component of Shelly’s Lumber Building Supplies and Millwork.

“It was an amazing transition. Absolutely amazing,” said Keebler.

Bill Shelly and his cousin, Greg, are living proof that sound vision, business strategy and drive must be genetic. If not genetic, they at least prove it can pass from generation to generation – being the third to own and operate this family business, headquartered in Telford, Pa. Their grandfather, Harvey, started this thriving business as a single lumberyard in 1923. 

Greg Shelly shared a family story with Shelter about the company’s origin.

Oh Ye of Little Faith
“Little known fact,” he said. “My grandfather was a cigar-roller in Souderton. Well, that all changed when a lumberyard came up for auction and he and another guy he went to church with went down and bought it,” he explained, “When he came home and explained to my grandmother what he’d done, she said, ‘Harvey Shelly! You gave up that good job down at the cigar factory for this?’” Eighty-three years later, Shelly’s is a $120 million-plus company with ten locations in more than seven Pennsylvania counties. Its holdings include: full-service lumberyards in Perkasie, Souderton, Kimberton, Freeland, Bethlehem, Macungie and Stroudsburg; a truss and wall panel manufacturing facility in Telford; and the newest — a distribution center in Quakertown that opened in late 2005.

All in Favor, Please Say I
Most family-owned and operated businesses have some keys for shared success. Greg Shelly attributes the ability he and his cousin have to see eye-to-eye to the fact that they’re equally educated, both having a Master’s Degree in business administration. “You don’t always agree on every project,” he added, “Any partnership is like a marriage. You have to decide whether or not an issue is significant enough to ‘blow up’ the partnership.”

He said when it came to the Quakertown facility, he knew how involved the process was going to be, from start to finish, with never ending permits, planning, zoning and development issues. “This project was quite different from buying and developing a cornfield,” he said then added, “We’re talking about dilapidated buildings and mounds and mounds of debris.” 

“I’ve been involved in enough land planning and development issues to know, this was going to be a lot of night meetings with townships and so forth,” he explained.

Eventually Greg Shelly voted in favor of Bill’s Quakertown proposal and, once the lengthy conversion process began, the two did whatever it took to achieve success. 

“Once you make a commitment to something like this, you do whatever it takes, long term, to see it through,” Greg Shelly explained, “And that’s what we did.”

Monster Makeover
“It was formally a nuclear test zone, is what it looked like,” joked division manager Bill Bleier. “It was pretty ugly,” he added. But you wouldn’t guess it judging from the facility’s current state. While there are still remnants of old brick buildings tactfully incorporated into many new structures, all in all, the facility still has newness about it and much of the appearance may be attributed to its neatness. The lumberyard was filled, from end to end, with neatly arranged stacks of lumber, plywood, oriented strand board (OSB) and other engineered wood products. 

“If you look at the end of our lumber piles down here, there’s a huge mountain at the end – somewhere between 700 and 1,000 truckloads of nonstructural debris, so they call it,” said Bleier. But the yard is so immense, you would need a pair of binoculars to see it from the parking lot.

Duck Crossing
In addition to transforming the old brickyard into a distribution center, the business is fronted by a natural barrier. 
“We have our own federal wetlands,” explained Bleier. “We can’t touch that part. Closest to the lumber is a retention pond. In there, you’ll find everything from bass to snapping turtles, geese, ducks,” he said. 

This is a feature the operation seems to respect and enjoy, rather than resent as necessity and requirement. 
“You don’t disturb the cattails or anything over there,” explained Bleier. Then he added, “In the springtime we had literally thousands of tiny frogs all over the parking lot, and it was even tough to maneuver at times.” 

“Yeah, the seagulls had a feast,” Keebler joked.

Workin’ On the Railroad

Behind the lumberyard is Building One – a shipping and receiving area, complete with its own 450-foot rail-spur that the company estimates takes 1,500 trucks per year off of the adjoining roads. This building stocks approximately 3.6 million board feet of lumber and approximately 3.2 million square feet of OSB, yellow pine and fir panels.

Keebler pointed out that the old buildings were stripped down, but the original steel structures were reused. All in all, the center houses 55 employees and has a total of approximately 80,000 square feet under roof.

“[The new center] has been a very good benefit to the Shelly organization, because now we’ve been able to consolidate a lot of our shipping and, instead of doing it out of nine or ten locations, we’re doing a lot of it out of one,” Keebler explained. “There’ve been a lot of benefits to opening this facility and more buying power would definitely be one of them,” he added.

“This distribution center goes where our customers go,” Keebler explained, “Pennsylvania, New Jersey, we’re doing some jobs in Delaware also, but mostly Pennsylvania …”

In the Name of $ervice
“We are certainly able to service our contractors better now, which will ultimately have a good effect,” said Keebler. “So far as installing millwork goes, I would do that in the name of service …,” he explained. And while his demeanor implied this was a matter of personal philosophy, his explanations pointed soundly to bottom line as he added, “… which ultimately leads to more business.” Tying the two together he said, “What would inspire me to do that would be service to the customer and bottom line.” For Shelly’s the two are inseparable.

Please, Talk With Food in Your Mouth

The company as a whole knows that happy customers maintain a successful business. So, aside from employing a service-oriented philosophy, how do you measure your success in maintaining a happy customer base? 

As for Shelly’s, Keebler explained, “We do builders’ breakfasts starting in the fall and through March.” The primary intent is to bring together manufacturers and customers, helping builders and contractors stay up on new and old products. “We listen to them at breakfast meetings and all of our salespeople have a good relationship with the division managers and with me. Customers are willing to provide feedback, positive or negative, and we react accordingly,” he said. 

As to what they do with that information, Keebler said, “If our customers report a problem, we fix it. If we receive a compliment, we’re certain to pass that around the company.”

Always Think Ahead
Good service requires progressive thinking. Keebler shared some of Shelly’s secret recipe for success by pointing out several services the company offers that are a touch above. The Quakertown distribution center owns eight “pup trailers” that it offers contractors for free, on a temporary basis as part of the delivery process. 

“A pup is a short trailer that we can hook up to a tractor, so what we’ll do in any given case is we’ll load up an entire unit of windows, a townhouse of windows or pre-hung doors, and we’ll take it and drop it at the jobsite. Then the contractor will unload it as he needs it. He has his own lock on it and when he’s done we’ll go pick it up and bring it back.”

Staying With the Times

Being progressive also means knowing when to make an investment. Shelly’s decided to upgrade its capabilities with a new piece of doormaking machinery from Wise Corp. of Largo, Fla. 

“Going through the process of opening up this distribution center, Bill and Greg wanted to improve their pre-hung door shop and their interior millwork operation. We investigated several machinery manufacturers and decided to go with the Wise Corp. machinery.” 

“It has enabled us to increase our capacity for doors without increasing personnel requirements,” he explained, then cited specifics — “I think our best day has been 200 doors,” but optimistically added, “I think we can get 300 out of it.”

He said the door machine is user-friendly and explained, “[It] is pretty straight forward. I like the touch screen and the eight-foot capacity, because it eliminates a lot of time in the production process. With a four router machine it goes very nicely.”

Naturally, a company that believes in extending good service would also expect it. As for Wise Corp., Keebler said, “They’ve been a good company to do business with. Any problems we’ve had, they’ve been very willing to come to the table and take care of it. They have a support staff that we can get on the phone with if we need to.” 

Keebler said Shelly’s keeps a close eye on trends. “MDF is certainly more popular today than it was five years ago. We have more MDF mouldings here than we ever did before.” 

He also has witnessed a change in square-footage trends, “I do see a trend toward a smaller house and lately I see a trend towards seven- and eight-foot doors.” Another trend he mentioned was solid-core doors, but explained that they are mainly being used in the high-end market. 

Shelly’s isn’t missing an opportunity to capitalize on a strengthening remodeling market either. “We have taken on replacement windows,” Keebler said, “You don’t see a lot of pre-hung doors in remodeling, but there is a lot as far as windows and exterior doors are concerned and we have both vinyl and wood products to take care of that.”

As the World Turns
As for the future, Keebler assured, “Shelly’s is an aggressive company. They’ve come a long way in the last 15, 20 years.”

“I came on board with Shelly’s four years ago and started the process here to increase and improve their millwork operation,” said Keebler, but further assured, “I’m not done yet, because we’re working on other things too.” 

Put on Your Walking Shoes
Keebler provided a tour of the Quakertown facility, beginning with Building Two, attached to the offices, where Wise’s machine is housed and operated. After providing safety glasses, he urged a closer look at the monster in action. With just one man at the helm, this machine steadily pushes out pre-hung door assemblies – shifting seamlessly between seven- and eight-foot models. 

This building also includes 12 loading dock bays, filled with neatly aligned orders, labeled and ready to be shipped. Here Keebler said the company maintains an average of 500,000 linear-feet of moulding stock and deliver approximately 75 tractor-trailer vans of windows each year. The company is also in the process of implementing a new warehouse management system (WMS) and bar-coding.

Just a short distance away, Building Three serves as the facility’s kitchen, bath and closet warehouse, from which approximately 50,000 cabinets are delivered each year. Keebler said the company added closet hardware after visiting a trade show in San Francisco and recognizing the opportunity. He said their cabinets are produced out of Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa and are off-loaded and stored, then reloaded and delivered.

Drew Vass is an assistant editor for
Shelter Magazine

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