Volume 46, Issue 6 - July/August 2007

Ask Shelter
Experts address important questions
by Larry E. Ray, an architectural consultant for GHDC Inc. in Tupelo, Miss. He currently serves as first vice president of the Association of Millwork Distributors. Mr. Ray’s comments are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

Rising Above
Solutions to Stair Parts Stocking Challenges

Many building product distributors and dealers distribute stairs and stair parts. And if you don’t distribute these products, your company may be thinking of adding them to its product line. To help answer some questions about supplying stairs and stair parts to customers, Shelter turned to Max Schway, product manager at J B O’Meara Co., a distributor in Burnsville, Minn.

Q: What challenges do distributors and dealers face in stocking stairs and stair parts, and what advice can you give to overcome these challenges?
Schway: Stair parts is one of the most challenging product categories we stock. The options in stair parts have become almost endless and overwhelming. Just when we think we have all the right parts and pieces, a customer requests something new or different. Not only do we carry more than 90 different balusters, we also have to have wood in five different lengths and iron in six different finishes. Once you multiply the 90-plus styles with lengths and finishes, the inventory costs become staggering.

You also have to consider all the other components of a stair system. We have more than 90 newel posts to choose from in a variety of species and 17 handrail profiles in five different lengths and six different wood species, not to mention all of the treads, risers, skirtboards, mouldings, fittings and fasteners. You get the idea of how complex inventorying enough product and selection can be. The only advice our company would give is to be prepared to carry a lot of inventory and have experts on hand for the complex questions.

Q: What are your lead times on stair parts? Do you ever have issues with lead times from your supplier and does this trickle down to your customers?
Our supplier, Coffman Stairs, has a two-week lead time and they ship on-time and complete. Our customer expects next-day delivery on the in-stock stair parts shown in our catalog. Since stair parts are usually ordered at the end of a project, providing a quick ship option from the manufacturer is essential.

Q: Have you seen any quality issues with stair parts? If so, please explain.
Schway: Every market has its expectations. In our market, quality and consistency is a must. For this reason, we do not use multiple suppliers for the same item. We can’t risk the chance that a 5015 primed baluster may not match from one carton to another. Since there is more than one way to install and finish a stair job, we are prepared to do jobsite inspections to offer solutions to jobsite problems. This is all part of the quality control process. 

Q: Many companies are turning to suppliers from China to supply their stair parts. Is this something your company has looked into or do you work only with domestic suppliers? What do you think the advantages or disadvantages are in working with each?
We continue to be pressured competitively into looking at the import market for less expensive options on stair parts. Some items simply are not made in the United States anymore, which is unfortunate, but reality. Our first choice when making any decision on who our supplier should be is whether we can get the product “American-made.” Our company strives to stock as much domestic product as possible and will continue to give American companies first priority. 

© Copyright 2007 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.