Volume 46, Issue 4 - May 2007

Dear Shelter

You Peaked My Attention
Dear Shelter:
The cover of [Shelter’s March issue] caught my attention. It goes without saying that the issue [lumberyards vs. bigbox retailers] is a big one for the independent yards. I appreciate the point that lumberyards can offer service responses far better than the big-box retailers are capable of. Time is money to the contractor and we, along with many of our peers, stress this to our personnel.

I do, however, take issue with regards to pricing. We are in the middle of an initiative aimed at bringing the point home to our employees and customers, that the independent is not at all higher priced. In fact, the reverse is usually the case. I feel the article adds to the perception that the big boxes are lower priced, but I would challenge you to shop any project completely and compare the results with your local lumberyard. In particular, I would take issue with some of the comments of your interviewees and particularly Mr. Van Buskirk’s.

From my personal experiences, I have found what this gentleman refers to as completely false. I recently compared our full line of framing lumber with the local “big orange store” and found our retail pricing was anywhere from 15- to 30-percent (yes 30-percent) less on typical framing lumber samples and our contractor pricing is approximately 5 percent less. We’ve shared our financial results with other dealers throughout the country and found we’re all running at similar margins. I would suggest that Mr. Van Buskirk may not be a very reliable source to quote. 

Your article also quotes sources as saying they “save time” in the boxes. But you also relate how the orders are rarely correct, salespersons are not knowledgeable and that, if you can “fit it in your buggy,” you can save money. These two statements seem contrary to one another. Perhaps the customers you surveyed don’t count their time as valuable like our customers do. We don’t have carts that our customers load, maneuver through aisles, go through checkouts and then load their vehicles themselves. We have a customer service staff that assists with loading and gets the customer in and out as quickly as possible. We don’t have “buggies” that need to be loaded. We have a fleet of delivery trucks and drivers that get the material to the jobsite, so the customer does not have to go shopping after hours.

I also take personal offense to the statement that the lumberyards need to be “kept honest.” You would be hard pressed to find an industry with a more honest group than that of the independent lumberyard. Margins at big boxes typically run in the 29- to 30-percent range and overhead runs closer to 20 percent. Part-time, untrained personnel, that receive no benefits, help to keep overhead down for these companies.

Independents across the country typically run at 22- to 25-percent profits with overhead at 17- to 20-percent, they typically pay competitively, offer benefits, training and career paths and much more.

Who would you think of as an “honest and ethical” employer?

I would suggest that you consider your sources and your message in future articles on this and any other issues. 

Thank You, 
Kevin J. Monahan
Alpine Lumber Supply Inc.
Sandpoint, Idaho

It’s All About Relationships
Dear Shelter:
Hello, my name is Mark Ackart. I am a Home Depot employee of four years. The last three years I have been working at the contractor desk in Eagan, Minn. I have worked hard not to fall into the category of the big-box store reputation that was brought, once again, to light in the March 2007 issue of your publication on page 26.

I work with several homebuilders and remodelers on a regular basis. I rarely take on new clients, as I have built the same relationships with these contractors that you spoke of as only being possible with a local lumberyard affiliation, and remain extremely busy. I average two new home projects a month and countless remodels.

I do take-offs, bidding and selling. We (my support staff and I) service these contractors with every bit of the same give-and-take and professionalism as described as only being available from the local yards. We do many two-hour or less deliveries to jobsites. We track our own special orders and build times. We are just as knowledgeable about products, both new and tried and true, and the reputations and values they represent.

Additionally, I keep vendors (i.e. truss manufacturers, engineered lumber, engineers, roofing suppliers, etc.) honest by shopping jobs around occasionally to ensure the best value to my clients. 

The buying power of The Home Depot with these vendors ensures, almost always, the best price possible with all the best materials available on the market today. We are knowledgeable on a full scope of every job, whether it is how to assemble a cap load, ordering doors and windows or tile and stone projects. We too can sell the complete job, for every facet of the construction business, with the exception of concrete needed for large projects.

These services, and simple price correcting, make our desk an incredible value for contractors. We do offer sales and credit. We don’t work on commissions; in this time of slow construction, yard commissioned sales associates may need to make up for lost wages by giving less margins than usual. This can’t happen in our environment, as we just pass on good homework and buying power to the builders themselves.

My opinion on box versus local remains the same as it has for three years. It is the individuals that make things work or not in any organization. Relationships can be made and worked upon in either environment. Feel free to contact me with any future related articles and I could give you ideas on how a new or experienced contractor might benefit from working with me or people like me to get great service, materials, knowledge and pricing.

Mark Ackart
The Home Depot
Eagan, Minn.

Shelter™ Responds
Thank you both for your feedback. It is Shelter’s goal to provide thought-provoking content. Editorial content includes feature articles, news, departments and columns. 

In reference to Mr. Monahan’s and Mr. Ackart’s letters, before writing the article, “Face Off:” Shelter sent an e-mail to all contractors and builders who are readers of Shelter, and those that responded were quoted in the article.

Shelter follows the journalistic code of ethics and, by that, we have to stay balanced and unbiased in our articles, so I had to quote comments in favor of the big box as well as the lumberyard. I think my article—through the comments of those who participated—showed that lumberyards are looking stronger in the area of service. 

Mr. Ackart’s letter also raises some good points. Another point that was included in the article is that there is a place for both lumberyards and big-box retailers. I agree with Mr. Ackart that relationships are what make organizations prosper—whether you are a big corporation or a small independent.

After reading the suggestions in both Mr. Monahan’s and Mr. Ackart’s letters, we do plan on doing some price comparisons between products sold at lumberyards and big-box retailers. 

If you would like to be part of a price comparison, please send me an e-mail at scarpenter@sheltermagazine.com, or if you want to send me an e-mail about something that you read in Shelter, whether you agree with it or not, don’t hesitate. I appreciate and take all feedback seriously.
Samantha Carpenter, editor
Shelter magazine 

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