Volume 47, Issue 7 - September 2008
Distributor Uses Construction Background to
Deliver Customized Service and Products
by Samantha Carpenter,
Gary Still grew up around the construction business. His dad and brothers are all general contractors and he always knew he wanted to do something related to the homebuilding industry. He also knew he did not want to do contractor work. “I always liked millwork and cabinets, and I went out on my own,” says Still. His independent venture included starting Specialized Casework Inc. (SCI Millwork), a custom cabinet shop in 2001 in a two-car garage next to his house in Springfield, Mo.
“Three years ago, my wife Shannon and I decided to move back [to Harrison, Ark.]. We were both from this area,” Still explains. “When we moved back here, we built this building and started selling millwork.” And that’s how Still’s company, SCI Millwork, was born. SCI’s facility is 5,000 square feet, which includes its showroom, office space and shop area.
SCI Millwork isn’t your typical one-step or two-step millwork distributor. Still considers the company to be both a two-step and a one-step distributor. The company distributes vinyl and wood windows, doors, stair parts, columns and other millwork items. It also manufactures medium-density fiberboard (MDF) wainscot panels.
“We are excited about this (wainscot panels) and are trying to push it in another direction, and it’s starting to take off,” Still says. “With this product we are trying to hit the $200,000 and above houses. We are trying to two-step those (wainscot panels) to other millwork companies. Another millwork company should be able to make a good margin on it and keep it around $175 for an 8-foot length.”
The company doesn’t just manufacture wainscot panels; it also manufactures its own custom cabinets and pre-hangs exterior and interior wood doors. “We buy our molded (stock) doors, and anything you would consider a commodity item, we still buy through two-step distribution,” Still explains. “If it’s more of a custom item, that’s what we do here.”
Some of SCI’s suppliers include: JELDWEN, Fitts, Advantage Millwork, Emtek, Endura, Imperial Products and Centor Architectural. Still chooses his suppliers based on the quality of their products and their emphasis as a business.
“I’m not a huge company. I don’t buy huge amounts of product,” he says. “We just try to be steady. I try to find companies that want to do business with us and are consistent. Some companies are not necessarily geared toward a smaller company. I just try to look for companies that I can have a good relationship with.”
Still says it’s hard to pinpoint what SCI’s best selling product is. “We hit everything about even. I can’t think of one product that we sell more consistently than anything else,” he says. “We sell a lot of doors, but we sell more windows probably than doors right now.”
The Right Bid
When it comes to bidding projects, Still says he tries to go to a builder or a homeowner and sell them a “package,” which includes the outside windows, doors, interior trim package and cabinets.
Still says SCI’s cabinets are very high-end and that the company doesn’t manufacture any cabinets that are “run of the mill.”
“More often than not, we’ll get packages on different jobs,” Still says, “but if someone is looking for the cheapest price on this or that, we may not get that business.” Still’s construction background has helped him bid millwork packages on jobs.
“I can go in, just myself, and I know what stage [the house is] in and I know when they are going to need something,” Still says. “I also try to help our customers get the products they truly want. There are a lot of options out there and I try to help them get the most value for their dollar.”
Still educates his salespeople the same way—to know when the house is in a certain stage and will need a certain product.
“Contractors like that and homeowners like that,” Still says. “Homeowners have no idea when something is supposed to be there.”
Still also believes in following up on jobs and tries to do so at least twice during construction projects.
“I’m surprised that there are so many guys who don’t know how to install a window or a door properly,” Still says. “In this area … I would say 90 percent of the builders don’t shim their windows; they just nail them in. And probably 75 percent of them don’t shim a door. When I’m on a jobsite, I try to make suggestions, especially with something like that. And helping them helps us. You don’t want to be condescending about it, but it helps us look more professional.”
More Options Available
Still says he also encourages customers to bring in pictures of products they like. “In this area, people haven’t had options for high-end products in their homes for years. Customers have used the same kind of doors, windows and mouldings,” he says. “I had a customer tell me the other day that he didn’t know … wood windows were still made. Everyone had always told him that you can only get vinyl windows.”
Still says the same thing happened with cabinets. “I started out in the cabinet business and, again, I didn’t want to do anything that was typical, but people never really had an opportunity to get something that was nice or was out of the ordinary to fit their personality.”
Still says this lack of educating the public by building supply companies and lumberyards in North Arkansas has been going on for years.
“When I grew up around the construction business, I saw that lumberyard salesman knew very little about millwork. They knew a little about lumber, and the ones that knew a lot about framing packages and lumber knew very little about millwork,” Still explains. “And that’s predominant in the industry, in my opinion, and it takes specialty millwork companies to do different things. You get a lot of lumber guys who see the lumber dollars as a bigger volume, but there is a whole lot less margin. And I just don’t think they understand millwork.”
In his area, Still says you don’t see houses like in New England which are renovated to look like houses built 100 years ago. “In this area, there are people who want that look, but they don’t know where to get it or how to get it. And that’s always been what I’ve wanted to do,” Still says.
With all his talk about customized products, it’s no surprise that Still says that specialized products and designs (custom) are what he believes the industry will see for the next several months and years.
“People are looking for new and exciting products, and the companies that bring those products and ideas to the market will win over the next cycle,” he says.
No matter how much background a millwork company owner has, he will still face challenges, and Still is no different.
One area that has been challenging for Still is finding employees who are willing to put the effort into learning the millwork business and then stay in it. Still says it’s also hard to find someone whom he feels is going to be compatible with his company.
“I look for people who reflect my values; I’m not necessarily looking to do all things to get the sale,” Still explains. “I don’t want someone who is going to do something unethical to get a sale.
“I think I’m a pretty good guy to work for and pretty easy-going. I don’t get too upset about anything.”
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