#102: How Dealers Are Pivoting Around COVID

by Smarter Building Materials Marketing

Zach and Beth are back! This week, they talk with lumber dealers, Ed Metzger and Ryan Scaife, to discuss how the industry has had to adjust with the ongoing pandemic.

More About This Episode

In this episode, Zach and Beth ask Ed and Ryan questions about how the industry has shifted amidst COVID-19 and how marketing has changed with this new normal.

Transcript

Zach:

One thing we try to do on Smarter Building Materials Marketing is bring firsthand insights from people in the field, whether that's a contractor, builder, architect or even lumber dealer. And on today's show, we bring on a lumber dealer who's shared what they've done to pivot in the midst of COVID, and what their new normal looks like. They also share some interesting examples of what smart manufacturers are doing across the industry to communicate with their audience and sell more materials in this new normal. This is a great show for anybody in the building product space who works with lumber dealers in any capacity. Let's get into the episode.

Voiceover:

Welcome to the Smarter Building Materials Marketing Podcast, helping you find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform your competition.

Zach:

All right everybody, welcome to Smarter Building Materials Marketing, where we believe your online presence should be your best salesperson. I am Zach Williams alongside my co-host Beth Pop-Nikolov, and we've got a great show planned for you today. We're going to be talking about, I know there's a lot of conversation around COVID and how people are pivoting. And what we wanted to do is bring some firsthand insights from a lumber dealer who's you talking directly to builders, talking to contractors as well as manufacturers and share the firsthand experience. So we've got Ed Metzger and Ryan Scaife with Lezzer Lumber on the show with us today. We're super excited to have them. Welcome to the show, guys.

Ed:

Morning. Thanks a lot.

Ryan:

Good morning, how are you?

Beth:

We're excited you're here.

Ryan:

Great.

Zach:

So for our listeners, maybe you guys can just give us a 30,000-foot view of Lezzer Lumber, where you guys are located, what you guys sell, who you market to, that kind of thing. And then we'll dive into what are you all doing from a marketing standpoint? And what are you seeing other people doing from a marketing sales standpoint in the midst of this new normalcy, right?

Ryan:

Yeah. So Lezzer Lumber, we're an 11 retail location, 15 location overall with a couple of manufacturing plants, trust plant, a couple of mill shops located in the state of Pennsylvania. We service their residential and commercial building materials industry, so we supply product and material to contractors, home builders, remodelers, commercial projects, both large and small. We carry quite a bit of material and have been around since 1927.

Beth:

So as we jump in, I know we're going to talk a lot and I want to hear about how you guys have pivoted, but the majority of our listeners actually are manufacturers. So I would love to hear how you've seen your manufacturer partners service you well during this time.

Ed:

And a lot of our manufacturers right now have been coming because of COVID for the last two months. As far as a lot of things in product and communication has been very pivotal in arms as far as lead times and things like that. And we got to stay involved with them a lot through communication and knowing what they're doing, how they're setting up their plants and things like that. Also, when lead times and everything very important because our end users, the contractors and the homeowners on their projects, they're setting up their schedules for all this stuff.

So we've been seeing a lot of our manufacturers have been very good, getting communicative, more communicative, than they have been before. Not just getting it through us with email and it's going to be two weeks or approximate. Now these guys got it, we got it now to pass it on to our end-user when it's coming in. And that's very important now, more than ever because of this COVID because they don't have a lot of their, some of their employees aren't back yet, their manufacturing facilities, but communication seems to be the driven factor.

Zach:

And if I can put you on the spot, Ed, is there a particular manufacturer you've interacted with? You're like, man, these guys are doing it really well. Are you allowed to share that?

Ed:

Well, we deal with a lot of major manufacturers, it's hard to put them all on the spot because a lot of them are doing a good job, but I mean, if I can also add in there, distributors and things like that. So on the distributing end, because we have a lot more business coming through, I think distribution than manufacturers because they don't deal with the manufacturer. So a contributor, a good one just to put a little bit in there is BlueLinx, Frederick, Maryland. I mean, they think they've been doing a good job for us. As far as major manufacturers, Andersen Windows, they're a big part of ours, Marvin Windows and things like that. A lot of the manufacturers are doing a good job. If I could put them in there. Yeah.

Zach:

I've seen a pretty large uptick in, I think there was some data released recently in reference to curbside pickup. Are you all doing anything like that as well? Just out of curiosity, are you pivoting that way as well as maybe doing a little bit of a different thing from a delivery standpoint?

Ryan:

Yeah, we are. We implemented a curbside pickup program shortly after the outbreak began. It was probably I'd say two weeks into it right before I think we saw a national wave. So I'd like to say that we were kind of on the forefront of thinking ahead. One of our strategic managers, Don Nickerson, reached out to me in a marketing office and said, "Hey, I have this idea to do a curbside program. We need it to be short, concise, and to the point." At the time, the industry wasn't shut down yet, but we needed to prepare for what we thought would be the worst. To us at the time, it was the possibility that customers may not be able to come into our retail locations. And so we would have to be conducting business from a curbside standpoint, so within a six hour period, Don and I had a conversation and we had the program set up, we also added an online purchase list option.

We had that set up and ready to go, and then the very next morning we called a meeting with all of our location managers to go over it and we had to roll it out the next morning. So all told, start to finish, we had the program up and running in less than 24 hours.

102 Building Materials Dealers Pivoting in 24 Hours

Beth:

That's incredible.

Zach:

Yeah, that is pretty incredible.

Beth:

That's incredible.

Ed:

I can just add to that, what Ryan said, that curbside has been a very big plus to our business. A lot of members have taken advantage of that because now instead of coming in, running into the yard, going back to pick it up curbside, they'll call in early, our guys or your guys, we'll get it all bound out for them, stick it out front, they come in, they pick it up and they go. So it's been, I'd say, a convenience thing. It's been something that has to happen, but the curbside, it's been a very big plus I think in our business.

Ryan:

Yeah, and I'll further add to that too is, I think when we first started going down that road, it was more so on the contact-less side of things. We were looking at ways to keep the customers feeling safe and secure and making sure that we weren't putting our workforce and our customers in vulnerable spots that maybe they weren't willing to do, potentially. So by offering curbside pickup, we thought, well, this is a great way to kind of take on the contact-less approach. But I think as Ed was alluding to, what we're finding is as the industry in Pennsylvania here was shut down and then eventually reopened up, guys are really having to churn out as fast as they can. So being able to have that ability to place that order, come by, pick it up and get going, not that they were having to wait a while before, but it just cuts down on that even more. So they literally come in, get their stuff and go, they're gone at maybe two or three minutes versus five or six minutes and to them, they see a difference.

Beth:

You know what's so interesting, is that we talk a lot in the industry about resistance to change, and nothing ever changes. Obviously we haven't talked about that in at least three months. We're not talking about anything but change anymore. But you guys made a massive shift to your business in 24 hours. You said in six hours you put the plan together. It was just 24 hours to roll out. It took you six hours to figure out, to just flesh out the process and the details and be like, "Yeah, this is viable. We're getting it out the door." And then if I'm understanding correctly, it's had an incredible response to where it's not just a safety thing that people are glad to be able to keep a safe distance, but it's also helping your customers' business be able to run at the volume that they need to be able to run. I'm going to make an assumption. You can tell me that I'm wrong, but I would assume there's no discussion of rolling that back when life gets back to, I'm using air quotes for those listening, normal.

Ryan:

Actually, it's the complete opposite. So our lead advisor, our president, just last week sent me an email and said keep pushing curbside. So there's no...

Beth:

Love it!

Ryan:

So there's no plans to back off of that. We feel like it's one of these things that we've all heard the word "new normal" used quite a bit in today's society. For us, it's a part of our potential new normal, eventually. I'm not saying that our business will evolve around it being nothing but curbside, but it's an added feature, an added benefit to our customers, to our retail locations, our lumber yards that we can offer this and do it quite efficiently. That's one thing that I would say is unique about Lezzer Lumber across the board is the efficiency of our people are second to none. And they're very dedicated to getting the product in and out of here and back out on the job site as quickly as possible. So that just kind of helps hold up that promise even further and extends on that.

Zach:

You know, what I think is interesting is you've made this pivot because the market demanded it. Health demanded it with quarantine and things of that nature demanded it, but it's staying for a level of convenience. There's a convenience component to your business that will force it to stay. I'm curious to know, did you see that you all gained new customers or new potential partners from this pivot? Was there such so well-received, maybe I want to work with you even maybe though in the past I haven't, because of this, even what might feel like a small shift for them was really necessary?

Ryan:

And you had a conversation with me here, right in the middle of all this about a customer, a particular customer you were getting packages to, and they saw some of the communications you're putting out during the period of the shutdown. So I think that's a great example of what he's talking about.

Ed:

I mean, it definitely... Zach, I had a customer come to myself and say "All this, you have been so communicative, the company is, so communicative to us." And he was over from a competitor of ours. He came over with us and he said it was because of this you guys kind of shine through this whole process. So with the COVID thing, as far as the pandemic was, it was great for us because we communicated when we communicate to our territories and everything else. But it is the employees here at Lezzer Lumber that yeah, we did gain another contractor out there because of this.

And because of our communication, our speedier market, just like Ryan was saying with curbside, letting them know on the website, even communication between personal phone calls and things like that. So yes, we did get him a contractor yet.

Ryan:

And you asked earlier and I didn't really highlight it as well as I could have. But one thing we really did during that period in marketing was to make sure that we were keeping an eye on any of the communications going out on a state level and national level, trade associations. Anything we were seeing put out in the market, we were evaluating and deciding based on the source that it was coming from, whether it was something we needed to turn around and communicate quickly. So during that period, I would have anything from maybe K.C. Lezzer in a couple cases, who's our vice president, would send me some things like, "Hey, put this out there, get it out in email, or send it out, put it out on our website, put it on social media."

We would get those things out, we would follow what our state governor was saying about industry, our legislators were communicating things on certain bills they were trying to get passed. So as we were getting those, we would make sure first they were credible sources, they weren't coming from something that, we couldn't trust fake news, if you will. We had to make sure that it was very credible. And then once we reaffirmed it was that we would get it out to our customers. We were putting communications out four to five times a week during that period, but we are making sure it was viable information that our customers would want to see.

So it can do anything from whenever the construction industry was going to be approved to go back to work in PA. I think related to that, bills being passed by legislation on that, to PPE, anything funding-wise that was being put out by the government for some individuals. We were trying to help them throughout the process as much as we could because we understand how important those people were to our business. And we don't want to see that fail, we don't want to see them be in a position where they can't recover from this period. So that's the least we could do as their primary source of materials, is to make sure they were staying well-informed and getting ahead of the rush on a lot of things.

102 The Importance of Increased Comunication

Zach:

Where I want to go in our conversation guys, if we can a bit, is talking a little bit about how you think things are going to continue to evolve. You all made a quick pivot, seen some great success by focusing on speed, focusing on experience. What else are you all trying to do, as things move into a new normalcy that you're hearing from either builders or contractors, that you're trying to adapt your business to continue to evolve based upon new market demand? How are you all trying to continue to evolve your business based upon what you're hearing from your customers?

Ed:

Well, a lot of things I've been hearing from customers now... this is kind of coming on the backside of your question there, Zach. Job sites are starting to be more organized and cleaner and safer now because of all this. Not that they weren't before, but a lot of things are in other words, people policing that now. But they're also becoming more efficient. I mean, when you say some of the builders that I call on, they had to adapt. They're going to be fading away so they have to adapt to all this stuff, save for a corner telecommunication now, very important. A lot of the builders, we have a technology that we can do a lot of quotes by taking pictures out there. And so, yeah. With Harbor, it's a 360 program. A lot of our builders were trying to sign them off with this.

If they can take pictures from the outside, and that's what gives you all the measurements and everything else. So all the technology, you got to bring that into your business now, or a lot of the older donors would say, "Ah, I don't even text or email." You got to bring that in now because it's not a lot of hands-on. You can at least give the customer a quote, but I see things changing like that and we're going to have to evolve, or you're not going to have the business. So we're all evolving through this and it's speed, it's safety, it's all those things.

Ryan:

Yeah, and just from a strategic standpoint, I've been involved in some discussions along the way, the last month, month and a half. We're looking at everything from our digital aspects, potentially a mobile app down the road, increasing our website capabilities.

I would say that we've been looking at the e-commerce side of things for quite a while now. But what we've been trying to do is figure out what the right fit is for our company and our customers, because so much of what we do, and I genuinely say this, is based on our people. So we're trying to find a good mix of what's useful to our customers, but yet doesn't take the people aspect out of it. And I don't mean that totally in a negative way at all. I mean that people do business with Lezzer Lumber, customers do business with Lezzer Lumber strictly on their selves, guys like Ed across our company. And there's so many stories of that.

So how can we take these different falls and utilize them in an everyday business, but it doesn't remove the people aspect of it. That's definitely something we've really kept an eye on, and throughout this time I feel like we've been starting to take a deeper dive into some of these areas. I think that the future of what we do is, it's going to go down some of those roads, but also keeping in mind that it's our people, our sales reps and our stores and our managers. And so many people are your people that make the difference here and keeping them involved with this.

Beth:

You guys have such an incredible pulse on everything that's happening. I'm really loving your insight. You're really interestingly positioned as a lumberyard because you touch so many different pieces of the channel. And Ed, you mentioned technology and you guys have said a couple of other things that you see going forward. Are there any products that you see that are growing in demand as a result of COVID-19 and moving into, we're just going to say it again, the new normal?

Ed:

We just had this discussion before you guys came on, but it seems like now, decks more than ever are coming about.

Beth:

People need to get outside.

Ed:

For a while, but it seems like that's the big thing I saw, it's in the making, but yeah. I mean, as far as...yeah, that's been the big thing. When we were just talking about that before you guys came on.

Ryan:

I figure it's... There's a lumber shortage. As an Alliance, we always have a summer sale as well during our early summer portion. And it seems like everybody that has been off or received the stimulus check, if they didn't need the money for something else is using it to build a deck. We're getting several things in the pipeline based on homeowners building decks. That's great.

Beth:

I feel like I can just see anybody listening that spent two months inside just nodding their head being like, "Yes, yes, I need to build a deck. That's a great idea."

Ryan:

Sure. And I'm sure other people listening to the podcast with our similar shoes, are probably on there and nodding their heads saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we are experiencing it too."

Zach:

Well guys, this has been great. We really appreciate you coming on the show. If someone wants to get in touch with you or get in contact with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Ed:

They can reach us by email, it's [email protected], or [email protected]

Ryan:

As well as through our website. You know, we're monitoring that daily. We get communications there. So we'd be happy to discuss things and help people out in any way we can help.

Ed:

I was wondering guys, can I read a poem for Mark Cuban?

Zach:

Oh yeah, please do. Let's agree with, yeah. That's a great way to end the show.

Beth:

That's great!

Ed:

It was great. And I picked this up. It says, "In the past, a lot of people would talk about trickle-down economics. I think one of the lessons that we're learning from all this is that it's time for a trickle up economics. We're only as strong as the base layer of all our employees. All these people who struggle and get paid hour by hour, and don't know how many hours they're going to get. If we don't take care of them, there is no economy. And we're learning that very quickly is right now." That was from Mark Cuban.

Beth:

Wow, I love that.

Ed:

Yeah.

Zach:

When did he share that? When did he say that?

Ed:

I read that, actually back in the newspaper. He said that about a month ago.

Zach:

That's a very applicable though, right?

Beth:

Really applicable, yeah. That's incredible, I love that.

Ryan:

Because it's been on display throughout... Basically the stuff that started with the NBA teams, and for me that was that, "where were you" moment watching an NBA game. And I'm not a big basketball guy myself, but sitting in my house at night, watching an NBA game and I see the shutdown going on and they're still playing. They kept showing him and just some of the quotes and things he's been putting out. It's just been great.

Ed:

Oh it's been awesome.

Ryan:

He's been, he's been so forthright in his thinking, and I think his approach is so smart. And I think our country's lucky to have a guy like that out there talking about these things, and actually seeing some of them come to light and actually the way they're working out, he's very smart.

Beth:

Awesome. Thank you so much for reading that.

Zach:

Yeah, that's great. Guys, again, thank you so much for coming on the show. If you're listening to this and you enjoy this podcast, I encourage you to go to our website, venveo.com/podcast to subscribe. Until next time. I'm Zach Williams alongside Beth PopNikolov. Thanks, everybody.

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