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People Over Profits: A Building Materials Success Story

“People over profits” is a phrase we hear more and more from many areas of business. But when you really put your money behind your team and your values, it can be a huge point of differentiation and a great way to drive long-last relationships.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Josh Hendrickson, Director of Sales at Wilson Lumber Company, about how actually living the values your company espouses can be the very best sales pitch you’ll ever have.

Building Brand Loyalty Over Generations

070 Building Brand Loyalty Over Generations


Wilson Lumber Company is a third-generation, family-owned company serving residential home builders and retailers in Alabama. With a 70-year history, they’ve had a lot of time to define their identity, their brand and their priorities. And while those decades have seen a lot of change, what Josh sees as the key success in their sales and marketing is developing brand loyalty.

“We've got a lot of generational customers where their dad and their grandfather bought from us and they know that we're going to take care of them,” says Josh.

While many manufacturers and suppliers aspire to those so-called “generational customers,” Josh admits Wilson is always looking for ways to expand and reach new customers. The industry is changing quickly, and Josh and his team need to make their presence felt.

He admits that marketing through social media can be tricky when it comes to quantifying success. They’ve tried several channels, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. But their approach to their social content may be a little bit different than what many other companies in the space might take.

Josh says, “We're doing a lot of posts that revolve around what we do within our community.” While many of their competitors might choose to highlight recent projects, the latest products or a new showroom, the first thing you’ll notice about Wilson’s social media is how people-focused it is.

Share Your Mission Through Social Media

070 Share Your Mission Through Social Media


Being a generational partner means building long-term relationships with customers and other players in the community. Wilson Lumber’s social media is a reflection of that commitment. Whether it’s highlighting team members eating breakfast together before a busy day on the job or subject matter experts leading educational sessions, you’ll see a lot of smiling faces.

But Wilson is going beyond sharing selfies and candid snapshots. They’re investing in communities, both locally and abroad.

“Currently, we have a ministry in Guatemala where we just put in a huge portion of our profits into a little town. We've sent three different mission teams down there. We advertise a lot on that so that people know that we're bigger than just a building materials company.”

Sharing updates on projects like this isn’t just about content or a feel-good story. It goes back to Wilson’s underlying philosophy of people over profits. Their ownership strongly believes in it and believes that the best business relationships come when they find partners who share those values.

As Josh puts it, “Part of our target customer that I think is really important is to find the ones that values partnership. We're trying to find somebody that we can partner with on more than just sales.”

Giving Mission Meaning

070 Giving Mission Meaning


Phrases like “mission-driven” and “core values” get thrown around a lot as buzzwords in business spheres these days, and it’s easy for them to lose meaning, particularly if those values or that mission don’t have support from the top.

Fortunately, Wilson’s values are defined and driven from their CEO all the way down through their company.

“The CEO, Rob Wilson, he's the president and probably in the last five years, he and a couple of the other owners have worked really hard to define our core values and our mission statement. We've always had some, but they've retold those. Part of his role is to grow that part of the business.”

That kind of support not only gives credence to the values as they’re defined, but also means that resources are made available. Along with financial support for their mission in Guatemala, Wilson Lumber has also helped out with local initiatives, including a clothing and food drive after a nearby apartment building caught fire and turkey donations to a local charity.

These kinds of efforts are communicated to staff to make sure they understand where Wilson’s priorities are and what role they want to play in their community. The result is company-wide buy-in, which makes a sales pitch so much easier when talking to new customers.

“When you have total buy-in with your entire staff, it's very easy as a salesperson to sell something that you believe in. We're selling building materials, but I feel like it's bigger than that here. Our company culture is really important to us and our customers, I believe they recognize that. That's why they continue to do business with us.”

Beth agrees: “When it's authentic and a part of your DNA, I think that's something that your customers really pick up on.”

Find Customers Who Do Business the Way You Do

070 Find Customers Who Do Business The Way You Do


It takes work to communicate values to your staff, and then more work to get them to live those values on a day-to-day basis. At Wilson, much of their philosophy comes down to, as Josh puts it, “Do the right thing. Treat others the way you want to be treated."

But if those values are shared regularly, they start to inform decision making and how staff approach their jobs.

“It's rare for me to go through a day without sitting back and say, Hmm, if I had to ask myself that question again, thinking about how people want to be treated, the answer's clear. I don't have to think about this because I know exactly what the answer is and how I'm going to take care of my customer.”

And posting those values so publicly means customers are also able to quickly understand who they’re doing business with and how those beliefs line up with theirs. “I can't tell you how many customers have sat in my office and read those words on the wall and said, ‘You know, that's the way we do business.’ It's very convenient when two sets of core values align.”

From the office to the warehouse to the showroom floor, taking the approach of doing the right thing and treating others the way you want to be treated is a great way to build relationships. Building a home can be overwhelming. Wilson’s approach of creating trust in the community is a key factor in what has kept customers coming back for 70 years.

How a 70-Year-Old Company Responds to Change

070 How a 70 Year Old Company Responds to Change


Being in business since the 1950s means Wilson has seen all kinds of change in the building materials industry.

Beth wants to know what some of the biggest changes have been in recent memory: “Are there changes that you've seen over the last 10 years in what your customers are expecting or anticipating? What are your customers beginning to ask from you that you have had to make some type of pivot or change to meet that new demand?”

For Josh, the biggest change he’s seen is shifts in demographics.

“I think a lot of it has to do with younger people getting in the business and how we interact with them. It used to be people would want you on the job site. You could help them solve problems and you would, you know, call them every day and follow up with them. Now they just want text messages.”

For team members who have been with Wilson a long time, acknowledging that younger customers don’t want someone checking up on them has taken some adjustment. But Wilson knows they need to move with the times, and so one of their big priorities these days is hiring for culture, not just skillsets, even as the company gets bigger and bigger.

“One of the fun things that I think that we do is we have a three interview process to come work for Wilson Lumber. And the third interview is solely on culture and we're trying to find the right fit. All the owners do the third interview, and I think it really connects with a lot of the younger people.”

That personal touch goes beyond hiring. One of their owners and senior managers has recently moved into a position that is focused solely on relationship building with customers.

“His full-time job is to just have one-on-one time with the customers. He's not interested in selling them anything.”

By spending time on relationship building, he’s able to send information gathered on to his sales team, so that sense of connection is present everywhere. Whether it’s news on a customer’s child who just graduated or off to college, it helps the sales staff build relationships that are about people, not just targets.

That approach extends too into some of the value-added offerings that Wilson provides to their customers. They’re currently developing an “Ask the CFO”-style workshop with their own CFO. They recognize that many of their customers are, as Josh puts it, “pick-up truck contractors” who may have financial questions, but don’t have the internal resources to get answers.

“We've changed gears a little bit and tried to become more of a resource to those customers and offer them tools for their business and not just products to sell.”

Along with those financial talks, other subjects could include real estate forecasting, or predicting which material costs will increase in the near future. By positioning themselves not just as salespeople, but as educators in a modern marketplace, Wilson continues to deepen that trusting relationship that has paid off so well for them over the last 70 years.

Got a Question?

Get in touch with Josh by email at [email protected].

If you have questions about how to build and live values that resonate with your staff and customers, let us know! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with all of your questions.