LBM Journal’s 2022 Dealer of the Year Awards, sponsored by Epicor, recognize four LBM companies of different sizes that epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit. By our definition, a Dealer of the Year describes a company in which leadership excels at identifying underserved—or emerging—markets, satisfying customers, and constantly working to grow and improve business. While these companies represent vastly different operations, the common thread is their fierce commitment to finding ever-better ways to serve their customers and their communities.
RAKS Building Supply
A company isn’t selected as an LBM Journal Dealer of the Year just because it has its own hot air balloon. Nor does a lumberyard have to serve as the setting for an episode of the hit TV show Breaking Bad to receive recognition. While both of those achievements are worthy of stories themselves, the story of RAKS Building Supply of Albuquerque, New Mexico is much more. It’s a story of family, of foresight, and of fortitude.
The family part starts as long ago as either of the RAKS co-owners Richie Tabet and Kenny Trujillo can recall. The two family members (Richie the uncle and Kenny the nephew) grew up working for a small family lumberyard and dreamed of one day expanding beyond a solo location.
In 1986 they set that dream into motion and founded RAKS Building Supply in a converted roller-skating rink 10 miles away in Los Lunas, New Mexico. Since then, they’ve grown the company to five locations, including a truss plant, and have become the largest independent building materials dealer in the state.
After rebounding from the Great Recession, RAKS Building Supply’s sales have steadily risen as high as their namesake hot air balloon at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. Vice President Kenny Trujillo says the company closed the books on 2021 at more than $80 million in sales.
About 215 employees staff the five locations, which includes five outside sales reps. In an area in which builders work year-round, outside salespeople at RAKS also handle plans and estimates. Retail operations pick up a bit in the spring and summer months, in which RAKS brings on an additional 10 to 15 seasonal employees, in particular for the large garden center at the company’s Los Lunas location.
“Most of our key people are long-term employees,” Kenny says. “They say quality, price, and service are key and some people can only provide two of those. We strive to be all three. Quality lumber, well-priced lumber, and good service. That’s what sets us aside from the competition. We provide all three.”
Delivering on promises
RAKS has established itself as the premier independent yard in New Mexico in part by its commitment to delivery. Kenny says the company has become known for two delivery promises. First, RAKS will deliver anywhere in New Mexico. That’s about a 122,000 square mile service area that competitors just can’t commit to covering. But at RAKS, Kenny says, you can call from across the state, and as long as you’re willing to pay the per-mile loaded fee, you can receive a complete house package delivered all at once on a RAKS semi-truck.
The competition in the area includes national distributors and a few big box stores “which get in the way sometimes,” Richie Tabet, president of the company, says. “A lot of people know us and want to deal with us because they know what we can do for them.”
RAKS runs four semis out of its 12th Street location in Albuquerque, each with a forklift attached. The company also operates two boom trucks for drywall deliveries and has another 30 two-ton trucks as well as 15 smaller one-ton trucks.
The second reason they’re so successful, Kenny says, “is because if someone calls in the morning, we can have their order loaded and out to them within four hours. We keep enough inventory on hand to make that happen.”
In order to fulfill delivery promises, one has to have the inventory to do so, which is an area that they excel in. “Between Kenny and I, we can vision out as far as we want and we’re not limited, so we can get ahead,” Richie says. “As far as inventory goes, there have been a few shortages, but we’ve been able to get ahead of it.”
Getting ahead of it means buying smart to keep enough stock on hand, as well as managing turn times, something RAKS does so well because of one of its Albuquerque location’s railroad spur.
“We have anywhere from 20 to 75 rail cars coming and going at all times,” Richie says.
“One thing we both learned early in life is that you can’t sell out of an empty wagon,” Kenny adds. “You’ve got to have inventory to sell it.”
RAKS has grown with the Albuquerque market, and an important aspect of the company’s growth has been its ability to foresee and pivot to new markets. For instance, commercial properties. While once focused on single-family home builders, RAKS took on more commercial contractors during times of major tech industry growth in the area.
While the Los Lunas RAKS location is small compared to the Albuquerque yards, the store generated a lot of business when Facebook decided to build a data center there. As the social media platform has grown, the subsequent expansion of the data center has kept RAKS busy while the company also works with a second Amazon distribution center coming to the Albuquerque area.
A keen eye for new markets also led RAKS to serve the burgeoning film and television industry in New Mexico, most notably as a location for season one, episode two of Breaking Bad.
“We actually do a big business selling product to movie and show production companies for shows here in New Mexico, and we were approached by someone from Breaking Bad,” Kenny says. The crew originally wanted the store to close for a day for filming, but Kenny and Richie wouldn’t allow that, so the business operated around the film crews.
Breaking Bad tourists still come by to see the location, Kenny says, and anytime he travels while wearing a RAKS shirt or hat inevitably someone brings up the show. “If I had known it was going to be this popular, I would have sold t-shirts or something!” he says.
RAKS Building Supply is a true family business, with parents, siblings, and relatives all holding important roles that drive the company’s success. While Kenny and Richie, equal partners in the business, have been at it a long time, they’re not looking to retire soon.
“We’ll fade out of it,” Richie says. “I’m 78 years old and still enjoying it. We’ve been working on a succession plan for the past five years. We’ll have a gradual succession to our boys.”
Carlos, Kenny’s son and Todd, Richie’s son, will eventually take over ownership of the business. To prepare them, they’re both working out of the company’s busy 12th Street location in Albuquerque, gaining hands-on experience in day-to-day operations.
Bobby Trujillo, Kenny’s brother, currently operates the IT department at the company and later this year will officially be named the company’s CFO. Like many family members, Bobby was involved with the company at a young age. In fact, he designed the company logo when he was in the eighth grade.
Between 12 and 15 employees in key roles are family members, Richie says, including his sister (Kenny’s mother) who is still the lead bookkeeper at 81 years old.
“We were all pretty much conceived in this business,” Kenny says.