Five Questions With: Aaron Howald, LP Building Solutions

Aaron Howald has been the director of investor relations at LP Building Solutions since 2019. Howald joined LP in 2011, working in various roles in finance, strategy, business development, and continuous improvement. During his tenure, he has made significant contributions to the company, including LP’s ongoing transformation from a forest products company to a leading building solutions company.

Q: As the industry continues to navigate from the COVID-19 pandemic, LBM dealers have found themselves in a constant battle to find adequate staffing. How can a company like LP Building Solutions help the industry navigate the labor shortage?

A. Most people in this industry have felt the effects of the labor shortage in one way or another as it has created pressure throughout the entire supply chain. While attracting young professionals to construction careers is critical, LP has actively taken measures to support more efficient worksites and streamline processes. By doing so, less time, money, and labor are needed for homebuilding. For instance, products in LP’s Structural Solutions portfolio combine sheathing with added-value features. Instead of using multiple products, often requiring multiple crews, we engineer solutions that seek to improve overall efficiency by reducing installation time and waste. This saves on costs and lets builders get the most out of their scarce labor.

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In addition to innovative products, LP is committed to providing innovative solutions for training and industry support. Recently, LP SmartSide Trim & Siding launched LP SkillBuilder. The free, comprehensive digital hub features LP SmartSide courses and training, quick tips, and additional resources to help professionals take their business to the next level.

Q: What can a lumber and building materials dealer do to help keep staff and customers up-to-date and trained on the most recent products?

A: When we talk with builders, we often hear how local lumberyards and big-box retailers serve as critical connection points—these are places where builders are learning about new products, techniques, etc. This means that dealers and distributors have enormous opportunities to be trusted sources of information. Dealers can use this insight to empower their staff. Manufacturers must partner with dealers to provide their educational materials, such as LP Skillbuilder, a free resource available to everyone in the industry.

Q: Many builders, as well as LBM dealers, are facing an aging workforce and a wealth of knowledge that leaves when they retire. What can builders and building materials distributors do to help prevent the “brain drain?”

A: I think that the best way to combat the “brain drain” is to invest in training for the next generation of builders while maintaining and valuing the aging segment of the workforce. Training paired with working alongside seasoned professionals is an effective way to prepare the emerging workforce. “Brain drain” is not new, and certainly not unique to the homebuilding industry. The best approach to mitigating it is knowledge transfer, so the experts can become the teachers before they retire.

Beyond just supporting training, I believe manufacturers, builders, and dealers must work together to shape the younger generation and push the industry forward. The building industry is vital and influential, and I take exceptional pride in working in it. Manufacturers can support and amplify this messaging as well as encourage young people to explore careers in the trades.

Q: More builders—and the LBM dealers who serve them— are considering off-site component construction to help reduce labor costs. How can LP products fit into that building process?

A: Another initiative that LP has undertaken to combat the labor shortage is investing in off-site framing technology. LP continues to invest in Entekra, a leading off-site homebuilder, because we believe that trying new approaches to building, like off-site framing and modular building, is the way forward. An attractive aspect of off-site construction is the time that it saves.

Q: As the building materials industry adapts to new technologies, many see delivery systems as the next process due for distribution. How are manufacturers able to help improve the delivery process down the supply chain to LBM dealers?

A: The reality is manufacturers are critical to improving the delivery process. LP’s Strategic Sourcing team is providing us with a more transparent and effective approach to procurement. Better sourcing on our end means we are more effective in getting product to market. But we also bear responsibility for driving further communication and collaboration with dealers. For instance, manufacturers may consider how to support more direct inventory management, with greater tracking of where product goes once it’s delivered to a dealer. This could help manufacturers to better understand and deliver to where product is needed most, thereby more proactively supporting their dealer partners. Builders and dealers can contribute by sharing data on near-term future expectations for demand. Improved clarity and transparency of this data by all participants in the supply chain can improve delivery processes.

 

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