|Brian Miller is President and CEO of ProVia, a manufacturer of professional class entry doors, storm doors, patio doors, windows, vinyl siding and manufactured stone. Throughout the course of his career, Brian has focused on being a change agent in search of excellence. He works to find ways to make the complex simple, and passionately develops leaders and teams to reach their fullest potential.|
Q: With a strong housing market in most markets, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for LBM dealers?
A: In a market like this where we have strong sales, dealer/ distributors can take advantage of it by leaning toward high-margin products and using them as opportunities to upsell. This includes products that can be customized to more completely suit customers’ needs. The door is open right now for distributors to differentiate by setting themselves apart from their competition. This can involve going the extra mile by seeking out and recommending more upscale features and solutions for their customers.
Q: On the flipside of that question, what do you see as the biggest challenge?
A: Today most LBM dealers are faced with workforce challenges, which means that employee retention is more important than ever. In a market where you have a high percentage of employment, employees have more opportunities to move from one distributor to the next. Today we have an opportunity to tackle this challenge by focusing on employee development.
When you lose key employees, an area of weakness is immediately created, and slowdowns or mistakes can follow. The best way to avoid this is by establishing proactive initiatives that focus on personal development and incentive opportunities for key employees, combined with a strong internal communications program. When employees feel their efforts are recognized and rewarded, and included in a shared vision for the “bigger picture” of the company, retention is typically higher.
Q: Nationwide, homebuilders are struggling with a severe shortage of carpenters and other skilled laborers. What, if anything, can LBM dealers do to help?
A: This is an enormous problem that many manufacturers identify as their customers’ biggest pain point. No single layer of our entire supply chain can solve this problem singlehandedly. One way to start is for manufacturers to supply products that install more quickly and easily, in a more foolproof manner. Distributors can offer install programs when they can. One part of this solution is for distributors to take advantage of manufacturers’ installation training programs so they can rally their customers to take advantage of programs such as ProVia’s Installer Certification Program.
Rather than trying to create an overarching solution to this industry-wide problem, individual distributors should look for ways to make small incremental steps, such as looking for ways to shave five or ten minutes off the time for a door or window installation. This adds up over time and makes the most of an existing skilled workforce. Even more importantly this approach minimizes time-consuming callbacks. If we all do our part this will lead us to a collective solution over time.
Q: As building science progresses, building codes get tighter and tighter, requiring higher performing products and new construction methods. What should dealers look for from this trend in the next 5-10 years?
A: There are industry-wide certification programs that help distributors take the guesswork out of making sure a manufacturer’s product meets certain specifications. One example is the Vinyl Siding Institute’s siding certification program. If code restrictions and demands continue to become greater, distributors should look for more and more of these types of certification programs.
Q: In today’s market, what can a distributor do to strengthen their business for sustained future growth?
A: Strong sales conditions pave the way for expansion of the distributor’s business. The question becomes, what should growth look like? Very often we see distributors pursue sales growth as a singular strategy, growing overall revenues as much as possible, forsaking everything else.
While this can make for a great looking financial report in the near term, we encourage long term diversification of the customer portfolio as well. Now is a time when there’s opportunity to pursue balance of sales between the new construction and the replacement and remodeling markets. If sales to both of these segments are healthy, this ensures better consistency if one or the other of these channels slows down.
I would challenge distributors to make sure they are balancing their sales so they don’t get caught off guard the next time there’s a downturn. During this time, if attention to the R&R market is missing, it’s very difficult to ramp up quickly enough. Over the next 20 years R&R will be more consistent than new construction. The ideal is to keep up with current volume with an eye toward maintaining a diversified customer portfolio and business plan.