James W. Rane is chairman, president, and CEO of Great Southern Wood Holdings, Inc., which includes Great Southern Wood Preserving, producers of YellaWood brand pressure treated pine products. Rane formed GSWP in 1970 after acquiring a single facility with a few pieces of equipment in his hometown of Abbeville, Alabama. Today, GSWP services DIY retail home centers, pro dealers, and other retail building-related and industrial segments in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
Q: Times of great disruption often reveal great opportunities. What do you view as the biggest opportunities for LBM dealers today?
A: One of the lessons our industry should take from the COVID-19 outbreak is simply this: the game has changed. It has become even more important to carefully listen to what your customers are saying…and that goes beyond just understanding the products being requested. The demand for social distancing quickly caused a shift in shopping expectations and the comparative process and many dealers did a great job pivoting to meet those short-term demands with services like curbside pickup. It’s hard to predict if these changes will become long-term demands, but the flexibility demonstrated to quickly correct course was truly incredible to watch. The dealers that get the service part right will be well positioned to win.
Q: A reader in a market that was severely impacted by COVID-19 shared that the one bright spot in their business was decking and outdoor projects. Any suggestions on promoting decking projects during our current environment?
A: There is no question that decking and outdoor projects were strong points during the shelter-in-place order. This trend is evident when considering the number of searches for pressure treated pine, deck building, and DIY projects. Clearly homeowners are seeking information on the projects they are planning, and dealers should position themselves as the resource for that information. It’s a great time to resume, or even begin, an advertising campaign to engage users. A pay-per-click campaign on Google or a targeted social media campaign can help get you in front of homeowners and be the right resource for their needs.
Q: Following up on that question, are you seeing any early trends in deck size or design that dealers should be aware of?
A: For several years now we’ve been closely watching a trend of homeowners placing an increased importance on their home’s outdoor space and a desire to create their own five-star backyard. To get the most out of their investment, homeowners are researching their projects online before they start the shopping process. This means they are coming to your stores better informed than ever before. They arrive well-versed in grade options and specialty features like factory-applied water repellents and they understand the benefits of building with a deck board that has been kiln dried after treatment (KDAT). There will always be a market for standard grade decking, but dealers who get ahead of the curve and make it easier to order higher grade products stand to capture vastly improved margins.
Q: According to NADRA.org, it’s estimated that 30 million decks in North America are past their useful life and in need of repair or replacement. What role should dealers play in this important deck safety issue?
A: Communicating the need for a deck maintenance program is always important when working with homeowners both during the building process and afterwards to help keep it in the best shape possible. Building upon that, communicating the benefit of annual reviews of the deck each spring can help to assure the safety of their decks. Checking that the ledger boards and joists are structurally sound is a great place to start but the safety check should extend to the railings and stairs too. This is also a great time to replace loose fasteners and split boards as well as applying a fresh coat of water repellent. A simple regimen of solid communication with customers can help head off potential issues.
Q: The world of treated wood has changed significantly since Great Southern Wood’s launch in 1970. As the company celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020, what should dealers expect from the company moving forward?
A: There’s nobody I admired more than my father. Many of the values he taught me growing up have become a part of our company. One of his favorites was: “If you’re ripe, you’re rotting. If you’re green, you’re growing.” We’ve made it our mission at Great Southern to stay “green” by constantly evaluating new products and never ignoring opportunities for growth. That’s how we’ve grown from a two-man operation five decades ago into the leading producer of pressure-treated pine in the nation. In the end, you can expect us to be around for another 50 years and we’ll never waver in our promise to help your business stay green too.