We’re excited to introduce Thea Dudley as the newest member of LBM Journal’s editorial team. With more than 30 years of relevant experience, Thea is a widely known and respected credit expert for the LBM industry. Those who have read her writing or heard her speak know that Thea’s personality shines through, making this potentially dull topic both entertaining and informative. Watch for her column online at LBMJournal.com and in every issue.
— The Editors
Q: How did you get your start as a credit expert in the LBM industry?
A: Happy accident. I answered an ad that I thought I was completely under qualified for. The credit manager liked my personality and hired me on the spot. She gave me one week of training, her favorite coffee mug, and I never looked back.
Q: We’ve heard you referred to as a “Credit Overlord.” While that’s not an official title, what exactly do you do?
A: Oh, it’s an official title. I have signed paperwork using that title and have it on a business card. Overlords wield great power, just like your credit department holds great power (positive or negative) over your company. I can make or break the company with the decisions made in that department. So, I coach, counsel, train, educate, and breakdown the processes to improve them. Your basic day in the life of an overlord.
Q: Credit is an important part of any business, but especially a lumber dealer selling major building projects. What are some things a dealer can do to make sure their credit departments are running on all cylinders?
A: Be aware of who you have leading the team. What is their leadership style? What is their focus? Do they support, encourage and educate the team? Is there a credit philosophy and goal that is assessed every year? Are they challenging the thinking and the processes? Are they engaged?
Q: While most dealers in our industry are seeing success in their current markets, they also know that the sunny economic outlook won’t last forever. In fact, many predict clouds on the horizon sooner than later. What do you think, and how can our readers be positioned to make the most of their credit departments in leaner times?
A: If you wait until the economy starts to dip, you have waited too long. 2019 is a “get your house in order” year. If you have not been reviewing your customer files, now is the time to start. If you have been letting your customers stretch out a little time-wise in paying, it’s time to retrain them to pay within terms. Those are two examples of “tidying up” your department. Leveraging technology is another. Push the transactional work into automation, and maximize your team to build and grow relationships and truly know the customer to effectively watch your cash flow. Credit management isn’t just granting credit lines, putting customers on hold, or dialing for dollars. It is working with your customers and sales reps to solve problems and find a “way to yes.” If we don’t move product, we don’t make money, but we have to get paid for it, on time.
Q: Finding good people is a challenge for many of our readers. Where and how can they find good credit managers?
A: Literally anywhere. It depends on what you want to put into it. I can take a talented amateur and turn them into a great credit professional if they have the desire and basic customer service skills. Your best credit people are a mixture of the mechanics of the role, soft skills, and a little bit of sales. I have stolen credit people from customer service roles, administration, the warehouse, other companies…pretty much anywhere. If you don’t have a strong credit leader to find and train people, then network. Ask around, reach out to a credit professional you know for recommendations. Building material and construction credit is a small industry. Most of us have a pretty good network and can help you find someone just by inquiring. The National Association of Credit Mangers is a great resource as well. If you are not familiar with the organization, email me and I’ll hook you up.
Q: LBM dealers are great at continuing education for their sales staff, but maybe not so much for their front office personnel. How can an owner or manager ensure that their credit staff is up to date on the latest regulations and best practices?
A: It all starts with communication. Most companies make the same mistake. They focus on growing the business through sales, but do not grow the office processes. Credit really encompasses the entire order-to-cash process. Support (and that may mean giving them some funding) education, attending conferences, and exploring support systems streamline processes. Don’t allow your credit department to be stagnant. It has to adapt, adjust and revise. It has to evolve with your business.
Q: Aside from having a great credit team in place, what should a lumber dealer do from a technology perspective to make sure their team is successful?
A: Embrace it, for starters. That is the crazy thing about credit in this industry, we do not embrace the technology and get hung up on how it has always been done. That usually points to the leader of the department. That is usually where the challenge lies. And money—pony up a few bucks to spend on current technology. Everyone ignores credit until we hit a hiccup in the economy and then all eyes are on it.
Q: Speaking of technology, many major companies have struggled with data breaches within their credit departments lately. What can a lumberyard do to make sure they’re not the next news story about exposed credit card info?
A: Don’t store it yourself. Outsource it to be PCI compliant. Look under your inside sales team members desk calendars and throw out all those numbers they keep under there. We all know they do it.
Q: What’s the best thing to say to a customer who says they can’t pay their bill on time?
A: Start with Why. Don’t start with “that’s okay,” but start with the why and find out what is going on.
Q: What advice do you have for a current lumberyard employee looking to make the leap into a credit position?
A: Credit is not for sissies. Come on over to the team, but come prepared.
Q: You’re new to the LBM Journal editorial team and we’re excited to let our readers know that your columns will appear in each issue. What can our readers expect from your columns?
A: They can continue to expect a fresh and different perspective on all things credit (and various other random thoughts!)
With more than 30 years of credit management experience in the LBM industry, renowned credit expert Thea Dudley consults with companies on a wide range of credit and financial management issues. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-201-5465.