There’s no right way to run an LBM company. Every business has different challenges, needs and opportunities. While there’s no absolute technology solution for every dealer, the right tech tools can help your business succeed.
It’s an exciting time in the industry, with companies rolling out numerous enhancements. Improvements in cloud technology, mobility and functionality mean LBM dealers can do more than ever with their ERP, point of sale systems, design software and other tech tools.
More flexibility, more features in tech tools
The right ERP system is among the most crucial tech tools for an LBM dealer to grow its business. A good ERP has to be able to help dealers run more efficiently, while also understanding how they can get better.
Epicor recently acquired Majure Data, a warehouse management software provider specializing in building materials. Epicor’s BisTrack software has integrated with Majure Data for years, but the acquisition offers even more opportunities, says Kevin Hodge, senior director, Products, Lumber & Building Materials.
“We think it’s really key for customers to get a better handle on warehouse costs and making sure they understand where everything is and can track everything easily and efficiently,” Hodge says. “We just felt like we can do a lot more to amplify this for our customers, existing BisTrack customers and potential BisTrack customers, to bring it in house, make it part of our offering, simplify and improve the integration, make it extremely…easy for our customers to implement.”
That integration is an important differentiator in the industry. While other ERPs may have some warehouse management features, BisTrack will now feature the “best in breed” as an in-house offering, Hodge says.
“BisTrack really does all of the different things that a lumber and building materials company has to do from really good manufacturing and distribution to retail and eCommerce,” Hodge says. “And we continue to invest across all those different areas, but we cover them in full and you’re not dealing with extra pieces of software or third parties.”
Advancements in tech tools allow software providers to make changes more quickly and easily than in years past. That means they can be constantly innovating to meet dealers’ needs, says Cindy McCarville, senior account manager & LBM market lead at DMSi.
With over half of DMSi’s Agility customers offering installation or some type of service post-sale, the company’s new installed sales module was a natural fit.
While many DMSi customers already use Agility to manage installed sales, the new module fully integrates transactional records such as purchase orders with project management tools such as installer scheduling, project phases, task management, and budget visibility, McCarville says.
“We released a beta of our installed sales module and have customers trying it right now,” she says. “Customer feedback is very important to our development process. We’ll take their feedback on the installed sales module, incorporate it into future development, and then release next year to the rest of our customer base. I’m excited to offer a fully integrated solution to help them manage this part of their business.”
DMSi also made several improvements to its accounting module to better manage the increased reliance on electronic payments. But having a successful ERP is about more than just offering a reliable solution.
“You need a partner,” McCarville says. “I feel that DMSi software is a true partner that values our customers and we strive to give them things that will make them be set apart from their competition.”
To be successful, companies have to be focused on continuous improvement, says Jason Parchomchuk, BisTrack product manager.
Most notable tech tools upgrades for BisTrack this year are enhancements to delivery tracking and mobile applications. Using the BisTrack Delivery app, users can get proof of delivery on any device, anywhere they have Internet access. Drivers can capture not only signatures, but a text name and any additional notes they need, rather than having to write it down and remember it later. The app can also be used to track deliveries throughout their journey and share that information with customers.
Kerridge Commercial Systems puts more than 200,000 hours of development into its K8 ERP every year, says Greg Grady, vice president of sales, North America.
“One feature that does stick out is a new and totally unique product configurator (doors, windows, cabinets, etc.) that offers showroom personnel and outside sales teams the same robust feature set regardless of whether they are on a laptop in a branch location or out in the field with only mobile device access,” Grady says. “Present to your customers the custom and upsell products they want by offering them the option to make selections wherever and whenever they are ready to do business.”
Performance and scalability are also two key benefits of K8, Grady says. “K8 is ultra-responsive and easy to use at point of sale, and because it leverages the IT world’s leading database (Oracle), the system can serve companies with one location and a handful of employees all the way up to multinational giants with multiple brands and 10,000+ users like Saint Gobain,” he adds.
The flexibility to quickly add the features that customers need to succeed is an important strength of ECI Software Solutions, says John Maiuri, president of ECI’s LBMH Division.
“We listen to our customers, we weigh their requests carefully, and we focus on the areas that we think deliver maximum value to both our existing base and any potential new clients that we might desire to have as customers,” he says.
Over the last year, ECI has rolled out the largest release and update in the history of its core Spruce software, incorporating a number of fundamental improvements.
The company added a substantial loyalty program to allow its customers the opportunity to run a points or rewards program directly within the application, independent of any manufacturer or vendor programs.
“We spent about 14 months adding a unique loyalty program that lets the consumer pay with their points at point of purchase, and our customers can drive business based on a points accumulation concept for key products that they might achieve higher margins on or desire to sell in a specific period of time,” Maiuri says. “Many of those customers that might ordinarily only come in for a single purchase, having the opportunity to have their purchases from day one accumulate points and be able to leverage those points after the fact is something that people were significantly interested in.”
ECI also has a growing number of customers that have high-ticket item sales, such as lawn and power equipment or furniture.
“We added a rent-to-own feature in the software that allows them to take that high-ticket sale and turn it into an internal finance relationship where the customer pays them over time allowing them either to take the goods upfront or to take it upon final payment,” he says. “That was a request for something that we put in the application that was also part of this big release.”
The latest iteration of Spruce also includes an enhanced version of the ProLink e-commerce application for those dealers looking to sell online. With its cloud-based delivery model, ECI can introduce improvements and patches much more quickly than it could in the past.
“Through that cloud delivery, we’re able to more effectively understand and control what we put in the software, how it delivers to the customer and how easy it is to support it after the fact,” Maiuri says. “Given the fact that we now enjoy 65% of our systems deployed within our cloud infrastructure, we far more easily can manage our customer satisfaction and the solution as a whole.”
Cloud-based software is where all tech tools are headed, offering many advantages over legacy systems, says John J. Askin, founder of Yesware Solutions, which produces the cloud-based LBM LiftOff.
“That’s the way modern technology is going,” he says. “If you look at what everybody’s developing in, what kids are coming out of college and working on, what your vendors and customers are going to be doing, it’s all going to be cloud computing.”
LBM LiftOff was developed by Askin and his father based on their 45 years of experience operating a multi-location LBM dealer. The company offers location-based pricing, with no limits on users. LBM LiftOff also has several other advantages, Askin says, including unlimited data storage, embedded real-time reporting, access from any web-enabled device, and hosting by Amazon Web Services, offering military-grade protection.
“The other thing we have is our pricing flexibility,” Askin says. “As I like to tell people, we can make them pricing ninjas. However you want to price, we can price.”
Beyond an ERP system, dealers can also benefit from additional services from a technology company, says Thomas Spillane, director of marketing for CAi Software, developer of Ponderosa Software.
“One of the things that really differentiates us from some of the other ERP vendors is we are a full-blown managed service provider,” he says. “And we’ve invested pretty heavily in technology that allows us to remotely manage our customer’s servers as well as their desktops.”
That means CAi can take care of installing security patches and monitor other potential issues.
“Most of our customers do take us up on the fact that they like the idea of having a single vendor for not only their ERP software, but their IT, the environment, the hardware, the server, the network environment that software is running in,” Spillane says. “It’s a great single source solution for them.”
For example, several Ponderosa clients were recently hit with ransomware attacks—where files are encrypted with the attacker demanding a “ransom” to decrypt them. The company was able to restore the servers and recover files because those dealers were using a backup solution.
“So not only are we monitoring servers and desktops for our customers, but we’re also providing these backup…solutions as well,” Spillane says. “We want our customers to know that if you are working with us, we have ways to help you avoid significant downtime, and avoid having to pay the ransom.”
With the rising demand for mobile tech tools, Ontime.Build has introduced its mobile app, which allows contractors and dealers to manage ordering and deliveries in real time. It is available for both iOS and Android devices and works with Epicor.
“Ontime.Build was designed by industry pros with over 10 years of experience,” says Oleg Rutman, CEO. “We plug into the lumberyard POS, help with order accuracy, saving time and money on unnecessary or incomplete orders.”
The app was designed to fill a void in the market and there are not any competitors in the industry, Rutman says.
Tech tools offer easier, more robust estimating
When it comes to estimating software tech tools, developers are continuing to make it easier and more intuitive for designers and estimators to get the job done.
“Our whole premise behind our software is automation and integration,” says Chantale Pitts, director, Cadsoft. “We’re trying to take the whole process and automate it so there’s less steps and less chance of anyone making a mistake along the way, that human error factor getting in. Then, when we go out to the point of sale system, it automates getting them a quote and being able to make that whole process quicker.”
The ability of Cadsoft’s Envisioneer software to integrate with other programs is its biggest advantage over other takeoff software.
“With Envisioneer, because it’s a 3D model, you can do an actual visual take-off as well,” Pitts says. “So you can pop it into 3D, spin it around and look at all the framing that you’ve done to make sure that you’ve framed it in the way that you want to, put all of the materials on and say, ‘Oh, I forgot baseboard or I forgot they needed crown moulding in this one room or they needed specialized trim.’ You can visually see what you have forgotten.”
Some users can be intimidated by 3D estimating software, but Seljax has designed its system to be easy enough for anyone to use. More than 2,500 companies and 6,000 estimators use Seljax, according to the company.
Seljax recently moved from a 2D/3D platform to a fully encompassing 3D platform, offering a more intuitive approach. Seljax Supplier Link allows users to integrate their preferred suppliers’ products right into Seljax and properly calculate pricing, says president & CEO Braven Blackwell.
Features are obviously important, but the key to getting the most out of any technology is making sure employees are properly trained.
“Everything, everything always revolves around training,” Blackwell says. “So the biggest failure is not training their people. When you train people, they understand. They say ‘Wow, this is a lot easier than I thought.’”
Finding the right solution
It’s important, tech companies say, to take your time in finding the right potential partner. An LBM dealer has to know what they need out of a technology solution and they need to research the options.
“I would encourage everyone prior to having any ERP vendor come in, brainstorm why you’re going through this process, what issues do you have in your current ERP that you need to solve?” DMSi’s McCarville says. “Make a checklist of goals and outcomes that you’re looking for in that new system.”
Without set goals in mind, no search for new software is going to effective.
“Before you do anything, write down a list of goals,” says Dennis Sullivan, senior account manager for Ponderosa. “What do you want to achieve when you leave software program A, and you go to software company B?”
Make sure your questions to potential vendors are related to those goals, Sullivan adds.
“Can they address that particular problem within your door shop, or out in the yard, or mis-pulling loads?” he says. “Once they start lining up their goals and results, it’s much easier for them to line that up with the proper vendor.”
Epicor’s Hodge concurs, noting that there is no right answer for every company. “No one can help them really decide those things, but internally, that company and those people need to figure out where they’re going, why they’re going there, and have a real sense of that when they go into looking at this type of change,” he says. “When you go through the difficult process of changing your system, training your people, and possibly changing your culture, having those goals on the wall in your office, perhaps, so that you know why you’re going through all this, that’s really the No. 1 thing.”
Buy-in from the entire team is important if a new implementation is going to be successful.
“The whole team from the top to the bottom needs to understand…there’s a reason we’re going through this change,” Hodge says. “Some of them will be excited about that, some of them will be afraid of it. But if they have some sense that, ‘Hey, there’s a clear set of goals, there’s a clear benefit, I understand why we’re doing it,’ then they’re all going to pull together.”
Offering employees training at their own pace is an effective approach, Kerridge’s Grady says. “Typically we see successful companies make sure each employee understands expectations, is given the tools to meet those expectations and rewarded with simple recognition as a positive outcome is accomplished,” he says. “A realistically planned and phased implementation with incentives tied to training and utilization has most often been successful for our customers.”
DMSi’s McCarville also recommends designating someone as the point person on the process, and holding regular meetings, so progress can be more easily monitored.
“You want a management team that’s engaged, you want to designate a project owner, have a clearly defined project plan, clear ownership of those project steps, and then the most important thing to kind of make sure that project rolls as scheduled is you have a regular standup meeting,” McCarville says. “We recommend weekly and that can be very short, but we need that stakeholder team to be aware of how the project’s moving.”
Be sure to consider the history and customer support a potential partner offers as well, ECI’s Maiuri added.
“It’s not just the solution, it’s not just the delivery model, and it’s not just the company,” he says. “It’s all of those things and having the wherewithal to weight them effectively to ensure that the decision that they make is the right decision for their business.”
Manufacturer tech tools
Manufacturers are also embracing tech tools to improve the way they do business with dealers and dealers, in turn, work with their customers.
Weyerhaeuser’s NextPhase Site Solutions is designed to save time and money for dealers by increasing efficiency. It combines Trus Joist products with proprietary software and saw technology to create precise JobPack framing packages for roofs, floors or walls. Materials are modeled in the Javelin 3D BIM software, then Weyerhaeuser’s Stellar software optimizes the material for cutting, marking, and bundling of the material so it can be easily identified.
“All of this happens while maximizing inventory usage, and significantly reducing waste for the dealer,” says Jeremy Dummer, TJ support manager and NextPhase product manager.
NextPhase can be scaled, allowing dealers to use the aspects of the program that will benefit their business, Dummer says.
“It can be individual pieces with basic labeling and basic cutting, if that’s what the dealer’s customer desires or it can be precision cut packages, all the way up to fully panelized floor systems, and wall systems,” he says. “I think that differs from our competitors in that it’s a good/better/best type selection that the dealer can deliver depending upon the needs of their customer.”
Weyerhaeuser has spent more than a decade developing and improving NextPhase. Recent improvements include better integration with point-of-sale and ERP systems and the addition of TJ PanelMate for panelized floor systems.
“Our focus with NextPhase is really focused at delivering a solution to the jobsite that speeds it up,” Dummer says. “There are positive benefits within that system for dealers themselves, in terms of how they manage their material, their labor, and how that has been pushed along to the jobsite to allow the builder to manage their material and their labor.”
3D modeling can help dealers be more accurate by making sure every aspect of a project is captured, says Neil Faulkner, MiTek SAPPHIRE Supply software sales specialist.
“If you look at a SAPPHIRE Supply model, and you open up a wall, it’s the way it should be put together, and we actually make sure our dealers count the materials as they are consumed by the carpenters,” Faulkner says. “So, if they are going to cut cripples out of stud material, then we want to make sure we count those cripples out of stud materials. If they’re cutting window sills out of plate material, we want to make sure we include the window sills in the plate material that’s counted. They can get exceptionally high precision with their quotes for the rough lumber framing.”
That process carries through to all aspects of the building from windows to shingles to drip caps. The smart rules in the software determine how materials are going to be used and counted accurately.
The SAPPHIRE Viewer is a stand-alone software platform that allows users to view the model that was created by SAPPHIRE. Salespeople can use that to help customers better envision the project. The recent introduction of Texture View is also designed to help them tell the story, with products appearing clearer and more realistic than in the past.
“The lumber dealer can actually explain how the quote was done not just by telling the builder,” Faulkner says. “They can show the contractor where materials are being consumed…all these things can be shown in the model and can then be leveraged by the salesman to defend and promote the quote.” SAPPHIRE Supply has a robust set of tools to track all types of materials, but it can also be modified to leave out certain materials, such as drywall, if that’s what the dealer desires.
“Also, SAPPHIRE Management… allows lumberyards to track their quotes, understand where they are geographically, put them into a queue so they get automatically logged in and can even create a quote number,” Faulkner says. “It’s a great way for companies to organize their quotes. They’re not just placing it into Excel. It’s a full-on database that can be analyzed for trends.”
Pipeline from Simpson Strong-Tie is a web-based, rules-driven, scalable material management system which utilizes BIM data to directly drive detailed takeoffs.
“Pipeline helps LBM dealers with a range of value-added services to their contractor customers,” says Tim Beckman, Simpson Strong-Tie director of customer facing software. “One of the most tangible benefits is that it prevents the need for data re-entry by lumber and building materials staff. We connect with the point-of-sale systems so dealers don’t have to re-key information for take-offs and material lists. By minimizing that re-work, dealers can maximize the throughput of their staff. The time savings reported by our LBM customers is significant.”
Pipeline is designed to be scalable, allowing dealers to use the functionality they need.
“We also focus on making job tasks programmatic within the software,” Beckman says. “On the estimating side, this enables dealers to broaden their hiring pool. By standardizing many elements of the estimation process, users don’t necessarily need to have a deep industry background to succeed and solve problems quickly. Since detailed estimation knowledge isn’t necessarily growing within the labor pool these days, Pipeline provides an element of security for when older estimators retire, their tacit knowledge doesn’t walk out the door with them.”
Simpson Strong-Tie also offers Deck Planner Software, a free web-based program that allows users to design a deck and output a full report.
“The beauty of the Deck Planner Software is the ease of use: we’ve developed it to be a simple, user-friendly software,” says Lydia Poulsen, product manager at Simpson Strong-Tie. “Since it is web-based, you don’t need a high-end graphics card or system requirements beyond a 64-bit processor: you can go in, design a deck, get a full report and material list including decking, hardware, and railing.”
While many decking manufacturers offer similar planners, Simpson Strong-Tie’s offers a full bill of materials, including the hardware.
“Deck Planner Software also includes Trex and Fiberon composites, basic lumber options, and all of the hardware needed to build the deck,” Poulsen says.
Boise Cascade has a number of software solutions for dealers that stock its engineered wood products. BC Connect allows everyone within lumberyards that stock engineered wood to work together in managing the sales funnel, designing, quoting, optimizing job packs and delivering engineered wood. Sawtek automated processing systems are designed to reduce waste and provide efficient cutting of BCI joists.
“Our end-to-end solution is based on building and installing the equipment, developing the operating software, training your sawyers, and maintaining a quick-ship spare parts inventory,” says Tim Debilius, division marketing director.
New for SawTek this year is Live Production Scoreboard. The Scoreboard consists of a large monitor mounted above the saw line and provides sawyers with real-time feedback on four key production metrics. A simple green/red color change tells operators if they are ahead or behind their production targets as they run.
In the design and engineering arena, Boise Cascade offers several options. BC Framer is a 3D engineered wood design program that integrates directly with MiTek SAPPHIRE truss design software. BC FastPlan offers fast layouts and stick frame roof framing. BC Estimator provides layouts and quick quotes for layouts that do not need ridge-to-foundation load tracking. BC Calc is a single-member sizing program built for engineers, architects and designers.
“Our people get up every day to help our customers become more profitable,” Debilius says. “We offer the best technology support of any EWP manufacturer. Whether it is our phone support team, local software trainers, or our dedicated Sawtek installation and support team, we are ready to assist customers and keep them moving.”