PC Home Center thrives on regional growth
A sure sign of a successful business is one that is able to evolve and adapt to its customers’ changing needs. Another sign of success is never losing sight of the past. At PC Home Center in New Albany, Ind., owner David Stemler exemplifies each of these traits. He’s grown and evolved the business, yet he’s also kept the original company name, even though it harkens back to an entirely different inventory.
Since 1975, PC Home Center has served builders and homeowners in the Kentuckiana region of Indiana and Kentucky, an area that Stemler says is “in Indiana, but closer to downtown Louisville than most people in Louisville.”
The company’s inventory has changed considerably through the years. Back in the 1970s, the company was known as Paneling Center, and in that era, customers took the company’s name to heart.
“We sold about 130 different selections of paneling back then,” Stemler says. “We were selling a little to builders, but mostly to consumers. People would panel the whole inside of a house, and we survived on that.” In the late 70s, Stemler was the company’s sole employee and worked alongside the store’s owner.
But times change, and so do decorating trends and smart businesses. By the mid-1980s, the company was known as PC Home Center (a nod to Paneling Center) and had expanded beyond paneling to include Andersen windows and doors. When the company’s owner died suddenly, Stemler was faced with the decision to work somewhere else, or to buy the company.
Of course, he bought the business. He couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. That was in 1988 when the company was doing about $500,000 a year in business with one location and six employees. Stemler made it his mission to grow the business.
In 1995, he relocated the company to a six-acre facility. By that time, he was up to 14 employees. At the new location, PC Home Center continued to grow, with build outs and remodeling done three times between 1997 and 2005, each adding additional space. But the growth wasn’t stopping there. In 2009, as the U.S. economy pushed through the Great Recession, Stemler purchased a previous Stock Lumber location.
“My banker, when I told him the price, asked me how much I was paying for the equipment. I had to tell him that includes the equipment,” Stemler says. “I don’t go to the gambling boat, but at that time, I felt like I gambled. Once we bought that Stock location, then we were a lumberyard.”
The gamble paid off. Today, PC Home Center has 110 employees in two locations. The New Albany site, just five miles from downtown Louisville, serves as a design center, featuring brands such as Andersen, Marvin, Master- Brand cabinets, and other flooring and lighting products. Recently the New Albany location started selling smaller furniture and accessories, which has been a real evolution of the design center. The flagship location now consists of a 14,000 square-foot home design showroom staffed with professional designers focused on high-end kitchen and bath design.
The former Stock location in Sellersburg, Ind. is described as Kentuckiana’s largest locally-owned hardware store. It’s also a full-line lumberyard with more than 13,000 SKUs. While the company has grown, many of the employees from Stock are still with Stemler at PC Home Center.
“A lot of them worked for an independent before it was bought by Stock. They welcomed coming back to an independent,” Stemler said. “About 90% of those who were there when I bought it are still with me.”
With a customer base of 80% contractor and 20% retail, Stemler is focused on the pro builder and remodeler clientele.
Sixteen outside sales reps—half of whom sell kitchen and bath exclusively—call on customers who may rarely even enter his store.
“Our biggest and best customers rarely come into the store. They really don’t need to. Our sales staff takes care of them. Our customers’ customers come into the store to pick out lighting and cabinets.”
However, in-store traffic is picking up, Stemler says. Sales continue to increase year-over-year for both pro and retail customers. The growth in business has also helped to propel the company’s installed sales department.
The Louisville market is unique, Stemler says, in that the provider does installs on all cabinets. “If someone else tries to do it, it becomes a nightmare for us,” he says. “So we’re installing probably 95% of the cabinets we sell.”
PC Home Center also installs replacement windows and doors, as well as flooring, which it offers as installed through subcontractors.
At PC Home Center, sales growth is more than just riding the tide of an economic recovery. Even though Stemler owns the largest independent lumberyard in the Louisville metro area, that doesn’t mean he’s immune to competition. He just looks at competition differently.
“We’ve had Lowe’s and Home Depot forever it seems,” he says. “We have a Menards in between our two locations. But none of those guys are really our competitors, since they don’t sell to the pro trade in the high percentage that we do. Our more direct competitors are other independents.”
Stemler says that U.S. LBM now owns two of the independents in his area, so it’s somewhat difficult to consider them truly independent lumberyards anymore.
Customer service and the ability of his tenured employees to respond quickly to customer needs are what keep PC Home Center ahead of other dealers in the area, Stemler says.
“So if someone asks who is our biggest competitor, I have to say it’s ourselves. If we do what we’re supposed to do, if we continue with our fair prices and our great service, then we don’t really have competitors, because no one else in our area does that.”
Community focus is also huge for Stemler and his staff, and ties to the community are a part of what keeps customers coming back. “We’re part of the community and we take our company on a personal basis. We care about the community and providing customer service to our friends and family,” he says.
That same community and family focus is what drives PC Home Center to the top of desired workplaces among others in the area. Regular store hours have helped Stemler and his staff recruit solid team members who can’t work the hours required at big box stores. An emphasis on incentives allows for Stemler to better take care of employees, he says.
“We’re not corporate America. We treat everyone like family. Since we’re the only independent this makes it easier. Our corporate office is located onsite. Our employees like that, and it allows us to be more flexible.”
In the Kentuckiana region, there is pride in being recognized as a solid employer, Stemler says, simply because there are a lot of other options out there. The area is at the crossroads of Interstate 64 connecting Louisville to Cincinnati and St. Louis and Interstate 65 connecting Louisville to Nashville and Indianapolis. Just recently, two new bridges have connected Louisville to Southern Indiana, bringing the total to five bridges now spanning the Ohio River.
All the growth is bringing more business to PC Home Center, Stemler says. The Louisville airport is home to the UPS world hub and is said to be the busiest airport in the world from midnight to 6 a.m. most days.
The area is also home to a 6,000-acre industrial park that had been converted from a military ammunition plant, as well as an Amazon fulfillment center and a Ford truck plant.
“The industries bring individuals and individuals bring houses,” Stemler says, which is all good news for PC Home Center. Particularly important is the UPS hub, which has brought a lot of pilots to the region. “A lot of pilots are moving here and they’re great customers,” he says. “They like to build nice homes.”
Regardless of even more growth on the horizon, Stemler doesn’t see PC Home Center expanding much beyond its current locations.
“We’re looking for slow and steady growth, with updates as needed. We’re looking to do more with what we have,” he says. “I’d prefer to do bigger and better and more with less.”