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Tough Call: Rebuilding trust

Your predecessor excelled at driving away business. You’ve been tasked with regaining it, but customers’ memories run deep. What would you do?

Having worked in the LBM business since high school, you’ve learned the value of customer relationships built over time. Unlike many businesses that are one-time only transactions, you get to know your customers, and the trust that develops forms the foundation for future business. Once that trust is broken, it can be tough to piece back together. Which is where you find yourself today. Here’s the story…

Two years ago, you accepted a job offer to manage an established lumberyard in a market of just under 100,000 residents. It was your chance to put to work all that you’ve learned and see what you could accomplish.

You knew this location was under relatively new ownership. But what you didn’t know was that the manager you replaced managed to irritate, alienate, and effectively shatter the trust the company had established with its customers (and some of its vendors as well).

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As a result, many formerly loyal, longtime customers started buying their materials—and building relationships —at other lumberyards. While many LBM dealers spent 2022 setting new revenue records, you spent last year wrestling with ways to get customers back. You made some progress, primarily because you had plenty of material while your competitors were scrambling to refresh their inventories.

You’ll never forget the conversation you had with Alan, a prominent custom builder, when he came to re-establish an account to buy only those products he could get nowhere else. “I’m only here because my regular supplier is sold out of some key materials, and doesn’t know when he’ll get ‘em back in stock. The last time I bought from your company, I was seriously overcharged, and when the deliveries finally showed up (they were always hours or days later than promised), the materials were either wrong, or damaged, or both.

Your company cost me a lot of money, and when I asked them to make it right, they just kept putting me off until I swore I’d never return.”

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While you don’t blame these former customers for their decision to leave, you can’t seem to get them to realize things are different now. You’ve seen the financials, and you understand why the owners are pressuring you to turn things around so that they don’t have to close the doors. What would you do to re-earn the trust of your local building community?

What would you do?

–  LOWER YOUR PRICES. If there’s one thing that gets people’s attention, it’s the opportunity to save a buck. Slash prices on some key items, and once they’re in the door, win them over.

–  INDIVIDUAL MEETINGS. Reach out to your former best customers individually and ask for a meeting. Your goal is not to sell, but to listen and learn, and begin the slow process of re-earning their trust.

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–  “WHAT WILL IT TAKE?” There’s a reason that question works. It can make people truly stop and think about what it would take to get them to give you another chance. Give it a try.

–  TAKE IT BACK. Study your market and identify an unmet opportunity; then, innovate with your team and your vendors to outperform your competition, and make builders want to work with you.

What would you do?

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