Navigating through unsure times is far from a modern problem. Imagine for a moment you’re a Viking sailor on a cloudy sea, for example. You’re desperately attempting to cross the ocean for a trade mission, but the sun is nowhere to be seen, and without it you can’t determine east from west. How will you find your way and profit from it?
Enter the Viking sunstone, a chunk of calcite also called Iceland spar. Properly used, it purportedly could refract polarized light waves; turn the crystal one way, and nothing is revealed, but turn it so that it properly catches these unseen light waves, and the position of the sun would be revealed—high technology for those times.
We’re not that different from those Viking traders, still looking for tools to aid in the navigation of unsure waters. For LBM dealers, those seas have been stormy indeed. Long-running supply, pricing, and economic uncertainties continue to cast shadows on the building materials landscape. But like the mythical sunstone, technology tools are available that can shed light on every aspect of an LBM dealer’s business. From solutions for supply chain, financial, and operating issues to those that aid in point of sale, e-commerce, and even project design, more tech aids are available now than ever before.
The need for new solutions
The last few years ushered in a slew of challenges for the LBM industry — headaches that remain persistent. Staffing remains at woefully low levels, and businesses are running lean. The supply chain continues to give off unsteady vibes, and new fears of both inflation and a recession are driving software designers to double down on their building industry product offerings.
“Over the past year, Epicor for Building Supply has focused efforts on providing more holistic tools and offerings to our customers so that we can be the single partner to drive growth,” says Zachary Pfeil, industry marketing principal for Epicor Software Corporation. “We’ve done this by growing our native products, acquiring key tools to incorporate into our portfolio, and by partnering with key providers that align with our company vision.”
It’s become more vital than ever for LBM dealers to have access to technology solutions, points out John Maiuri, president of the LBMH division of ECI Software Solutions. “Driven by supply chain constraints and recessionary fears, technology solutions that support advanced business reporting have become critical for LBM professionals to monitor operations and keep an eye on the broader industry’s health,” he points out. “For example, solutions with realtime data dashboards and reports can help LBM dealers have a clearer picture into key areas of the business such as sales, inventory on hand, scheduled shipments and special orders, so they can keep a pulse on operations and make more strategic decisions in this economic environment.”
Cindy McCarville, DMSi Software’s senior account manager specializing in LBM dealers, agrees with the necessity of new tech solutions, especially those that can bring efficiency to a lean-running industry like lumber and building materials. “Dealers are busier than ever while staffing continues to be a strain, especially with yard workers and drivers,” she explains. “If you’re running lean, technology is critical to supporting the increase in volume without sacrificing customer service. Online solutions that allow customers to find information 24/7 can reduce call volume for internal staff. Warehouse management apps let a smaller staff pick, receive, and count more products in less time with higher accuracy. Proof of delivery apps that capture signatures and send confirmation photos can reduce administrative delays, improve customer communication, and prevent future disputes about whether materials were delivered.”
Software leaders agree that solutions which can improve efficiency is of particular importance to the LBM dealer. “In order to be successful in the near future, LBM Dealers should turn their focus toward technologies that provide business efficiencies, more so than ever,” says Epicor’s Pfeil. “The past couple years have seen a large boom for the building supply industry and we’re at a point where that growth is slowing down, meaning dealers will need to start doing more with less in order to set themselves up for success.”
Part of increasing efficiency for the LBM dealer, software makers point out, is being able to offer a robust online retail experience. Customers want to be able to shop for materials when it’s convenient for them, they say, and dealers needs to be able to respond to that need, or else they run the risk of not staying competitive with the bog box stores. “As the industry continues to lean into digital experiences, having an online presence can no longer be a ‘nice to have’ if LBM businesses want to meet customer expectations and provide a shopping experience that rivals national chains,” says ECI’s John Maiuri. “Across every industry, customers are increasingly expecting a seamless online experience that can be accessed 24/7, no matter their location or time zone. LBM dealers need to embrace technology solutions that provide e-commerce offerings so they can stay competitive and not miss out on building new customer relationships. Refusing to adopt this trend can result in major fall out, such as losing business to retailers that do offer an online presence.”
As an example, Maiuri points out its North American market launch of its eCommonSense platform, a vertically specific e-commerce and product information management (PIM) solution. As he explains, “With the demand for digital experiences higher than ever, eCommonSense is designed to extend the in-store experience and uniquely provide a professional online experience just for LBM retailers, allowing them to offer a 24/7/365 sales presence to address the convenience needs of both consumers and tradespeople that is seamlessly integrated with their ERP solution.”
Invest in service
With so many available solution paths available, LBM dealers can find themselves wondering where to invest. One key area, software makers point out, is in customer service. Technology tools that enable a dealer to provide enhanced customer service can set them apart from their competition, and that ultimately leads to increased sales.
“Give your customers all they need to self-serve: resources that let them find answers, manage their accounts, and conduct business on their own time,” explains Simon Sikora, product director of e-commerce for DMSi Software. “Self-service is not a replacement for traditional customer service, it’s an extension of it. Their experience online should complement the great experience they have when they walk into your store.”
Sikora also points out the need for dealers to constantly maintain a growth mindset about their online services. “Keep looking for new ways to provide value to your customers through your site. Add training resources, vendor integrations, design tools for homeowners. It’s OK to be choosy; not every widget on the market is a good fit for your business. The point is to keep looking for opportunities to improve your customers’ online experience.”
It’s not just about making more sales, software leaders say. Managing data along with both front- and back-end operations should be high on an LBM dealer’s priorities when it comes to tool investments.
“For small businesses, it can be a challenge to realize the benefits of investing in new technology,” says ECI’s Maiuri. “The main focus is often on the equipment and sales tools, while the back-end technology is a second thought. However, the back-end technology should not be overlooked, especially after the past two years expedited the need for LBM businesses to adopt cloud technology. As a result, one of the most crucial categories of tech tools LBM dealers should invest in are the technologies that help merge management of front and back-end operations. Cloud-enabled ERP is an example of a tech tool that bridges this gap while also providing greater insight to make more informed decisions faster, run a tighter ship, and level up.”
Epicor’s Zachary Pfeil echoes Maiuri’s sentiments when it comes to cloud-based solutions and their potential value to LBM dealers. “Dealers should really be looking into their own journey to cloud technology,” he comments. “With cloud-based solutions, businesses are set up for success for the long term as cloud tools make products updates more efficient and data backups much easier and secure.”
These are just some of the options available, and if it all seems a bit overwhelming, you can relax. Software leaders walk side by side with their clients— after all, they don’t succeed unless their clients do. As ECI’s Maiuri puts it, “The ECI customer support team is responsive and has been carefully trained to help customers utilize the software to reach their business goals.” And his company isn’t alone in that sentiment. By working together with technology providers, LBM dealers can, like the Vikings of old, plot a course despite overcast skies and emerge once again into the bright sun.
TECH TOOLS FOR SUCCESS
Along with the technology providers we interviewed for their insights here, there is an array of tech options that bring unique solutions to the table for building materials distributors. While covered in our March 2022 In Depth technology feature, these should stay top of mind for LBM dealers looking to stay ahead of the game.
Offering financing and payment services, BlueTape enables LBM dealers to streamline their payment processes and offer extended financing options to their trade customers. New features include offering “Buy Now, Pay Later” services directly to contractors and subcontractors, allowing them to buy building materials at any store, pay their dealers upfront with the BlueTape virtual credit card, and pay BlueTape in up to 120 days.
“As we move toward economic uncertainty, nonrecourse lending and net terms for suppliers mean lower risk and more working capital,” says Yaser Masoudnia, BlueTape’s CEO and co-founder. “BlueTape helps LBM dealers get paid at the point of sale and not worry about chasing down unpaid invoices.” bluetape.com
As the LBM industry’s oldest supplier of e-commerce and digital integration solutions, Builderwire integrates with virtually all of the major ERP providers. According to the company, Builderwire is unique in providing key vertical industry segments with an integrated business-to-business e-commerce system that aims to increase productivity, improve operational efficiencies and reduce cost.
Since its inception in 2000, Builderwire, Inc. has been focused exclusively on providing business-to-business e-commerce solutions integrated with its clients ERP back-office systems, allowing companies to market and sell more effectively through direct customer relationship channels. In addition, it offers complete digital marketing services for its customers that provides one-on-one consultations coupled with metrics, goal setting and performance analyzation. builderwire.com
As an all-in-one business development platform for LBM dealers, Buildxact creates a network connecting sales teams, products, and services with thousands of custom home builders and remodelers and their project data. According to Buildxact, the technology is a benefit to dealers because it increases their share of wallet-growing revenue, builds customer loyalty, and helps them gain visibility into future demand. “Buildxact allows dealers to transform static, transaction-based customer lists into dynamic collaborative networks by using the strong relationships between the dealer sales team and their pro customers,” says Steve Yates, Buildxact’s executive vice president of enterprise sales. “This online platform gets rid of the old-fashioned processes like when it took three days to respond to a customer RFI, or the need for a full-time back office that could bring together a whole of house quote.” buildxact.com
Created to serve lumber buyers, BuyMetrics cloud-based commodity procurement platform gives users proprietary purchase data, including customized metrics and analyses, so that they can set and update sell prices, model alternate go-to-market strategies, maximize return lumber/panels inventory, enhance cash flow, and negotiate better contracts with vendors/customers.
As BuyMetrics’ founder and chairman Val Hansen explains, “The ability to harness disparate and dispersed data, normalize/harmonize disparate offers/ unequal bundles/tallys, automatically evaluate price in relation to value, are features/skills many Exchanges and online markets have yet to master.” buymetrics.com
The Ponderosa ERP platform from CAI Software is designed for one-step and two-step distributors and other LBM businesses that want to increase sales, improve productivity, and sell manufactured products at the highest margin possible. Ponderosa’s integrated suite of tools include sales order processing, production ordering and scheduling, inventory, purchasing, POS, payments, dispatch, warehouse management, installed sales, back-office, business intelligence and more.
According to the company, Ponderosa works seamlessly with most major manufacturers’ online ordering portals. The software pulls data from these systems into its Sales Order Entry module, creates a production order and purchase order, and generates a final customer invoice. The software can display the realtime status of every production order as it moves through the assembly and pre-finishing process, track the time for each task, calculate labor costs and component usage, and increase on-time and complete shipments. caisoft.com
Designed for material suppliers like LBM dealers, Handle manages credit compliance and lien management for construction. According to the company, its electronic parcel map ensures accurate owner verification, even when precise project addresses are not available. Handle provides state specific documents, mail tracking, and can integrate with an LBM dealer’s current accounting system.
“LBM dealers face many challenges within every aspect of their businesses,” says Chris Woodard, CMO at Handle.com. “Companies like Handle are working closely with these dealers to leverage technology and develop the most efficient process improvements possible (and in Handle’s case, specifically within the finance and credit departments).” handle.com
The product suite from Levelset offers construction financial professionals payment solutions along with risk management and financing tools. Levelset Lien Rights Management software helps contractors and suppliers solve payment challenges by simplifying the notice process, reducing risk, and managing compliance in a cloud-based platform, while Levelset Materials Financing enables contractors to purchase materials for projects and pay for them without affecting their cash flow.
According to Levelset, materials financing is beneficial for both suppliers and contractors. It removes the additional risk for suppliers by providing cash for materials right away. Contractors can start the project, keep cash in the bank, and have more time to pay off balances. Both parties can use the added cash they have available for other projects or to expand their business. levelset.com
PALADIN DATA CORPORATION
Paladin Data Corporation provides digital solutions for hardware stores and lumberyards, combining a point of sale system with inventory management that the company says requires less effort to operate and results in optimal stocking levels. “We’ve recently released several new Paladin features that help retailers manage their professional customers’ projects,” says Dan Nesmith, Paladin Data Corporation’s president and founder. “These new tools offer them a value-added service of helping them track their orders and payments on specific jobs. We also have a cloud-based digital document storage solution for handling all the big, clumsy data files like large documents, photos, digital signatures and more.
“We have a new feature on the way that will consolidate several purchase orders for a single supplier into one,” hints Nesmith. “It can blend special orders and regular stock orders and that will allow dealers to more easily meet the minimum order requirements of their suppliers, saving them money on each order.” paladinpointofsale.com
A provider of procure-to-pay automation software, QuoteToMe has partnered with Procore, a leading global provider of construction management software, with the goal of improving procurement processes for contractor businesses. According to the company, QuoteToMe saves contractor field and office teams 75% of the time spent to source goods and process purchase orders and creates up to 15% cost savings on materials and equipment.
Benefits of this new integration include the ability to request quotes from preferred material and equipment suppliers, manage purchasing approvals, and enforce purchasing limits. Users can send completed purchase orders, invoices, and related documents directly to Procore, and they can create purchase order commitments directly from QuoteToMe’s mobile app to capture receipt-of-goods documents on-site or in the store. quotetome.com
From onboarding to invoice presentment to collections, Suppli’s technology is designed to empower LBM dealers to increase cash flow, reduce risks and provide a better customer experience. Developed by a team composed of building material suppliers, software engineers, and financial experts, Suppli features 24/7 access from any device and frees up sales and credit teams by automating routine tasks like sending invoice reminders and preparing lien waivers. gosuppli.com
According to TOOLBX, its software enables construction and building material dealers the ability to offer a seamless online product ordering experience for their customers, through which LBM dealers can boost store loyalty and grow online sales. By combining its technology platform with industry expertise, TOOLBX promises to help an LBM dealer who has an outdated website quickly transition to a site that has full e-commerce capabilities in less than four weeks.
Its recently launched e-commerce platform for LBM dealers allows them to deliver an industry-leading digital customer experience that improves the efficiency of the Pro/Builder customer base buying process. TOOLBX also offer assistance with marketing, catalog management, and merchandising. toolbx.com
Marketplace from Yesler is designed to speed and organize communication between buyers and sellers of lumber and building materials. According to Yesler, Marketplace creates instant communication and negotiations with multiple trading partners simultaneously, organizing all quotes and market information, while capturing the history of quotes, negotiations, and trades. Recently-launched new profiles for sellers (shown here) enables them to take their offering online to enhance their reputation, build trust, and grow their business using Yesler as their digital channel to market.
“Yesler is built for LBM users, so it has specific tools to help buyers and sellers that other platforms do not,” says Matt Meyers, founder and CEO of Yesler. “We’ve recently expanded features to help sellers digitally merchandise products directly to their buyers and amplify their professional profile and reputation online. Yesler Marketplace empowers LBM sellers to bring their trusted relationships into the future and increase speed and efficiency.” goyesler.com
TECH TOOLS FROM MANUFACTURERS
Software makers aren’t the only ones providing technology solutions to the LBM industry. Building materials manufacturers are just as invested in creating tools to help both the dealer and the product end user. “The industry has faced unprecedented challenges around material supply, logistics, transportation, and labor,” says Matthew Smith, software development manager for Weyerhaeuser. “Providing customers with value-added support and tools that increase efficiencies and reduce waste is more important than ever.” Some leading manufacturer technology tools include:
BC Connect is a web-based platform of integrated tools (such as BC Framer shown left) from Boise Cascade that lets dealers and distributors manage engineered wood product workflow. It gives customers a central resource to manage projects, coordinate drawing services, import and manage material lists, create quotes, optimize job pack creation, and store other project files conveniently using the Internet.
According to Boise Cascade, BC Connect provides a single source of customer and project information that can be shared between the design and operations teams while also providing critical updates to the sales team to reduce confusion and improve project collaboration.
It organizes projects by customer, allowing them to track important contacts, delivery instructions, and more. The platform’s dashboard provides an “at-a-glance” view of incoming work and work in progress, and because it’s a web-based application, that information is accessible anywhere, any time on both desktop and mobile devices.
Users can input span and load conditions for common joist, beam, and header applications, generate a list of products that meet structural requirements, and then determine the most efficient way to cut the lengths and quantities needed for a framing layout based on inventory on hand. bc.com
Simpson Strong-Tie’s Pipeline LBM is a cloud-based material management and estimating system that is designed to pull data from multiple applications into a single information set for driving all processes. According to the company, Pipeline LBM solution from Simpson Strong-Tie bridges the gap between design and estimation for real-time, automated takeoffs by simplifying estimates with bills of materials for each plan while managing options-driven changes and updating construction documents and back-office data. Says Sam Hensen, vice president of building technology and digital product development for Simpson Strong-Tie, “We’ve focused more resources than ever before on partnership with our LBM pro dealer customers and understanding their specific needs as residential construction supply chain experts as they transition to an ever-increasing digital way of doing business.” Also available from Simpson Strong-Tie, its Outdoor Living Solutions platform suite includes three free software applications—Fence Planner Software, Deck
Planner Software, and Pergola Planner Software—that gives DIYers and other retail customers the ability to quickly design outdoor living structures. “For builders and contractors, the software offers a way to expand value-added services, increase customer satisfaction, and line up more projects,” explains Michael Heisler, director of outdoor living solutions for Simpson Strong-Tie. “Lumberyards, pro dealers and retailers can additionally participate in a licensing program offering three tiers of co-branded or fully branded visibility within each app, increasing their own brand awareness and driving product sales.” strongtie.com
Weyerhaeuser offers a suite of software that helps dealers and their customers implement high-quality structural framing solutions and optimize material use while reducing construction cycle time, cost, and waste. For example, the company’s Javelin software models an entire structural frame, allowing dealers to optimize combinations of residential engineered wood products and dimensional lumber in layouts for floor, wall, and roof systems—all in a single file. To further add value for the builder, dealers can use Weyerhaeuser’s NextPhase Site Solutions to integrate the design data from Javelin with saw technology to create pre-cut and pre-labeled JobPack framing bundles. “Having access to data helps inform decision-making,” says Matthew Smith, Weyerhaeuser’s software development manager, about the importance of technology tools. “For example,
Weyerhaeuser’s Stellar software gives dealers information to make decisions about when and what to order as well as make the best material and labor optimization decisions. From creating an optimized shipping list with jobsite cutting instructions to automated cutting equipment producing precision-cut framing packages as part of the NextPhase Site Solutions program, Stellar software easily scales to the needs of each business.” weyerhaeuser.com