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Tough Call: The Case of the Disruptive Builder

A builder is convinced he can nearly double his completed homes and his purchases – if you’re willing to work with him and his aggressive schedule. What would you do?

Like many of your peers in the LBM community across the U.S., your lumberyard isn’t the biggest in town, and it’s not the lowest priced. Instead, you’ve built a business based on providing unmatched service and products to your builder customers. You don’t use the phrase “unmatched service” flippantly. You back it up with an “On Time In Full” delivery promise. Deliveries aren’t just dumped at the jobsite. Instead, they’re placed where the builder wants them, to enable their crew to work more efficiently. You and your team have worked hard to put back-office operations in place that make it easy to do business with. For these reasons and more, your company is the go-to supplier for the leading custom builders in your market.

One of those builders stands out from the others. Where other builders can be somewhat less than organized, he has spent his career tweaking his processes and his scheduling. As a result, his team manages to start and complete custom homes in far less time than his competition. What he’s doing is impressive, but he wants to take it to another level. To make that happen, he needs your buy-in.

You know from talking with the salesperson on his account and your yard team that he’s already more demanding than other builder customers. “He’s not unreasonable,” they’ve explained, “and he understands that we’re taking care of lots of builders. His jobs are scheduled out further than anyone we’ve worked with, and the schedules are very detailed. With many of our builders, we’re nudging them to see when we can get products out of our warehouse and onto their jobsite. He’s the opposite…it’s like he’s nudging us to up our game.”

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Their assessment lines up with what he told you this morning. “I’m convinced that I can build more homes than I’m building now, which means I could be buying more materials than I’m buying now. To do that, your team and mine would have to work closer throughout the process—starting with the blueprints and the takeoffs. If this works the way I envision it, we’d coordinate on delivery scheduling, material purchasing, vendor selection…virtually everything. This would require closer collaboration between your team and mine, but I’m confident that the result will be worth it.”

You like how this builder thinks, and you really like the idea of providing the materials for him to build more homes in less time. However, with labor issues being what they are, your current team is stretched thin. The way he describes it, his process sounds like working smarter, not harder. But he made clear that it would take your team out of its comfort zone. The way you see it, this could be a big success, or a big waste of time. What would you do?

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–   Stay the course. Tell the builder you’d love to sell him more materials to build more homes, but you’ve got a well-trained team with systems in place that work for you, and he’ll need to bend to fit how you do things.

–   Baby steps. Your market is hungry for more new homes, so if you can help affect that while selling more materials, it’s worth being open to change. Take it slow and see how it goes.

–   Embrace it. You’ve got a top builder who’s not concerned about price, who wants to build a closer relationship with your company, and to buy more materials from you. What’s not to love?

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–   Wait and see. It’s true that this could be good, but it would also mean making some changes. You’ve got a great team, but they don’t always love change. If he doesn’t partner with another lumberyard, revisit it in the future.

What would you do?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.


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