Tough Call: The wooden ceiling

wooden ceiling

A longtime builder customer switched suppliers when the daughter took over the family lumberyard.

Speaking from experience, you know that there are worse things than growing up in the lumber business. Your grandpa and your dad were proud of the work they did, and of the company they built. “If owning a home is the American dream,” they said, “then we’re the ones who make dreams come true.” As a little kid, you could imagine no higher calling than that. The years went on, and you worked part-time at the yard during summers all the way through highschool. After earning a degree in business, you chose to follow your father’s footsteps, and went back to build your career at the family lumberyard.

Your dad couldn’t have been happier that his daughter chose to join the family business, but he cautioned you that as a young woman, you’d likely have to work that much harder to earn respect from some of the male customers and colleagues. He was right. Fortunately, once the doubters learned how well you understand the business, their attitudes changed, and life was good.

Fast-forward 20 years. Your grandpa and dad are retired, and you’re nearing the end of your first year running the family lumberyard. Though women still make up only an estimated 5% of the LBM industry, the fact that you’re a woman running a successful lumberyard has made you determined to give other young women the opportunity to break through the “wooden ceiling” and build careers in the LBM industry. You know success is not about gender; it’s about attitude and ability. Most people agree. Then there’s Bobby.

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Bobby owns Good Old Days Homes, which builds traditional-styled entry level homes. As one of the only builders in your market who focuses on starter homes, Bobby’s business is solid and growing. You remember him from your summers working the yard during school. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a lumberyard?” he’d ask each time he saw you. Comments like that were common, and you didn’t give it much thought.

Good Old Days Homes bought the bulk of their materials from your company, until the day you took the reins. Since then, the only orders you get are once a week or so, when a delivery from his primary supplier comes up short, and his crew is sitting at the jobsite with nothing to do.

After nearly a year of serving as Bobby’s emergency backup to a supplier who is clearly not capable of meeting his needs, you finally get him to agree to a sit-down meeting. You show him the large number of emergency fill-in deliveries you’ve made over the last year, compared to the on-time and infull delivery service he always experienced with you, then ask for a shot as his primary supplier. “I like things the way they used to be. A lumberyard is a man’s world. I’m just not comfortable buying building materials from your dad’s little girl.”

Though you’re disappointed in his answer, you’re not surprised. Frankly, you’re tired of being available only for emergencies created by his new supplier, when you’ve proven that your team—under a woman’s leadership— can do the job. What would you do the next time Bobby has an emergency?

1. Sorry. Busy. Tell him your crew is busy delivering on-time and in-full to your regular customers. Encourage him to call his primary supplier for help.

2. Stay the course. At some point, Bobby will probably realize that his current supplier can’t meet his needs, and he’ll give you and your team a shot as his primary supplier.

3. Make him pay. Add a sizable emergency surcharge to his fill-in deliveries that makes his small orders worth your while until he decides to give you and your team a chance.

4. Just say no. Ask why you’re capable enough to handle his emergencies, but not good enough to serve as his main supplier.

What would you do?
Something else? If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you a LBM JOURNAL mug.

See how your judgment compares with others in the industry at
Final results will appear in The Buzz section of the November/December 2018 issue.

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