LBM Journal’s Dealer of the Year awards recognize four LBM companies of different sizes that epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit. By our definition, a Dealer of the Year describes a company in which leadership excels at identifying underserved—or emerging—markets, satisfying customers, and constantly working to grow and improve business. Our 2020 winners—Kuiken Brothers, Gillman Home Center, Lang Building Supply, and R.T. Griffis & Sons—represent vastly different operations. The common thread in these companies is their fierce commitment to finding ever better ways to serve their customers and their communities.
R.T. Griffis & Sons: Sustainability drives growth
Like many children of lumber dealers, Susan McNamara grew up around the family business. She worked for the company during high school and college, and after taking time to raise her children, took on the business operations full time in the mid-1990s.
Now the sole owner of the single-location lumberyard in Montrose, Pennsylvania, McNamara employs three others: Angie Frystak, a bookkeeper and operations specialist; Brooke Weidow, who handles inside sales; and Silas Chance, a yard manager. In a tight-knit operation such as hers, it’s often all hands on deck, and McNamara wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We all do sales,” she says. “All four of us. We don’t have a separate outside sales force. I’ll occasionally go to job sites, but we don’t have a separate sales force.”
In a tight labor market where there is a nationwide push to recruit more women into the industry, hiring more women isn’t something that McNamara and her four-person team think much about, because three fourths of the team members are female.
While one might think the fact that a mostly female staff in a male-dominated industry would be a frequent topic of conversation, McNamara says it rarely comes up.
Frystak agrees, “It maybe has its challenges sometimes, but any of us will just go out in the yard and we’ll help customers get materials if Silas isn’t around.”
Maybe a family member will fill in now and then if the yardman is on vacation, but McNamara said that while her husband, a builder by trade, helps out occasionally with deliveries and building maintenance, his role is better described as “a good customer.”
Serving the borough
The name R.T. Griffis & Sons has served customers in Northeastern Pennsylvania for 76 years, and the company is now headed up by McNamara, who is a fourth-generation family member to run the full-line lumberyard.
Purchased by her great grandfather, H.D. Griffis and her grandfather, R.T. Griffis, the company had formerly been a sawmill and is still sometimes referred to in the small borough of Montrose as “The Mill.”
Of the four sons who make up the R.T. Griffis and Sons name, none are still active in the business. McNamara’s father, Stanley Griffis, is technically retired, but still stops in from time to time. “He developed the retail part of the business,” McNamara says. “He was the driving force in expanding beyond just lumber and paint.”
With a population just under 1,500, the residents of Montrose turn to R.T. Griffis for not only lumber and building materials, but hardware, electrical and plumbing supplies, paint, garden supplies, and more. Focusing on the needs of the community means about a 50/50 split when it comes to professional builder/contractor and DIY retail customers.
“Traditionally, we had been pretty contractor-based,” McNamara says. “But it has evolved into being both. It wasn’t anything we controlled, it just kind of happened.”
Recognizing that need, the company has been bringing in more merchandise to appeal to the retail customer, says Frystak, including vacuum cleaners, cast iron pans, and cleaning supplies.
“We’re pretty rural and small-town. But now we officially have two blinking stoplights instead of just one,” Frystak jokes.
While R.T. Griffis serves a small, rural community, that doesn’t mean the company is immune to competition. In recent years, two other independent lumberyards have begun serving the R.T. Griffis area.
Sustainability drives growth
With about $500,000 in revenue last year, McNamara says the company is resilient and plans to steadily grow on that base. Still, she says, it’s not the revenue the company once brought in.
“It’s about half of what we traditionally had done before the downturn,” she says, adding, “and before the internet.”
McNamara says the company is sustaining and still growing and operating in a different mode than prior to the Great Recession. She says a focus on quality products and efficient operations through sustainability is what sets her company apart from the competition, and what bolsters her focus on the future.
As a rule, the company keeps waste to a minimum, she says, “we’re really good recyclers. We reuse everything.”
McNamara adds that she always purchases higher-quality lumber, even if it’s a bit more expensive. As a result, builders are coming to her for quality products. “There are a lot of craftsmen who are working on higher-end summer homes and vacation homes that are an important part of our customer base,” McNamara says.
Moreover, she says, it’s her staff that keep customers coming back. “Our whole staff is college educated,” she says, and it shows in how they’re able to help problem solve anything from building codes to business operations for their customers. The staff is just ingrained in the industry.
“Everyone who works here is knowledgeable about building. Every one of us has built our own homes or are in the process of remodeling or building our own places. Because of that experience, we do a lot of special ordering for people,” McNamara says. “We can get really good stuff and not have to stock everything such as doors, windows, and flooring. We don’t have to stock a lot of excess.”
As McNamara and her staff look to the future of the company, they’re getting more involved with the digital side of the business. The team is exploring online retail, with plans to sell products online soon.
“Already we’re getting calls from places we normally wouldn’t. The internet is our biggest opportunity that we’re just starting to take advantage of,” McNamara says. The team at R.T. Griffis is also devoting more resources to social media and have noticed that it translates to more foot traffic in the store.
As the store’s customer base has shifted toward retail, the building itself has changed to reflect the growing needs. At 77 years old, the buildings are being updated. A recent reset to the showroom has doubled the company’s floorspace.
“We use the space like a true display,” McNamara says. The whole building contains building products and windows that are available to customers. The store contains a small kitchen display featuring products available for sale.
“Even the wood on the walls is available in our yard,” she added. “We really show how our products can be used.”
As the community of Montrose changes, the local lumberyard is adapting to meet new needs that come along. Most recently, McNamara says, she’s made the decision to fill a community need for gardening products and nursery supplies.
“Part of what makes our gardening supply services so special is that we’re geared toward serious gardeners and farmers. Our seeds are organic and heirloom,” McNamara explains.
As she’s updated both the facility itself and the merchandise she carries, McNamara says, the changes have contributed to sustainability and efficiency that has improved not only the retail environment, but the company’s bottom line.