I’ve made my living building decks and selling decks, but at The Deck Store, in Apple Valley, Minn., I’ve done the opposite of what most lumberyards do. I started as a deck builder and then became a lumberyard. What I’m going to talk about today is how to go from being a lumberyard to a deck builder.
If I were at a lumberyard that wanted to start a deck building division and really get involved with decks, I’d start first by educating myself on all the products. You really have to be an expert on the stuff you sell. You don’t have to be an expert on everything in the industry, but when you’re installing decks, it’s a must that you know everything about the products you sell in your store.
When a customer comes in, they probably have just a small idea of what it is they want to create. The first thing the lumberyard needs to do is to have somebody on staff who is a creative personality, who can help this customer identify what it is they want to build.
At The Deck Store, that person is me. Early on in my career, I developed a deck design theory. I call it View, Proportion and Focus. It has become my philosophy for building decks.
I tell a customer that the number one thing we’re going to concern ourselves with is the view. They can buy their house anywhere in this market. But they can’t buy their view from their house anywhere else in this market. I don’t want to put a deck up that’s going to obstruct a customer’s view or take away the value of their property.
The second most important aspect of deck building is proportion. That is to say, “how big of a deck belongs on your house?” There are three essential elements to proportion.
- Duplicate shapes and angles that exist in a customer’s home. Most homes today have angled corners. There are diagonal corners on cabinets and hallways. I do that for a couple reasons. I know that my competitors have a hard time designing and building that way, so I’m able to eliminate some of my competitors by doing decks at an angle. In our industry, deck builders and suppliers believe that it’s more expensive to put a deck down diagonally than it is to put it straight. The reality is that it’s less expensive and less time-consuming to put it in at an angle. It also gives you a stronger deck with no seams.
- People always ask, “how big of a deck should I put on my house?” I tell them not to exceed the size of the largest room in your house with a single section of deck. I know that most houses in this market have 14×16 or 12×14 rooms. I want to get those people to that 14′ size. Mostly because the big box stores don’t sell 14′ joists. Composite decking doesn’t come in 14′ lengths, but I know how to make it work. If I go 14′ out, I can use 20′ deck boards, the long side of that angle is never greater than 19’8″. I can then make my deck look seamless by using 20′ product. My competitor, thinks it’s more expensive to go diagonal and doesn’t understand the math, wants to go horizontal. Well, he has to cut 2′ off every board and throw it away.
- The third part of proportion is this: Personality makes a difference. At first, this was the hardest one for me to understand. I would design the coolest deck I could come up with for someone and they wouldn’t like it. Then I learned to design decks to peoples’ personalities. Whether they’re an accountant or a circus clown, they’ll probably want their decks to look different.
The third prong to my deck design theory is focus. Here’s where I turn the design to go diagonal. I demonstrate that I understand where the focus of their deck should be. If one view shows a beautiful grove of trees and another view shows a city water tower, then obviously I want the trees to be the focus of the deck. I can draw attention away from the water tower by pointing the decking toward the grove of trees. I also mention that colors make a difference. Light colors tend to obstruct your vision, dark colors are transparent. I also make sure to talk to them about the hallway effect. We want to keep the stairs as close to your exit door as possible, because you could design a really gigantic deck, but have no way to get off of it.
I believe that the View, Proportion and Focus philosophy can take a lumberyard a long way into the process of installing decks. In the coming months I’ll discuss more about getting into the installed deck business.