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Stay Light on Your Feet: Pivoting to Build a Better LBM Category

At Lee’s Home Center in Millstadt, Illinois, building materials category evaluator Brayden Vogel identified a problem and is doing his part to fix it.

Since starting at Lee’s Home Center in 2019, Vogel has seen a shift in the needs and wants of his customers and continues making the necessary adjustments to improve the store’s lumber and building materials (LBM) category.

Vogel recognized a decline in shingles and other roofing material sales at his operation because other stores in his area were offering services his store couldn’t. Gradually, he began removing those items from the shelves and replacing them with other items that did sell like lumber, composite decking and signage and lettering.

In the past three years, Vogel says changing up the product selection in the store’s LBM department by adding new options and removing others has come naturally as he’s seen what his customers need.

Offering composite decking is one of these big shifts. Vogel says customers still love real wood, but he alerts them to the pros and cons of using the material for their projects.

“We educate our customers that they’ll have ongoing maintenance and rotting concerns if they go with cedar or treated wood,” Vogel says. “So far, I’ve received minimal complaints on the composites and cap composites sold, and many composite wood materials on the market come with extensive warranties.”

Another bonus of composite is that any of the accessories for composite decking, such as composite-specific screws, trim and fasteners, have higher profit margins as well.

“While finding new products to sell in this category can be difficult, it’s still a profitable category,” Vogel says. “It’s an easy category to increase margins.”

Focusing on Customer Service

While Lee’s Home Center stopped offering certain LBM products, employees didn’t stop providing a high level of customer service.

“We have customers who have been with us for a long time,” Vogel says. “They don’t go somewhere else to get LBM products because they’re concerned about deliveries, customer service and product quality, all areas we excel at.”

Lee’s Home Center recently supplied materials to a hotel in Columbia, Illinois, including exterior commercial doors and new construction hardware. For the new hotel construction project, Vogel says the company in charge of the build went with Lee’s Home Center because it was local and able to get the products they needed on special order.

Contractors and professional customers need to be able to rely on the source of their products and get them in a timely matter, so being able to deliver has been key to customers choosing Lee’s Home Center.

“Offering this level of customer service sets us apart from the bigger box stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot,” Vogel says. “We hear the horror stories of customers trying to buy a commercial door in other places and not being satisfied with the level of customer service offered.”

About Jacob Musselman

Jacob is the content coordinator for Hardware Retailing Magazine. A lifelong Hoosier, Jacob earned a B.S. in journalism and telecommunications with a minor in digital publishing from Ball State University. He loves making bagels, going to farmers markets with his wife Hannah and two dogs and watching Formula One.

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