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Spahn & Rose Lumber CEO on COVID-19 Challenges

COVID-19 has posed challenges for every home improvement retailer, including those operating stores in multiple states. Building materials supplier Spahn & Rose Lumber counts 24 locations across Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. CEO Dave Davis recent spoke about the challenge of adapting a multistate operation to ensure employee customer safety.

Making a Commitment to Safety

In March, the company temporarily closed its showrooms, opting to offer customers curbside pickup and contactless delivery. Davis says employees have adapted well to the new procedures and were able to keep themselves and customers safe. Simultaneously, the company kept suppliers out of lumberyards and rigorously managed who entered and exited company facilities.

Davis says a national patchwork of executive orders made creating a one-size-fits-all COVID-19 response impossible. Instead, the company had to adapt its approach to each state, ensuring all local ordinances were followed.

Above all, Davis says the company relied on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure companywide safety.

“Employees know that there’s a good equilibrium where we’re making sensible decisions that won’t impair the company. We’re making decisions to protect employees’ health and their jobs,” Davis says.

Two employees did test positive for COVID-19, but Davis says the company had a plan of action ready to deploy. They hired an outside cleaning crew to extensively clean stores where those employees worked.

Focusing on Customer Service

Amid COVID-19, Davis says it was important to not lose sight of the customer service standard Spahn & Rose has established. As COVID-19 spread through the U.S., the company temporarily adjusted its hours of operation and enabled some employees to work remotely. Despite the changes, Davis says his team remained committed to offering superior service.

“Our outside salespeople have made sure contractors and builders can call in orders and have deliveries ready. During this time, we want to reassure customers that they have someone there who is ready for them. If Spahn & Rose keeps contractors happy, that’s invaluable,” he says.

To aid the ordering process during the pandemic, the company has helped vendors and customers navigate the company’s electronic invoice system.

Securing the Supply Chain

Davis says that in the spring, several mills closed and prices fell, even as demand was stronger than ever. Throughout the spring, the company’s lumber buyers identified additional mills to purchase from, and the company leveraged its size to make orders.

“Our buyers aren’t taking no for an answer,” he says. “There have been times when we don’t have as much stock on the ground because we can’t get it. Then, in mid-June, commodity prices went up 50 percent, giving us another set of problems. The fluctuations of prices put a tremendous strain on margins.”

Ensuring Safety Amid Storms

On Aug. 10, storms devastated farmland in Iowa, damaging an estimated 14 million acres of crops, leveling silos and other buildings and leaving more than 400,000 Iowans without power.

Among the towns that bore the brunt of the hurricane-force winds were Charlotte, DeWitt, Knoxville, Marshalltown, Monticello, Newton and Tipton. With stores in those communities, Spahn & Rose is working to make sure that business and residents that need to rebuild have access to the materials and resources they need.

“The storms were a one-two punch,” says Dave Davis, Spahn & Rose chief executive officer. “With COVID-19, as a company, we changed how we do business to keep our customers and employees safe. Now, with the storms, we have another challenge to rise to.”

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