Things looked bad. Then, as time went on, things looked even worse.
Billy Hyman, in his 80s and a man with no family to succeed him, put his lumberyard in South Memphis, Tn., on the market in 2006. But folks were closing yards that year, not buying them. Hyman had purchased Jordan Lumber—an operation launched back in 1890—after he returned home as a veteran of World War II. He’d gone on to move the company to another location, purchased adjoining land, and installed a line of hardware.
He was also a politician who chaired the city council and, with a partner in Hyman Homes, built subsidized, lower-rent housing as part of the city’s revitalization. So Billy wanted to leave a legacy, not a sign reading “Out of Business.”
Dan Fuller watched it all happen. Dan, today’s general manager, had joined the lumber yard in 1996 at age 23. As he recalls, “Hyman tried to sell the company for eight or nine years as it slowly went downhill. Our best year, 2006, we did $11 million; then gradually, year after year, things got tougher and tougher.”
Until, voila: In 2015 a pair of young bloods—brothers Don and Rick Youngblood, to be exact—bought the business out of the blue and at a most favorable price—a win-win for both parties. Don is owner of a successful auto parts operation and Rick, a commercial cabinet shop. Residential cabinetry was what Hyman’s customers sought, Rick knew, but the five-acre property allotted him space for his shop and access to products, and at a good price. Neither had ever owned—much less, worked in—a lumberyard before. “Never once!” as GM Dan explains it.
“So the brothers asked me, ‘What needs doing?’ ‘I’ll be honest,’ I responded. ‘Nothing’s been touched for years.’” (Okay, there was a snippet of good news, too, which was the outfit’s location—in an impoverished area that would never be a shopping destination, but with good highway access, even to customers in Mississippi and Arkansas. “Plus, this is a very industrial area, and we handle lots of their maintenance.”)
Now the bad news: He told them, “We need a POS. An outside salesman. And advertising”—all of which endeavors had previously added up to zero.
Fast-forward a few short months: By mid-2016, Youngblood Builders Supply had acquired a brand-new POS; remodeled and expanded the entire store under the guidance of its supplier, Memphis-based Orgill; added a new roof and 5,000 new items, plus a paint department; and staged a grand re-opening celebration.
Oh, and—what proved to be a vital step—hired its first-ever outside salesman. “I found him,” Dan says, “by talking to folks I knew. He’d just left a big-box store, tired of that style of doing business, and already knew of the company. He had contacts, relationships. And with our new POS, he could access our system without actually being here.
“Sure,” Dan allows, “there are growing pains right now as business has started growing again. We used to have five delivery trucks and now have just one. I could use a second, on and off, but it’s hard to find a driver who’d agree to double up in the yard. Still,” a smile creeps into his voice, “now I’m hearing, ‘It’s fun to work here again!’ when it used to be ‘Will I still have a job next week?’ Now they know we’ll be here and they have a future.”
The firm has always focused on smaller contractors and remodelers, rather than the mega-builders. So when Dan changed the product mix, he did it with them in mind—added more power tools, welding supplies—“pro lines of product, beefing them up quite a bit. Also, for the property management side, no longer just six doorknobs in stock—rather 50. And we added $30,000 to $50,000 in paint.”
He continues: “Our biggest customer in years past had never even been in here, just knew the phone number—and still today, many have never been in the store. We take pride in offering service by a local company, not a big box—more agile than the box stores. We gained the trust that we can take care of them, serving a variety of pros—some just putting up a fence or pergola, others renovating whole apartment buildings: pretty varied. And because we’re in an industrial area—refineries, fertilizer, and chemical plants—we provide those businesses with things like cleaning products.
“We’ve also dealt with the city for years (thanks to Mr. Hyman) and have contracts with the City of Memphis and the housing areas. They like that we’re only a 10-minute drive from downtown. Maybe we might not have an item in stock, but we can deliver it within a day or two, which they really love. We can get just about anything—we have connections—such as a recent request for hip-waders for the sewers. And at a good price.”
“We can take care of them,” Dan underscores, thanks to a veteran crew of 17. “I’ve been here 21 years, and three of them have been here even longer! We’ve also added a few new people and hope to add more as we grow.”
Many of the yard’s customers are just as long-term, too—and that may pose a problem. “They’re older, and we hadn’t replaced them, with no advertising nor outside salesman. But we’re starting to see some new guys—people stopping in for 2x4s to remodel a bathroom or do a room addition: our core business. We’re not a giant like 84 Lumber, and we’re not on a railroad spur, so we can’t always compete. But we do carry laminated beams and rebar—just on a smaller scale. Plus, we make it quick for them. Contractors can park close, walk in, get expert help, and we’ll load their truck without them having to handle the materials, which you won’t get at 84. Plus, our prices are as good, if not better, fighting that misconception.”
Advertising was another goal. “We haven’t gotten to where we need to be yet,” Dan concedes. “Instead, we spent the last year on ten years’ worth of repairs to the property. So we haven’t gone ahead with advertising yet; I haven’t figured out the budget.”
In the meantime, he’s doing fine with (free) social media. “It’s been our ally. Our home page pops up on a search.” And, of course, it promoted the grand re-opening.
There had been discussion on when to announce the new owners, new name: “‘Should we do it right away?’ they asked me. ‘No, it might scare folk off,’ I advised. ‘Let’s change everything, then show it off and change the name.’ Many customers never realized there were new owners, and people fear change.”
So last September, the event was staged. “We unveiled our new name and we cooked every day, an outside barbecue. We brought in eight or 10 vendors, had give-aways. We showed the pros our change in inventory, like adding many more power tools. We’d decided to jump in, feet first, and sell that stuff. It was a way to tell everybody that we’re still here, and look at what we’re doing to help you do your job. We saw a lot of first-timers, too. They told us, ‘We never knew you were here,’ though we’d been here forever. Also, ‘We didn’t know you were still around.’”
Around? You bet. “The recession actually helped us. We’d hear horror stories here in Memphis about a yard with one or two big-builder customers who’d gone belly-up and took the lumberyard down with them. But our sales are up 15 to 20% over last year, the first improvement since the recession. [Owner] Rick stops in every day, but trusts me to oversee everything; I enjoy that faith. So I guess I’ll stick around another 20 years!”