This isn’t going to be one of those “beloved, third-generation hometown yard builds on its legacy” stories. Nope. McCabe Lumber, of Lovelace, Oh.—20 miles from the Cincinnati metro area and serving Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana as well—didn’t even exist in the 20th century. Today, it’s a blockbuster, both in market share and innovation.
Well, it sorta didn’t exist. There was a McCabe Hardware back in the ’80s. When the urge to expand and seize new opportunities to grow took fire, the McCabe fellas decided to launch a decking enterprise to fill an underserved niche.
Oh, wait, they realized: We don’t have near-enough indoor space. So, long-story-short for the moment, in 2001 they erected from scratch one of the biggest, baddest full-service lumber and building supply facilities for miles around.
And that’s when young Jerry Tepe stepped into the enterprise. “I’d come out of high school and did some college while working full-time here. With the expansion, I took the reins to build the lumber side of the business,” says Jerry, its present owner. “We got a foothold by specializing in exteriors, remodeling and decking. We paid attention to a segment of the marketplace no one else was serving.”
Well, but how do you attract business to an unknown outfit? “Yellow Pages.” (He has to laugh at the term today’s millennials wouldn’t even recognize.) “We cold-called everybody to tell them who we were and what we could do for them: service better than the competition, who swept those folks under the rug. If they weren’t big builders, it was ‘Forget about them’.”
It worked. But soon those contractors wanted more than decks, “so it went from decks to everything they needed for their other segments: room additions, porches…. We added what we could in our small facility; then in 2001 we relocated to a 230,000-sq. ft. building where we can house everything. (We sublet half of it until we were ready to use it all.)”
Then, in 2004, the real reason for this story came to be: construction of an industry-leading showroom stocked with premier products—12,000 sq. ft., showcasing windows and doors, decking, siding, railing, and the list goes on.
But it didn’t stop there. McCabe built a complete, two-story house within this showroom to set off, says Jerry, “the best of the best, trend-setting products. It anchors the store. It lets customers know they’ve come to the right place. It features the best custom products, such as French door interiors, lots of moulding, a cherry wood ceiling, a unique porch floor—a rich interior and exterior that serves as an idea-creator. A ‘What if?’ A ‘Can I?’ It assures customers that McCabe can supply everything; that we can find it and we can get it for you. It anchors the store—lets you know you’re in a unique place, the right place. The staff uses it to make an impact on clientele that’s very impressive.
“The home showcases categories,” Jerry emphasizes, “more than products. It acts as an anchor to drive customers into the showroom to find other products. And it’s not stagnant. It’s always being updated to call attention to the latest trends.”
Who visits? “Pros are our business, 75% of it,” says the boss, “and they can use it in two ways. One, to inform themselves, and two—the biggest—to bring customers to McCabe, via a dedicated sales rep, to make their selections. So, the foot traffic is the end-user, plus remodelers and home builders. Up to 30% of visitors are walk-ins, looking for better products, better service, better solutions. It positions McCabe as the leader against the competition.”
Competition? The boxes, yes. “But primarily, other independents. Of course, price is definitely a topic,” Jerry concedes, “but as a rule, it centers on product, availability and quality of our employees.”
Today those employees number 110, and McCabe is always on the lookout to hire—“not just when we have a hole to fill. We’re looking for emerging, younger talent with good personalities. Smiles!” Then McCabe follows through with ongoing training, including shadowing a mentor plus one-on-one and group training November through March on new products. “And we promote from within, meaning then they are somewhat pre-trained,” Jerry stresses.
To get the word out, the company utilizes a variety of marketing media, including radio (the largest segment), print and social media. It also hosts events for pros and conducts an annual Deck Expo for consumers, involving over a dozen manufacturers and generous refreshments. Average attendance is over one thousand, with lots of first-timers.
To reach new pros, the company employs outside sales reps to cultivate relationships with builders and remodelers, stressing special services such as delivery via forklift and specified morning arrival times. “Also, we offer vertically-engaged manufacture of trusses and wall panels. And when it comes to inside sales, we have 11 reps ready to help with remodeling, decking, and maintenance.
“I attribute a lot of our reputation for service to will-call traffic to the facilities’ layout, incorporating the largest covered lumberyard in the tri-state area. Customers can drive through the covered facility to the product they’re picking up, which means efficiency for them. It’s definitely our niche.”
As with most of your own operations, the past recession took a bite. To survive and thrive, “We tended to roll back some payroll hours during slow seasons. We’d been growing at a good pace, but those years took away our growth, flattened it. During those years, we lost lots of our competition, many of whom went under. So we were able to rebound in 2010-11, with good growth. We typically grow about 12% to 15%.”
And in the future? “Growth is our business mode. We’re always looking for new opportunities, new product mix, new customers.”
What keeps Jerry rooted to the enterprise? “My passion is seeing the long-term relationships being created by our people. My reward is seeing our associates grow.” And growing McCabe right along with them.