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DEALER PROFILE: Capps Home Building Center of Virginia

“Moneta, Virginia: Where the heck is that? Couldn’t find it in my Rand McNally atlas, but never mind. The affluent retirees and second-home owners living where it sits near Smith Mountain Lake have no difficulty, and...

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“Moneta, Virginia: Where the heck is that? Couldn’t find it in my Rand McNally atlas, but never mind. The affluent retirees and second-home owners living where it sits near Smith Mountain Lake have no difficulty, and that’s what keeps Capps Home Building Center alive and well and growing stronger by the minute.

What drew these folks to plant homes in the pretty lakeside town is also what attracted GM Bruce Shelton to its vibrant home-center operation, named for its owner, Dave Cappellari, and launched as Moneta Building Supply in 1978.

Says Bruce, “I came here in 2007 from Georgia Pacific, where I’d worked in the distribution center since college. Capps was in my territory, and the opportunity to sign on as GM brought me closer to my family”—and, as it turned, out, into a relationship of mutual trust with the owner, who now resides in Hilton Head, S.C.

“I’ve been given free rein to run the business,” Bruce continues. “He stays very much in-the-know via weekly conference calls and periodic scheduled meetings for strategic planning. We have a lot of trust in one another. We both endorse the company’s mission, which is to do right by its employees and customers. Then everything else will take care of itself.”

These employees—53 of them—are hired for attitude over skill. “If they’re happy, they’ll do a good job. Recently, however, our orientation process became more formalized; we needed to do that as we continue to grow,” Bruce realized. “We revamped the orientation process so that it’s more structured now. On the first day, we focus on safety and on understanding the different departments. Then they go on to spend time in each one, under the guidance of a mentor in every division. We also stress that, as a company, we’re very involved in the community. Each employee is encouraged to take part in a paid Service Day, volunteering for a local non-profit.”

“At the beginning,” he continues,  the operation slept along for 15, 20 years. Then there was a boom in the ’80s, followed by a little downturn during the recession. We’ve maintained a very strong community presence in Smith Mountain Lake, which, in recent years, has just blow up [in development].” That spurt led Capps to relocate to the West Lake side of the water, to serve the major population center. “We built a new store from the ground up, under the guidance of our buying group.”And kept on building.

Capps’ Design Showroom, which started out in the retail space of 8,500 sq. ft. on six and a half acres, expanded in 2014 by 6,000 additional sq. ft. to enable the company to showcase everything from cabinets and decks to windows and doors and flooring. Capps hired an in-house “whole house” designer, who assists builders with spec homes and individuals with their custom home plans, as well as their extensive remodeling projects— “a big incentive to return and buy our products,” Bruce underscores.

Contractors have 24/7 access to allow them to bring clients in after hours. And that customer mix, by design, has shifted from 100% pro to a 70/30 ratio. Serving both, “We pride ourselves on having the largest selection of composite decking materials in the region; it really keeps us in the mix.”

Like it, buy it… then what? Capps answers that need with an installation service (think: cabinets, windows and doors, flooring, decking, siding), for which an in-house supervisor acts as liaison between vetted subs and retail clients. Its pros’ loyalty is secured by features such as its Hot Shot delivery service (“We have the largest service fleet in the area”). “Because this is a part-time, summertime residential community, contactors’ clients often arrive in spring to find they need deliveries quickly.”

Those second/retirement home-owners’ remodeling and add-on projects are far from paltry. “It’s not uncommon for them to spend $250,000 on a project, or $100,000 on a dock. (We stock pilings and other marine-oriented products.) It’s a big, big business.”

To keep employees up to speed, Capps schedules Lunch & Learn sessions, sponsored by vendors. “For our staff, it’s like continuing education,” says Bruce. “And on the flip side, for retail customers, are information events on key products like Green Egg or Weber.”

Add up all the company’s customer-focused attitudes and endeavors, and you’re positioned to earn the community’s Best Customer Service award for 12 years running. Bruce offers a key reason to back up that honor: “They know we support the community.” When asked for a for-instance, he mentions that when Capps closed its old location upon moving, it donated the property to Lake Christian Ministry.

“Folks also like that we don’t nickel-and-dime them,” he adds. “Services like local delivery are free. And they’re aware that our staff is knowledgeable and cross-trained to jump right in. We never let our phones go past the second ring. And they’re answered by a live person, not ‘press two for….’ Plus, our outside salesperson is on the spot to assist pros and homeowners alike.”

To get that service-forward message out, rather than focus on a single marketing avenue, Capps utilizes social media via its website, Facebook and e-blasts, while also advertising in print magazines and on billboards. “We utilize our own in-house marketing/advertising coordinator plus an outside contractor,” Bruce reports.

“Demographically speaking, our market is retirees with an average age of 56, who are loyal to our consumer reward program. Feedback from a focus group was impactful. They liked that they could earn points that could convert to dollars-off. It works very well. And we’re also attracting the younger consumer who commutes to Roanoke, 45-50 miles away. In rural Southwest Virginia,” Bruce explains, “people are accustomed to driving longer for what they need. We’re known as the dominant player in the region for our focus on composite decking. Folks are willing to drive for that.”

Surely there are plenty of boxes along the way? You bet. But Capps’ customer service rules. “People tell me they’ve never been to a place where employees walk up to them! Here,” he laughs, “we probably over-serve.”

As it did everywhere, the recession took a bite. “It hurt. It did. But our new investment in retail has paid off. We had to tweak retail to keep the ship running. During the downturn, shopping dropped from ‘want’ to ‘need.’ So we de-leveraged our inventory. Now, it’s back to ‘want’ and ‘need.’”

Plans for the future? “We’ll continue to focus on our key product categories, our showroom. In 2015, we enlarged our greenhouse, with live and locally-grown plants. In our expansion, going from 8,500 sq. ft. to 19,000, we more than doubled our footprint. We stayed open the entire time, so it was kind of chaotic, but the community loved the result and our employees are excited.”

You couldn’t pry Bruce away with a crowbar. “I’ll be here until I retire,” he swears. “I love getting up in the morning and going to work. Also, Ryan Cappellari—the third generation—just signed on as contractor sales manager. That shows a solid commitment from the family, too.”