It’s not often a roofing materials distributor gets to design a new location and build it from scratch. In most cases, distributors lease existing warehouse space and retrofit or modify the building and site to meet their needs. When ABC Supply Co., Inc. recently decided to relocate one of the company’s six branches in the Houston metropolitan area, a resurgent real estate market meant existing warehouse space just wasn’t available. When it was determined that the best option to accommodate the branch’s growth was to build a new facility, the company embraced the opportunity to design it to better serve the needs of its diverse customer base.
The result is a 95,000-square-foot structure on seven acres that opened its doors in May. Located at 250 Century Plaza in Houston, the branch is one of the company’s largest, and it has customers and employees alike singing its praises.
According to ABC Supply Southwest Region Vice President John Yonkin, the main reason for moving was that the branch had simply outgrown its old location. Volume had quadrupled in the 16 years the branch had been at the old location — a former Home Depot — and the facility was no longer large enough to service its customers adequately. Growth came not only in commercial roofing sales, which had always been strong, but in residential roofing as well. “The old branch was heavily weighted toward low-slope roofing,” Yonkin said. “We’ve always wanted to continue to grow our residential roofing business in Houston, in that location as well as some of our other locations. We were somewhat limited at that location because of our footprint.”
The branch had also diversified its offerings, adding product lines for contactors who install gutters, windows and siding. Houston District Manager Mike Thomas noted that the cramped location made it tough to give all of these different customers the level of service they deserved. “As business grew, we added new product lines — windows, siding, -gutter products, and even steep-slope new construction — and the customers are truly different,” Thomas said. “They expect different things out of their distributor. Our business changed over those years, so we really had to do something to accommodate those additional business lines. And this new facility certainly does that. We had the opportunity to design it to take care of people with different service requirements.”
Branch Manager Robert Amar jumped at the chance to help design the new facility. He pointed to the expanded warehouse and the ability to offer specialized service and pickup areas for different customer segments as essential parts of the overall design goal: making the branch more efficient and convenient and for its customers. “We can service the customer a lot faster than before,” he said. “The building is bright, tall — you don’t think you’re at a roofing distributor. It’s so much easier to come here. Everything just flows so much smoother.”
The branch also features a large, inviting showroom, called a Solution Center, that contractors can use to show their customers samples and literature, and a conference room for manufacturer-sponsored training and other meetings. “If contractors want to bring homeowners in, or meet with their other customers, they will come in and use our facility that way,” Amar said. “Another thing we put in that we didn’t have at the old location is a training room. It seats about 35 people, and we can expand it to seat about 60 when needed.”
Bigger Is Better
Yonkin, Thomas and Amar all point to the size and layout of the warehouse as the real keys to increasing efficiency. The large warehouse, high ceilings and large bay doors allow the branch to store significantly more inventory. It also allows associates to locate and load it more quickly — saving contractors time and money. But there are other important components designed to increase efficiency and improve service, including a large counter area, and separate pickup areas for roofing, siding, windows and gutters.
The emphasis on efficiency begins at the counter, which is equipped with multiple computers to service as many people as possible. “My idea was to have an open office concept where everybody’s workstation is right behind the counter, and we have more computers at the counter,” Amar said. “The associates can all see the customers and help each other out. We used to have lines in the morning and at rush hours, but now there are no lines. When we see a customer, we can jump up and take care of him or her.”
Overall, the associates are very happy with the new layout, and Amar noted the open floor plan has an added benefit: “People learn from each other being together,” he said. “Sometimes you learn just by hearing somebody talk or explain something about a product.”
The large warehouse allows the company to load and unload trucks inside if there is inclement weather. The increased space also allowed the branch to double its vehicle fleet and expand deliveries. “We try to load all of our equipment the night before and have it strapped down and ready to go because our contractors basically want everything at six or seven in the morning,” Yonkin said.
Bryan Huddleston, owner and president of Corey Construction in Houston, specializes in residential roofing in the new construction market. He appreciates the convenience and service at the branch — and on the jobsite. “It’s huge,” he said. “It’s got a very well-thought-out layout on the inside. The counter is very spacious, so you’re not on top of each other. Even at a location like that, with that much volume going through it, it makes it easy.”
For Huddleston, increased efficiency equals faster deliveries. “One of the reasons we do business with them is because we are new construction, we put a lot of our shingles on the roof — I’d say probably 80 percent of our jobs are roof loaded — and because of that location, they have been able to bring in more equipment in to service us, and even bring in more product to hold pricing.”
It’s also faster when they have to pick up a rush order. “If I send my guys over there, they get in and out quickly. They pull the packages and material and load them up and get them out of there. You don’t have to wait in a line.”
Huddleston also finds the conference room comes in handy, as does the Solution Center. If a home builder is interested in an upgraded shingle, it’s a convenient place to send them to view samples. “They have sample boards on the wall from all the manufacturers,” he said. “The best way to show someone the samples is to send them over there to view the displays.”
Robin Gage is vice president of Gage Roofing & Constructors Inc. in South Houston. The company specializes in commercial roofing and sheet metal work. Gage points to the sheer size and scope of the branch as its major assets. “Even with all the manufacturers they handle, they can store everything inside the building, which keeps it weather-tight,” he said. “It’s the availability. If a distributor can’t stock all the products the manufacturers are handling, you might have to do a special order and wait three or four days or try to find another supplier that has it. But these guys having so much storage space, it really helps out. Pretty much anytime you go over there, you can get the product.”
Most of the company’s products are delivered to the jobsite, and Gage is impressed with not only the timeliness but the accuracy of the deliveries. “They are on the spot with order and delivery,” he said. “They check those trucks quite often before they come out, and I know they photograph all the material when it’s loaded, and they photograph everything when it gets to the jobsite, and they double-check it on that list.”
After the material is delivered, it’s easy to follow up with paperwork as well, noted Gage. “They really have their invoicing and billing together,” he said.
That’s all part of the company’s game plan, noted Thomas. “We get comments all the time about the level and quality of service, accurate invoicing — the whole service aspect,” Thomas said. “ABC has made that such a high priority. It’s the first thing we think of when we are doing business: Are we doing it right? Are we doing what the customer wants? Is this making it easier for them to do business with us? I think when you look at your business that way, it translates into the things your customers are looking for. We’re always looking for ways to improve our service and really give the customers that hand to help them grow their business and do more — and do more with us.”
Yonkin pointed out that the timing was right for this new branch, which is closer to some high-growth areas including The Woodlands, a 28,000-acre master planned community. Housing starts are up in Houston and Galveston. “It’s right on the cusp of the housing recovery,” he said. “What this does is it allows us to grow our business in a growing market. You’re not fighting people trying to take share they already have — you just grow with the market.”
The ABC Supply team believes it is set up to make the most of this rare opportunity. “The place is spotless. Everything has a place, and everything is in its place. It’s much more professional looking, and the associates treat it with a great deal of care. They recognize they have something really special here, and they are really proud of it and take good care of it,” said Thomas. “It takes a special kind of manager to pull it all together, and Robert and his bunch just did a fantastic job with not only the design but the operation of the facility. They deserve a great deal of credit for putting it all together. Robert got very excited about this opportunity because it doesn’t come along very often in this industry that you get a chance to go out and take one from the ground up.”
“Our role is to make it easy for the customer,”Yonkin concluded. “That’s our motto: ‘Our job is making your job easier.’But also at ABC we recognize that different customers define easy in different ways, based on their needs. So it’s recognizing the wants and needs of the different customer types — or segments, we call them — and then providing the services that are of value to them to make their job easier.”