Winter Is Coming
A family-owned yard shares the secrets of thriving in any season

By John Taraborelli

He ought to know. Miner’s is a family-owned lumber yard with four generations of experience that has survived and thrived amidst the ups and downs of the industry since 1994. With the economy still hot (for now) but the threat of a potential recession always looming over the horizon, we thought we’d catch up with Eric about the secrets of his family’s success, particularly in the areas of sales, marketing, and operations.

There are a million different ways to reach potential customers nowadays. What works for you?

By far our most effective pieces of marketing have been radio ads. I have personally recorded the ads, which seems to have an impact on people. Each time we run a flight of ads, I get 25 or so people telling me that they heard it. If that many people I know heard it, how many that I don’t know also heard it?

Why radio?

A lot of people say radio is dead, but if you think about the main group of people we deal with—for us, it’s contractors—these people are on jobsites all day. If you’re at a jobsite, or you’re driving from place to place, you’ve probably got the radio on. We’ve done the local talk radio station, classic rock, and we recently added the country station.

What types of ads are you running? Are you advertising specific sales initiatives and products, or is it more general, brand-focused messaging?

Our ads are usually focused on windows because we do a lot of it through our window manufacturers, but really the goal for us is to sell our brand. We’re not Home Depot. We’re a single-location yard in a town we’ve lived in for four generations. What we have is our down-home image, and that’s what we try to sell.

What else are you doing to market the Miner’s brand?

We also support many community events. One of the most important things to Millennials and Gen Z is community involvement. We are a local, family-owned company; we leverage this as much as we can. We sponsor the high school track and field team and have a sign at the local sports complex. It’s the main destination for school sports in our town. They have track, football, field hockey, lacrosse, so pretty much everyone passes through there eventually. We had a modified logo made that is more simple and can be seen from farther away. Family name, community presence, history—it’s what we have.

It’s obvious how marketing impacts sales, but what about operations? How do effective operations—either in the back office or the warehouse—benefit your sales efforts?

The end result of a sale for us is a happy, satisfied customer. Back office and warehouse operations are certainly important to accomplish this. The trucks need to be maintained, registered, and insured. The inventory in the computer needs to be correct.  The bins need to be full. The dunnage needs to be culled out. If inventory is off and you go looking for something that you told the customer we had, only to find out we didn’t, that’s an unhappy customer. If we don’t have a truck to deliver something we promised to a customer at a particular time, that’s an unhappy customer. If receiving inventory, payables, receivables is not done correctly, you can have a variety of issues that could cause the customer to have an unhappy experience.

What are some of your secrets to managing that?

One thing that has been helpful for us is to keep a few older trucks as part of the fleet, but without dedicated drivers. Many people say you should not have extra trucks; however, we’ve found that when you go to trade-in a truck that’s no longer the pride of the fleet, people offer you nothing for it. We know how it has been maintained; we know its history. Let’s face it, trucks don’t break down when you’re slow. But when you have an order file on a summer day and that morning your truck has a problem, that’s when the back-up fleet saves our bacon. When a truck is broken, we are losing money. Even worse, we are upsetting our customers who are expecting to get product. These extra trucks help us keep our reputation of delivering the product on time.

John Taraborelli is a freelance writer who frequently contributes pieces to NRLA publications.