Zeeland Lumber & Supply
Providing service throughout the Midwest, Zeeland Lumber & Supply is an independently owned and operated organization specializing in lumber and building material supply, truss and component manufacturing, and labor solutions. Serving the remodel, residential, multi-family and commercial construction market sectors, Zeeland has been in business for nearly 70 years.
Although the company has been in operations for decades, it has demonstrated an ability to adjust its strategy depending on market conditions. This is particularly true coming out of the Great Recession. Prior to that, the company was focused on providing lumber and building materials from a single, 20-acre location in Zeeland, Mich. After the recession, the company has added many new tools to its portfolio.
“We look a lot different coming out of the recession,” President and CEO Mike Dykstra says. “Today, we have five operational locations and have added to our core lumber and building material activities. We have added truss and wall panel component manufacturing and design, as well as a contractor service division.”
Zeeland saw these changes as critical synergistic elements to bring into its arsenal. In Michigan, new single and multifamily home starts dropped as much as 80 percent during the recession. In order to survive, Zeeland had to find ways to expand, gain marketshare and cover a wider geography.
“Due to the recession, there was a great deal of attrition and many competitors failed,” Dykstra says. “We were able to take on more marketshare, but we also had to establish our infrastructure.”
In 2009, Zeeland merged with Hamilton Lumber and Truss, bringing the company into the truss and wall component sector. It also opened locations in Wyoming and Indiana, as well as an additional location in Waterford, Mich. during the last five years.
“We have brought a distribution model to homebuilding with larger lumberyard and manufacturing locations that serve a wider geography,” Dykstra explains. “Our business is more complex and our value proposition is now our integrated approach. There is a lot of competition for basic lumber and building materials, but we always add value with the integrated approach, labor solutions and technical expertise in a wide array of building materials.”
To facilitate all of this activity, Zeeland needed to make a number of technology investments. At the end of 2012, the company brought in new ERP and WMS systems.
“Not many building material distributors are using warehouse management systems,” Dykstra says. “Our material handlers pull loads, receive and manage inventory with scanners instead of paper, which has enhanced customer experience and decreased operating costs. Our new ERP includes logistics planning software that maximizes truckloads. We also put GPS systems on trucks, and drivers have smartphones they use to take pictures of loads that we can match with order numbers.”
Spreading the Word
In addition to technology enhancements, Zeeland has spent a great deal of effort reintroducing itself to the market. With existing customers, it has emphasized that all of its new capabilities are focused on making their experience better.
“Our new infrastructure and equipment allows us to grow as customers grow and be more responsive to meet demand,” Dykstra explains.
For prospective customers, Zeeland is presenting itself as an organization that is different and better than the competition while also being relevant to customer needs. The company believes its integrated approach to design, manufacturing, lumber, framing and building materials helps it to stand out for potential clients looking for the right partner.
In the years to come, Zeeland will continue to find ways to become more sophisticated and entrepreneurial. The company knows that customer needs will change, and getting their feedback will help Zeeland to make improvements. Additionally, all of its technological tools are still relatively new, so Zeeland is committed to ongoing refinement of its technology so it can best measure and manage its operations.
“A key customer satisfaction indicator is on-time and complete delivery,” Dykstra says. “We can measure that now, and a lot of companies in the industry don’t measure that. Our focus is on execution, managing and measuring that data to help us to grow sales and provide better experiences.”
The company is also looking to refine its customer experience. In 2009, it had about 90 employees. Now it has 280. With new people and locations has come the need to maintain consistent customer experiences in a redefined company.
“Now the big push is to sell confidently because we have the capacity for growth,” Dykstra says. “With the attrition in our industry and demand growing, we have been investing at a greater pace than our competitors and that will help build more orders.”
Zeeland has clearly shown that it is a company capable of evolving even in the most difficult of environments. It has strong succession planning process in place to ensure that it has competent leadership in place, and it is committed to making sure that all of its front-line employees and managers have the training and tools they need to keep the business going strong.
“We have a lot of new people and new leaders in various parts of the company, and their training and development will help us ensure the company is properly aligned,” Dykstra says. “Attracting talent will be an ongoing focus, as will be adapting to the fact that both employees and customers are becoming more Millennial in nature. We will be working on ensuring that we utilize the right kind of technological tools, apps and digital communications to be sure we can integrate with employees and customers in ways that are relevant to the youngest generations.”