2022 Retail Beacon

  • Ivey’s Building Materials Center — Retail Beacon Award

    Chris Jensen

    Mitch Johnson, president of two Ivey’s Building Materials locations in Louisiana, has been improving and growing the family business for half a century.

    Mitch Johnson, president of two Ivey’s Building Materials locations in Louisiana, has been improving and growing the family business for half a century.

    Ivey’s Building Materials Center

    Mansfield, La.

    Mitch Johnson entered the home improvement industry at age 14 by way of his high school sweetheart.

    Mack and Roy Ivey co-founded Ivey Lumber Company, a small sawmill and lumberyard, in Logansport, La., in 1969. In the early 1970s, Mitch had begun dating his classmate Pam, Mack’s youngest daughter. She mentioned to Mitch that her dad was looking for part-time help stacking lumber.

    “It was a good deal,” he says. “I could work at the store, make some money and spend more time with my girlfriend.” He worked for Mack through high school, learning a little bit of everything around the yard.

    Although Mitch gave college a brief try, he really wanted to be back at the store. He ended up marrying Pam and has been helping the family business succeed since then. Today, Mitch serves as president of two Ivey’s Building Materials Center locations in northwest Louisiana.

    Ivey Lumber Company started out as a small, dusty lumberyard in 1969.

    Ivey Lumber Company started out as a small, dusty lumberyard in 1969.

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    THE EARLY YEARS

    The original location was sold and a new ground-up location in Mansfield opened in the early 1980s. Despite facing a deep recession, the business continued to grow until Mack Ivey was diagnosed with cancer in 1988 and passed away shortly after.

    Mitch credits his father-in-law for being a great mentor and establishing a culture that continues today. Mack’s business philosophy was based on honesty, creating relationships, going the extra mile and doing it all in a relaxing, sometimes humorous manner. “My father-in-law was a good problem solver and he taught me to treat people with fairness,” he says.

    In 1991, Mitch bought out Roy Ivey and kicked off a new generation of ownership. With Pam involved on the accounting side, Mitch worked hard to keep the company moving forward for many years until their sons Josh and Jordan were old enough to join them. Josh continues to expand his involvement by serving as general manager of both locations, while Jordan is now a customer who operates his own construction company.

    Mitch remembers the big boxes changing the competitive landscape significantly. “Back then, we just tried to focus on what you could do locally to build sales and grow,” he says. “You can outperform the big boxes by building relationships with your customers every single day.”

    In the 1990s, Ivey’s got involved in outside sales to gain more pro business. That led to them serving contractors outside Mansfield.

    “A big part of our business is shipping residential lumber packs to the Shreveport area where builders are most active,” Mitch explains.

    In 2014, they opened their second store as a ground-up location in Houghton, La.

    In 2014, they opened their second store as a ground-up location in Houghton, La.

    Ivey’s Building Materials outperforms the competition by delivering personalized service to builders, contractors and homeowners.

    Ivey’s Building Materials outperforms the competition by delivering personalized service to builders, contractors and homeowners.

    When they discovered the community of Haughton—10 miles outside Shreveport—had no hardware store, they began building a ground-up location that opened in 2014 to serve that more affluent demographic.

    Mitch’s initial industry experience came working with a smaller wholesaler, and he’s very satisfied now as a longtime member of Do it Best. “They’ve got a great corporate structure that’s based on integrity. They have larger combinations of hardware and commodities and that helps us grow,” he says.

    They are learning every day how to use their Epicor point-of-sale system on a deeper level. “It’s a great tool for purchasing and staying focused on the bottom line, as well as determining what’s performing and not performing,” Mitch says.

    Mitch has been pleased to see son Josh take charge as general manager of both locations, using social media and technology to serve as sales tools.

    Mitch has been pleased to see son Josh take charge as general manager of both locations, using social media and technology to serve as sales tools.

    HELPING OTHERS AND STAYING HUMBLE

    The future looks bright for Ivey’s Building Materials, and that is a testament to the way Mitch has run his business, how he has treated people and how he has served his community. “Always do what’s right. That pays big dividends. But above all, we see how faithful God’s been to all of us,” he says.

    Ivey’s has 60 employees who are all treated like they are part of the family. “We recognize birthdays and anniversaries and continually analyze wages so we stay competitive,” Mitch says.

    Mitch and Pam Johnson have been involved in mission trips around the world offering medical support, hunger relief and construction help.

    Mitch and Pam Johnson have been involved in mission trips around the world offering medical support, hunger relief and construction help. 

    The Johnsons have always had a strong connection to their church that filters through to their own community and ones around the world. Mitch served as president of a boy’s home in Brazil for about 10 years. He and Pam have traveled to remote locations all over the world on mission trips with various organizations offering medical support and hunger relief. “We’ve been able to see the world through the eyes of God and see how blessed we are in this country,” he explains.

    Understandably, their experience and knowledge have allowed them to assist with construction projects in several countries across multiple continents. While their support overseas is primarily monetary, the Johnsons (and Ivey’s) are able to supply larger amounts of building materials for projects in the U.S.

    “We’ve seen some truly unbelievable places, and we also stay connected with the people we meet. That’s just who we are. And our customers’ support of our business has allowed us to follow this passion and be a part of other people’s lives in different parts of the world. It’s truly a blessing,” Mitch says.

    The Johnson family has worked hard to form deep connections in the communities they serve.

    The Johnson family has worked hard to form deep connections in the communities they serve.

    ENCOURAGING THE NEXT GENERATION

    The Mansfield location is 60 percent contractor, while the Houghton location is 75 percent pro and 25 percent retail. Ivey’s has completed the transition from its early days as a retail hardware store with a lumber emphasis to more of a pro-oriented lumber center. 2021 was a strong year helped by the inflated price of lumber.

    The business is also evolving its management and leadership as the next generation makes it mark. Josh was instrumental in launching Bid Desk, an online portal where contractors can bid on materials or projects and submit for an estimate. “It’s like a third arm of a salesperson,” Mitch says. “We’re even getting hits out of state, so it’s been a whole new avenue for growing sales.”

    He credits ongoing learning as the best way to stay on top of the ever-changing landscape. Joining the Construction Suppliers Association put them in contact with other yards to compare notes, and Josh has become active in that group. “It was a real game-changer for our business,” Mitch says, “because it helped us reshape our vision and focus on improving things we weren’t strong in.”

    EXPANSION ON THE HORIZON

    With two successful locations embraced by customers, the Johnson family is working to open a third store soon in Blanchard, La. “That’s definitely our goal. We’ve got the land but we want to wait a little for the economy to settle before we go full bore,” Mitch says.

    Winning the Beacon Award is a great privilege, according to Mitch. “God has given me the strength and energy to work all these years. When I think of the many people and family members I’ve had the opportunity to work with, if I can accept on their behalf then all the hard work will have been worth it,” he says.

  • LaValley Building Supply — Retail Beacon Award

    Chris Jensen

    Larry Huot, president of LaValley Building Supply, has been with the company started by his in-laws since 1975.

    Larry Huot, president of LaValley Building Supply, has been with the company started by his in-laws since 1975.

    LaValley Building Supply

    Newport, N.H.

    LaValley Building Supply was founded in New Hampshire in 1962 by Harold and Gerry LaValley, who are still active. The company is one of the largest family-owned building materials companies in the U.S. It offers customers a one-stop shop for all of their building needs with 12 locations.

    LaValley also operates one of the largest eastern white pine sawmills in New England along with dry kilns, planing and resaw operations, as well as truss and wall panel fabrication, a custom modular home division and a paint and decorating center.

    This location in Claremont, N.H., which was acquired in 1975, dates back to 1902, making it a member of the Century Club.

    This location in Claremont, N.H., which was acquired in 1975, dates back to 1902, making it a member of the Century Club.

    They utilize a fleet of delivery vehicles, some of which offer specialty services such as cable cranes.

    They utilize a fleet of delivery vehicles, some of which offer specialty services such as cable cranes. 

    Larry Huot and his wife Nancy are principal stock owners of the company started by her parents. Larry, who has worked for the company since 1975, serves as president. The third generation of the family is now involved in the business.

    “My father-in-law Harold turned 90 in December and he’s still in here every day,” Huot explains. He has his finger on the pulse of everything.”

    FOCUS ON INNOVATION

    They utilize a fleet of delivery vehicles, some of which offer specialty services. As Huot explains, “If we build a truss and deliver on our own cable cranes, our drivers are seasoned and can assist on the jobsite. This ensures quality and timeliness.”

    The company has always strived to be an innovator and has done so first in truss manufacturing and then in pre-panelized wall building, which helps framing go up quicker and protects from the elements.

    Larry Huot has been steering LaValley Building Supply with a steady hand through volatility and changing market conditions for nearly half a century.

    Larry Huot has been steering LaValley Building Supply with a steady hand through volatility and changing market conditions for nearly half a century.

    “Instead of waiting for a distant manufacturer, we handle it all in-house. All pickups and delivery are handled by us. If we build the truss and deliver on our own cable cranes and our drivers are seasoned, they become an assist to the jobsite. This also ensures quality and timeliness—it’s about control,” Huot explains.

    The modular home division began in 2006 and endeavors to streamline the process of new construction while creating energy-efficient homes at lower costs. “The idea is to bring quality systems to our communities, builders and consumers that save time, reduce risk and create successful, high-quality projects with reliable consistency,” he says. “We can deliver it to the jobsite 85 percent finished.”

    The company consists of 12 home improvement centers that are one-stop shops for all building needs, plus a paint and decorating center.

    The company consists of 12 home improvement centers that are one-stop shops for all building needs, plus a paint and decorating center. 

    Their eastern white pine sawmill, known as DiPrizio Pine Sales, is also a unique advantage with deep roots in timber-rich New Hampshire, according to Huot. It annually processes 18 to 20 million board feet for paneling, siding, trim and timbers. “The DiPrizio family started the sawmill in 1938 and we bought it in 1993. Now we sell pine all over the country,” he says.

    Annual sales at the full-service lumberyards range from $6 million up to $36 million. In 2021, company sales increased 23 percent and gross margin dollars rose 24 percent. LaValley sold 12,000 tons of wood pellets in 2021, which is over 400 tractor truckloads.

    LaValley Building Supply follows a dual-path strategy, generating 70 percent of sales from contractors and builders and 30 percent from d-i-yers. The company’s stores range in size from 8,000 up to 26,000 square feet and all feature showrooms for millwork, kitchen, bath and flooring staffed with specialists.

    “Our desire is to have intrinsic interactions with our customers, not transactional,” Huot says. “We emphasize the value of knowing we are assisting our customers in a time of need and providing a satisfying customer experience. Customer experience and employee satisfaction is our purpose,” he adds.

    LaValley recently signed up with Epicor for its 12 stores, and Huot says they are looking forward to learning how to use Epicor’s retail tools to operate more efficiently.

    LaValley generates 70 percent of sales from builders and contractors.

    LaValley generates 70 percent of sales from builders and contractors.

    The company has always supported a long list of local charities and organizations including local police and fire departments, hospitals, Habitat for Humanity, food banks, senior centers, youth programs and arts groups.

    The company has always supported a long list of local charities and organizations including local police and fire departments, hospitals, Habitat for Humanity, food banks, senior centers, youth programs and arts groups.

    DEEP COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

    The company is very active in the communities it serves. They support opera houses, a performing arts center, a playhouse, libraries, historical societies, rec centers, community newspapers, a women’s advocacy center, senior centers, housing for people in need, youth sports and recreation programs, Habitat for Humanity and local food banks. They sponsor local youths so they can attend YMCA camps. They donate to local fire departments and local health centers and hospitals including the Children’s Hospital in Dartmouth.

    They organized a contractor golf tournament and raised $32,000 to assist in the aid and reconstruction of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. “We believe that building strong communities is beneficial to everyone,” says Huot. “Ultimately, we are in the people business. Supporting our communities and providing not only our products, services and systems, but any additional aid, is important to us.”

    Continuing education is stressed for LaValley’s 600 employees.

    Continuing education is stressed for LaValley’s 600 employees.

    The company’s focus on people flows into the treatment of its 600 employees, many with over 20 years of service. Employees receive full benefits and access to a 401(k) company matching program. The company contributed $1 million to a profit-sharing retirement plan in 2022.

    Continuing education through the in-house LaValley University training program and the freedom to make decisions brings a sense of ownership to employees and encourages exceptional engagement. Through LMC, LaValley has sent select employees to a masters program called Advancing Business Acumen through the Wharton Aresty Institute of Executive Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

    “The people that come to work here have an opportunity to learn about anything from finance to distribution to administration,” he says. “Our employees are local, know most of the customers by name and take great ownership in their jobs.”

    GROWTH THROUGH ACQUISITION

    In 2018, LaValley acquired R.P. Williams, a family-owned yard in Bristol, New Hampshire. Most recently, they purchased Perkins Home Center in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire in December 2021. “We always have our eyes open, but we don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake. It has to fit our long-term geography,” Huot notes.

    Orgill has been a fantastic partner, according to Huot. “Their breadth of goods and services is second to none. They understand a dealer’s business. We’ve been able to do expansions and not miss a beat. They spend a lot of time in our stores working with our purchasing group. Orgill’s reliability of delivery and personalized service is an asset,” he says.

    Larry says they work on the basics every day. “We call it: what does winning look like? Getting the first sale is important, but our livelihood comes from repeat sales. If we’re going to be in a category we might as well be dominant. We’re constantly evaluating how we can be different,” he says.

    Reflecting on what it means to win the Beacon Award, Huot says, “Every decade has volatility, but leaders push through and are steadfast. Winning the Beacon Award gives us a moment to look in the mirror and evaluate what our continued leadership is about and what we need to do to hold onto our legacy. We’re focused on what needs to be done next to be trusted by our customers. We are humbled and grateful, together with our employees, to develop long-lasting relationships while serving our customers and communities near and afar. You have to be appreciative and bold every day.”

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