Hancock Lumber Looks to the Details

At Home Again, the Experience Comes First
Christina Lewellen
October 20, 2010
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups


A Showroom that Sells

Excellence in Retail

Home Again by Hancock Lumber

South Portland, Maine

 
 Hancock Lumber stepped out of its 160-year-old comfort zone to create a showroom experience focused on the smallest detail.

When Hancock Lumber decided to open a consumer-oriented showroom for the first time in its long history, there was no subtle dipping of the toe in the proverbial water. The South Portland, Maine-based company jumped right in, aiming to design an experience to rival the level of attention and detail one would expect at Walt Disney World.
The retail concept, known as Home Again by Hancock Lumber, opened this year to rave reviews by local homeowners and professionals. There’s a showroom coordinator waiting to greet customers at the door. There’s soft jazz music playing and the working kitchen kicks out the scents of cookies baking and fresh coffee brewing. There are leather couches, big flat-screen TVs and a slick use of technology throughout the open floor plan.
Oh, and there’s windows for sale too.
“When you look around the whole showroom, everything is focused on comfort, as if you were in a home setting,” explains MJ Dillingham, general manager for Home Again, the retail division of Hancock Lumber. “It’s all designed to strip away the noise of the traditional retail setting and lets you focus on the product that you’re there to look at.”
The approach translates particularly well to the company’s local audience, observes Bob Maynes, head of marketing for Mathews Brothers Co., a window and door manufacturer that supplies Home Again and is also based in Maine. “Mainers, I think, like to see, hold, smell and operate things before buying,” he says. “Up to now, their best way of looking at windows was either through a brochure, online, or at one of the big box stores. Having a location that people can get to easily, where they can see window products with their myriad options, talk to people who can actually answer their questions, all backed up by a fifth generation family business all point to a huge trust factor for consumers and builders.”
Opening a retail division with consumers in mind was a big shift for a company that served professionals for generations as a traditional lumberyard. But the Home Again concept leapfrogged the competition, many contend, and set the company up for many more years of continued success. “Hancock has taken a road not travelled here,” Maynes explains. “They have decided to play to win and have put their money where their mouth is. Hancock Lumber has taken a risk, but it is a calculated risk based on a good assessment of the building products market, the real estate market, and most importantly, the Maine building products and real estate markets.”
A BIG SHIFT
Hancock Lumber was established in 1848. No, that’s not a typo. The company is more than 160 years old and Kevin Hancock, president, is part of the sixth generation of family members working at the business. “I’m a former history teach so the way I put it is that, prior to the first cannon ball being fired in the Civil War, Hancock Lumber was in existence,” he says.
The company began and still has strong roots in lumber and forest products. The timberland division of the company still grows trees, primarily Maine’s popular Eastern White Pine species, on more than 58,000 acres of timberland.
The company also runs a manufacturing division, which takes that Eastern White Pine crop and manufactures wood products for customers all over the United States and Canada. “We’re typically doing business with retailers, wholesalers of forest products and manufacturers that use our wood to make other things,” Hancock explains.
 
The leadership at Hancock Lumber looked for a way to change with the shifting marketplace, catering specifically to Maine homeowners and professionals. 
And for years, Hancock Lumber ran a handful of stores throughout the region that followed a more traditional lumberyard model. With about 400 employees, the company has seven lumberyards in Maine and New Hampshire, two mill outlet discount stores, and a distributorship for Eagle Windows & Doors. “Hancock Lumber has a lot of history, but also a very diverse position across the entire supply spectrum,” he notes.
When the company’s leadership began contemplating a drastic shift into serving homeowners with a retail center model, they decided to take their time, looking outside their comfort zone in order to do it in an impactful way. “We worked on the Home Again concept for a year before we broke ground,” Hancock says. “We wanted to see a business mission that was different than what a traditional lumberyard experience in windows and doors might look like. We thought about what would be valuable in the marketplace.”
DOING IT RIGHT
In addition to distributing Eagle products, Hancock also offers Andersen products, as well as a private-label Hancock Classic vinyl window manufactured by Mathews Brothers. The company distributes Norwood’s all-wood windows and a higher-end Unilux product line from Germany. “We’re really excited about having a model that has a window for everybody,” Hancock says. “There isn’t a project that’s too big for which we don’t have a great solution, or a project that’s too economical that we don’t have a straightforward solution for. That’s one of the biggest value propositions for Home Again.”
So the team set about developing a retail concept that would highlight the broad range of window options available for Hancock Lumber customers without overwhelming them or pushing them down a predetermined path. The resulting “Home Again” design features an educational experience that puts customer comfort and knowledge ahead of the product he or she might select. “The consistent look of the display ‘window walls’ helps to unify the products rather than having the individual manufacturers’ displays competing for your attention,” explains Dillingham. “It helps keep the visual noise down and allows for a much more calming experience when looking at the various product lines. In this manner, we are able to present more than 30 different windows and doors in one location.”
EXPERIENCE THIS
Pulling on its long history in lumber and timber, the Home Again concept starts with a log cabin feel to the showroom. Although it is located in one of the busiest retail shopping locations in Maine, the interior space encourages visitors to relax and focus on the task at hand, Dillingham explains. “The showroom was developed to be a destination for homeowners needing replacement or new construction windows and doors, kitchens and baths—all under one roof,” she says. “The displays are set up so that anyone, no matter what their level of experience with windows and doors, can comfortably look at the many styles, choices and options.”
 
 From the warm welcome at the door to the high-tech selection process, Hancock Lumber offers a comfortable, not intimidating, experience.
While 60 percent or so of the Home Again traffic is homeowners, the showroom also caters to builders and architects who bring clients in to review window and door package options. “There are multiple levels of who might use the showroom on any given day,” Dillingham says.
In addition to highlighting many different product lines, the leadership at Hancock Lumber also wanted to make the showroom and sales experience low-pressure and highly transparent. One way they accomplish this is with technology. All of the window and door specialists working the showroom are equipped with laptop computers that connect easily to large, flat-screen TVs mounted to the walls. Homeowners are invited to take a seat on comfortable leather couches while the sales associates facilitate an interactive decision-making process. “Everyone’s looking at the design, the color options. If they’re going to a Web site, they’re doing it together,” explains Hancock. “That transparency and engagement makes for a different buying experience for the client than the traditional model in a window and door shop with a seller sitting behind a desk.”
The Home Again location was opened in April and celebrated with a comprehensive grand opening marketing campaign. The company made a considerable investment in new branding initiatives, television and radio commercials and several grand opening events.
“The long-term position for our business is to make windows and doors a bigger part of who we are,” Hancock says. “The Hancock Lumber brand and our other business segments—we’re going to take care of you with your lumber needs, and that’s a given. But we really want to invest our energy with our customers to grow the window and door segment for the future. We see opportunity there and we like those product categories. They’re important to us.”
JUMPING IN
Hancock acknowledges that investing in this comprehensive a division definitely took some careful planning and financial consideration. But he believes that launching Home Again in a down economy allowed it to make an even more powerful splash with customers. “You definitely have to be committed to the idea to launch anything new in this economy,” he says. “I think you’re able to create more attention to a major initiative that you launch now because it sends a very powerful message to your employees and your customers. They say, ‘Wow, this company is serious about this.’ It would be very easy to sit on the sidelines right now.”
Launching Home Again this year seems to have had the effect for which the Hancock Lumber team was aiming. “The state of the economy was not seen as a negative, but rather as a positive in this initiative,” says Rhys Stucker, territory manager for Norwood Windows. “With new construction down, and a multitude of economic issues, homeowners are faced with having to remodel their existing residences. Recognizing this market opportunity, Hancock Lumber created Home Again to provide an educational design center in a one-on-one, upscale environment for this group of customers, their architects and builders.”
"An investment of this magnitude in a challenging market sends a strong message that Hancock Lumber is in it for the long term," says Jay Lund, president and COO of Andersen. "I applaud them for having both the vision and courage to do so at this time in our industry. The showroom is really part of a broader segmentation strategy that supports their ultimate goal of growing their business by focusing on their customers and providing the products and services they need for any application."
Looking to the future, Hancock says it’s possible the company may recreate the Home Again concept in other markets. For the time being, however, the team will focus on its primary Southern Maine market. “If that’s the only outcome and we do it well, it will be very satisfying,” he says. “That’s our real focus right now.”
 
Click here to read other 2010 Dealers of the Year articles.

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.