Contemporary Service, Traditional Values

October 8, 2013
SPECIAL FEATURES | Close-Ups
        
Overall Excellence

LEADERSHIP IN THE PROFESSIONAL MARKET

 

Henley Supply

Decherd, Tenn.

 

  
 Sam Henley draws on generations’ worth of family experience to offer Henley Supply a customer service experience optimized for today’s marketplace.

If a company has been around long enough, it lives to tell an important lesson—to stay relevant to your customers, you have to evolve with their needs while maintaining the values and reputation your company has come to represent.

The roots of Tennessee-based Henley Supply stretch back to the late 1800s, so its leaders know a thing or two about evolving to stay relevant. Sam Henley’s great-grandfather owned a saw mill, and then his grandfather continued the tradition by sawing lumber for the residential housing market starting in the early 1900s. By the 1950s, the familyowned and –operated lumber company expanded with a building materials center and hardware store. In the 1970s, the company began pre-hanging its own doors and then got deeper into the millwork specialty business when it started making wood windows in the 1980s.

Now president of the company, Henley attributes the company’s evolution to his family’s willingness to go where customers lead them. “The millwork market has changed,” he says. “When I was a kid, I worked here with my parents and a customer would come in and say, ‘I need six windows,’ and you’d ask him what size. You didn’t ask what color, what grille pattern or what type of glass. You just had one window. Today, the product selection has greatly expanded.”

Henley Supply has expanded to carry a broad selection of windows and doors, including Andersen, Eagle, Jeld-Wen, Silverline, and MGM Industries products. Sticking with its millwork roots, the company still pre-hangs doors, keeping an extensive inventory for faster turnaround. “As our millwork business evolved, we expanded to some other markets,” says Henley. “As the residential markets, pro builders and residential communities began to develop, our sales opportunities were there to expand further and sell factory direct.”

And while Henley is always looking for the next level of service his company can provide existing and future customers, he won’t ever allow the long-standing company to stray far from its foundation of solid customer service and fighting for a reputation worthy of a multi-generational business. “I don’t think people are ever going to want cheap products that give them problems,” he says. “We plan to maintain our product quality and our service quality. We feel that this business plan will lead us to increased growth, a steady growth as the market returns, just as it always has.”

Home Base

  
 Centrally located between several metro markets, Henley Supply relies on localized sales and installation crews to provide a customized experience for builders in each area.

Henley Supply is based in Decherd, Tenn., a small community located in the center of a one-hour-drive radius to Chattanooga, Tenn., Nashville and Franklin, Tenn., and Huntsville, Ala. In the rural counties around the company’s home base, the Henley Supply team serves smaller custom homebuilders, but the core of the company’s customers consists of professional builders and community developers in the cities and suburbs of the surrounding metro markets. “We’ve got three or four metro markets within an hour or hour and a half of us,” Henley explains. “And we have sales guys who live in these markets. They know the codes. Each area we deal in has different enforcement on the codes.” Having localized sales teams also allows Henley Supply to build the consultant-based relationships that are common in the new construction market. “Each of our reps’ job is to get to know the code officials in their markets and know what their enforcements are. One city may enforce tempered glass and another doesn’t. Or one city may require Argon gas and another doesn’t.”

Henley Supply has always focused on professional builders, which means that when the economic downturn wiped out those who dabbled in building “on the side,” the company was somewhat insulated from a free fall in its business. “We sell to the professional builders and the full-time people,” Henley explains. “The core of our customers have the land, they have a regional or national company, and they build homes. They’re not the guys who jumped in and said, ‘Let’s build a spec house. I can get a loan and I think I know what I’m doing.’ Our business didn’t fall, percentage-wise, as much as total starts did [during the downturn].”

Henley says that the building market his company caters to saw some uptick in 2011 and 2012, but 2013 has brought a steady demand worth celebrating. Always evolving and adjusting to the market, Henley explains that his company’s approach to installation through the downturn, and now through the recovery, has been responsive to customers’ needs. “We install in every market we serve,” he says. “Back when things were really booming, framers had all the work they could handle. They didn’t mind taking the windows and doors out of the equation. When work slowed down, the framers wanted to set the windows.”

Now that the market has rebounded, Henley Supply stands at the ready to install as much as the market demands. “Framers are getting busier and we’re seeing that general contractors are coming back to wanting the windows installed,” he says. “And once they see us, see the work we do, they never go back to letting the framers install them.”

Because Henley Supply certifies all of its installers and sets the bar high with a company guarantee, local builders discover that the specialized installation is well worth the investment. “Our installers are accountable for a one-year leak warranty and making sure that every window is smooth, level and plumb,” Henley says. “You don’t have sagging doors or windows that don’t lock.” Henley Supply has installation crews based in each of the markets it serves and the sales team often visits job sites on the days the windows go in, just to make sure the company’s expectations are met. “No matter the quality of the product, the performance of the exterior fa├žade will only be as good as the installation,” Henley says. “A $1,000 window can leak if it’s not installed properly and you can have a $100 window that doesn’t leak at all if it’s installed properly.”

As the market continues to grow and customers get busier, Henley Supply is prepared with excess capacity to address the anticipated demand for installation. The company will adjust to customers’ needs with a consistent execution and dedication to quality, Henley notes. “I feel certain that the demand for installed exterior products will continue to build in the future,” he says. “As new home construction gradually improves, there’s going to be a shortage of framing labor, and we’re there to serve our customers.”

The Extra Mile

With so many things to juggle, today’s builders rely on trusted suppliers to fill knowledge, product and service gaps, Henley says. In some communities, the sales team not only serves builders with extensive code guidance, but also tracks what financing and rebate opportunities might exist for energy efficient products. “It’s kind of like our guys are millwork superintendents for these customers,” Henley says. “We serve one community where, on one side of the road is Georgia where low-E glass is required, and then on the other side is Tennessee where it’s not required. There’s a builder selling on each side of the street.”

It’s a challenge for the sales force to stay informed and ahead of the code enforcement curve, but it’s an investment Henley Supply feels will set it apart from the competition. “The sales force has to hone in on the codes and know the zones. The builders say, ‘Meet these plans and specs and codes,’ and they expect our guys to know them.” To support the sales reps’ product expertise, Henley Supply hosts regular training clinics at its headquarters location. “All of our sales team comes into the office once a month during the busy season and twice a month during the slow season,” Henley notes. “We use the displays here to train our people on the products we have available.”

  
 Drawing on its roots as a millwork company, Henley Supply can offer customized solutions for builders, not only with window and door products, but also with other related building materials. In this way, the company serves as builders’ millwork superintendents, Henley notes.

Henley Supply also invests in a fleet of back-up trucks so that while one set of trucks is out delivering product to job sites, a second set is being loaded for the following day’s deliveries. “We have four distinct delivery markets and we send two to four trucks to each market every day,” Henley says. “Each driver has two trucks. They rotate through their trucks.” Though the double fleet is an investment, Henley Supply knows that this approach allows for the best service to its builders. “These builders are professional enough and schedule oriented so they know that they’ll need their window and door package tomorrow,” Henley says. “So we preload today for tomorrow’s deliveries, and we come in at 5 a.m. to add any punch-list items.”

In this way, Henley Supply can provide efficient and speedy turn-around service for last-minute needs, particularly with millwork products that supplement the window and door package. “If a builder calls and says they had a homeowner change his mind and they need 200 feet of chair rail, we can deliver it the next day,” he says. “If they tell us today by noon that they want something, they’ll have it tomorrow.”

Investing in extensive sales employee training, certified installers and a constantly rotating fleet of trucks is Henley Supply’s commitment to the service-oriented mindset on which the company was founded. “When we go into a market, we promote service, service, service,” Henley says. “There’s an expense to that delivery service and sales service but we find that our builders need and appreciate that service.”

As the new home construction market evolved to suit the way today’s consumers want to shop, Henley Supply made adjustments to support its builders—especially in the realm of product displays and samples. “The pro builders of today are operating with sales centers and model homes,” he says. “We have displays in several builders’ facilities.”

Henley notes that as the Internet has evolved, a separate showroom is not as essential as it once was. Model homes and large sales centers showcase various product offerings and enhancements so consumers can take what they’ve learned online and complement that with live samples. “People looking at a book or the Internet can’t tell what leaded glass will look like,” he says. “When they walk into that builder’s model and see our products on display, they say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I want in my house.’”

Henley Supply has also expanded its service to support its builders’ customers after a home is built. “We have a full-time service crew,” Henley explains. “If a homeowner does have a problem, we have a service crew that does the warranty work. A manufacturer will warranty its products, but Henley Supply adds a 12-month labor warranty. This covers the builder no matter what.”

Next Steps

Henley believes that Henley Supply’s one-step distribution model is ideal for today’s building market. “We have a premium product line and we buy direct,” he says. “We’re a one-step distributor and we operate on a wholesale margin so we’re very competitive. With the service we offer, we have good value.”

While the company does some work with remodeling contractors, Henley Supply does very little work direct to the consumer. Still, as the company evolves, Henley says the company’s “extra mile” mindset may gain traction in the replacement market. “You can’t take a replacement sales guy and put him in new construction and you can’t take a new construction guy and put him in the replacement market,” he says. “It takes a whole different personality and it’s a whole different schedule—you work with builders starting at 6 a.m. and you generally meet with homeowners at night.” With a separate team, Henley says his company has something worthwhile to bring to the replacement market over time. “There’s a new product, a complete tear-out replacement window, that we’re excited about and we want to be aggressive with.”

  
 Henley Supply’s sales team is charged with becoming code experts, knowing the intricacies of each market in order to serve as a valued consultant to customers.

The company’s infrastructure, Henley adds, will support this type of growth. “In the next three to five years, I’d like to develop a strong replacement window and door portion of our business,” he says. “We’ve got the warehouses, the manufacturers, the delivery trucks going to these markets, replacement installers—we have specialized window replacement installers in place. I just don’t have the fullfledged sales force so I’m going to try to build that.”

Even with a plan for future growth, Henley Supply will not lose sight of its existing commitments to builders. “What’s first and foremost right now is my new construction clientele. Our focus is to service our existing customers well and we don’t go beyond what we can handle. Our markets are an hour away; if you try to service a residential house much farther than that, it’s not economical.”

The growth that does make sense, however, is serving builders no matter what type of project they’ve taken on. “If a builder we have a relationship with is doing a duplex, we have a product for that,” Henley says. “And if the customer is building the governor’s vacation home, we have a product for that, too. We have a product that will fit any budget project they have.”

Henley Supply is much more than a supplier for builders, notes Abe Gaskins, president of MGM Industries, one of Henley Supply’s window manufacturers. The company is an extension of the builders’ teams, Gaskins says. “Their salesmen are so experienced, they become the de facto schedulers for the builders,” he says. “They work the jobsite every day and they know what the builder needs on each lot before the builder even calls. As a result, the builder gets what is needed on time, which results in labor economies for the builder.”

Being a partner to its builders and being willing to change as their needs evolve is the simple formula that will take Henley Supply far into the future, Henley asserts. “We have a good quality product, good value and good service,” he says. “If we continue to offer those things, the cheapest product is not going to win our accounts away. It’s not worth the product failures and problems.”